Why not start marathon training with a long-range plan in mind?

Sure, the big running events have been canceled for this fall. But there’s a pretty good chance that there will be marathon races next spring, if not late winter. Both the Houston and Austin Marathons, set for January and February, have tentative plans to happen. And the Woodlands Marathon is set for March 6—a full year after lockdown began.

So why not start marathon training with a long-range plan in mind? The worst that could happen is that you get in awesome shape. With that in mind, here are a few things to keep in mind as you begin to ramp up your miles.

Train Smart; Train Sustainably: Former Austinite, and nationally-known running coach Greg McMillan advises his runners to build mileage that is sustainable as they develop their marathon training plans. In other words, build-up smart and incrementally so that you don’t jump from a long run of 10 miles to running 19 miles the next week. Also, you don’t want endless back-to-back 20-milers, because that is counter to recovery, and you run the risk of getting stale.

Build-In Recovery: As part of the big picture, plan on incorporating “down” weeks into your plan. This may mean that if you are hitting 50 miles weekly, you may want to cut back to 30-35 miles now and then. “A smart training plan will have ‘down weeks’ every third or fourth week,” says McMillan. “A down week is a reduction in training load by 15-25% to allow the musculoskeletal system to recover and for the mind to recharge before the next training block.”

The Long Run is you Marathon Foundation: Over the next five to six months (assuming you are training for a March marathon, you are going to build up to a long run of 20-24 miles. And remember, even if you don’t end up running a marathon, long runs have numerous benefits. They teach you to run when fatigued, encourage fat burning, and increase your mental endurance.

Marathon Pace Runs: It wouldn’t be marathon training without this tried-and-true staple. Marathon pace runs can be in the range of 12-15 miles, run at your marathon goal pace. A variation on the marathon pace run is to warm up two to three miles, and then warm down two or three miles, so you incorporate your pace run within the context of a long run.

Race Simulation: Another aspect of your long-range build-up is practicing race-day strategies. This would include your decision on how much fluid you’ll need during a 26.2-mile run, and what to eat the night before. It’s a good opportunity to try a few variations to see what works best for you.

Every runner is an individual and responds differently to training loads. But by keeping the above-mentioned “best practices” in mind, you’ll have a good chance of arriving at the starting line in shape for a great race!

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