This marathon plan fits nearly any runner: advanced beginner; experienced; coming back from injury; just had a baby; irritated by running because of said injury, expectations, aging. You do not have to have previous marathon or extensive running experience; you do, however, need to be able to jog for 60 consecutive minutes to be able to thrive on this plan.
With the exception of long runs on the weekend, every workout is measured in minutes, not miles. You’ll run five days a week, with one day of optional easy cross training like a yoga or Pilates class. No weekday run goes over 60 minutes, but your long runs are, not surprisingly, long. You’ll cover 20 miles twice, and hit an 18-miler, as well as 19 miler. Don’t freak; all are an easy effort and surprisingly doable. Speedwork is minimal in this plan, as it focuses on maximizing your endurance.
For nearly every mile, you’ll aim to keep your heart rate at or under 140 beats per minute (bpm). Why 140? Based on Maffetone’s Formula (180-age, with a few qualifications), 140 is a solid number that works for nearly every body. Because the marathon is an endurance event, keeping your heart rate under 140 greatly expands your cardiovascular/aerobic base, greatly decreases your chances of injury, significantly lessens post-run fatigue, and makes running feel very doable and even fun. (Truly!)
Fair warning: Your initial pace at 140 bpm will surprise you. You will likely be 2-3 minutes slower than your current average run pace, and you’ll walk quite a bit to keep your heart rate within range, especially when you climb hills. You will be frustrated and possibly teary and maybe even think about dropping the program.
We’ll keep you going, though, and over the base building period of the first six weeks, your average speed at 140 bpm will begin to increase. Over the following fourteen weeks, you will morph into a cardio monster who can run for hours and hours with no pain and no anguish.
Although you’ll have an INCREDIBLE marathon in twenty weeks, consider this plan as your introduction to a long-term investment in your running. Its (priceless) yield? Low on injury and fatigue, and correspondingly high on enjoyment and performance.
THE PREREQS: Before you sign up, you need to please:
- Be able to currently jog for 60 minutes without stopping. If you’re running right now, you’ve been averaging less than 20 miles a week for the past three months.
- Own a heart rate monitor with a chest strap, and you need to wear it all the time while training. The majority of your time, you’ll be training with a heart rate <140.
- Be able to say adios to your ego and put your pace expectations away for this training cycle. Your training splits will likely be 2-3 minutes slower than they currently are. You will be passed by other (#uncoached, #unloved) runners who have no idea of the physiological magic you’re creating. You will think people in cars are talking about your turtle-like speed. (They aren’t, but it’ll feel like that.) For at least the first six weeks, you will likely walk up most hills and take regular walk breaks. Race pace will be a different thing, and we’ll cover that in depth, but your training is going to be s.l.o.w. Remember, you’ll have a group of #motherrunners doing the exact same thing, so you’ll have plenty of camaraderie and compassion.4. Have time—and patience—to devote to 20 weeks of training. During week one, you’ll run for 2 hours, 30 minutes and 6 miles over the course of five workouts. During weeks 13 and 17, the biggest weeks of training, you’ll be running for 3 hours, thirty minutes plus 20 miles. The longest run distances are two, 20-mile runs.
BIGGEST WEEKS OF TRAINING: Two of ’em: Both have 3 hours, thirty minutes of running plus 20 miles. (And yes, that sounds like a lot, but it’s surprisingly doable when you train with heart rate.)
LONGEST LONG RUN DISTANCES: Two, 20-milers.
The first three weeks of the plan are previewed above and to the left. (Quick key: EE: Easy Effort; SSSC: Super Short Strength Circuit; BER: Build Engine Run (also an easy effort); XT: Cross Training; FR: Free Run; LR: Long Run)
The first date is date you officially start your 20 week plan; the second date should align with the date of your goal race. If you don’t see a wave that fits your schedule, find 2017 registration dates + waves here.