This marathon plan is for anybody who has trained for a marathon in the past and been running consistently (at least 4 times per week) for at least a year.
On this plan, you will run five days a week; you have an option of one day of cross training if you’d like. There are very few straight-up runs; most have bursts of speed—anywhere from 20 seconds to miles—built in. The runs are a mix of miles and minutes; three days a week are measured in minutes (daily workouts range from 60-80 minutes) and two days are measured in miles (daily mileage ranges from 6-20). Easy days will be unbelievably easy, but hard days will be, comparatively, pretty hard.
On easy runs, 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, bored, 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 speedy cardio monster who can run for hours and hours with no pain and no anguish and still set a PR.
Although you’ll have an OUTSTANDING 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:
- You need to be able to (comfortably) jog for 90 minutes without stopping, and have trained for a marathon in the past. For at least the previous three months, you’ve averaged 20 miles a week. (If that’s not you, take a look at the INCREDIBLE Marathon Plan.)
- Own a heart rate monitor with a chest strap, and understand 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 usual pace expectations away for this program. Your training splits will likely be 2-3 minutes slower than they currently are. You will be passed by other runners who have no idea about the 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.
- Have plenty of time—and patience—to devote to 20 weeks of training. During week one, you’ll run for 3 hours and 10 miles. By week 17, the biggest week of training, you’ll be running for 3 hours, 35 minutes (spread out over three days) plus 30 miles (spread out over 2 days: 10 miles + 20 miles). There are three 20-mile long runs over the course of 20 weeks.
BIGGEST WEEK OF TRAINING: 3 hours, 35 minutes (spread out over three days) plus 30 miles (spread out over 2 days: 10 miles + 20 miles)
LONGEST LONG RUN DISTANCES: Three 20-mile long runs
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)
NOTE: Not seeing your race date? Here’s a list of all the upcoming race dates + waves.
The first date is date you officially start your 20 week plan; the second set of dates should align with the date of your goal race.