Either way, I thought I'd share my plan because it's unique and non-traditional. This is a plan born out of my understanding of what my body needs to perform while allowing recovery and avoiding injury. I think it would be helpful to anyone that is an older athlete, is looking for something new or someone that has repeatedly suffered from injuries while attempting to marathon train in the past. Here are some key things I think are different about my approach to marathon training:
- I only run long every two weeks. You'll notice that every second week I'm either running a shorter 20km run at an easy pace or racing a shorter race. I noticed in 2014 that I simply never felt recovered from long runs in 6 days before the next one began. Part of the reason for this I think was about the tendons and ligaments in my body rather than fatigue or muscle adaptation. Having only run since 2012 my body was still adjusting to larger mileage demands on joints. It's also a product of being over 40 years old and simply not wanting to beat myself up. When I run long every two weeks I feel completely rested for the most part throughout training, and eager to train.
- I cross train frequently as part of the plan. A lot of runners have a lot of junk miles in my opinion where they go out and pound out miles with no purpose. I'm actually envious in part because left to my own devices I'd like to just run all the time and ignore cross training but I've learned that swimming, gym work, cycling and yoga help me avoid injury and run better/faster. Running is an inherently repetitive activity which although pleasurable also can throw us out of balance with some muscles weak and others becoming over developed.
- I race during marathon training. I suspect if you ask a lot of runners they would avoid racing during marathon training. For me personally I find it keeps me sharp, motivates me and guarantees a strong workout. They aren't my goal races but I love racing. Some races will be actual attempts at doing well, others will be just run easily or at marathon pace (like the Gunner Shaw and Hatley Castle Races this year). Running hard at a race helps keep you used to the race environment, helps you avoid race day jitters and makes the routine of race day just that....routine. Having the discipline of racing shorter races at marathon pace or simply to participate is a great confidence builder as well as for me I realize just how easy that pace is and I allow myself to fully enjoy the race environment. Ideally I think it's a good plan to run a half marathon 6-8 weeks before your goal marathon but that didn't fit in for me this year.
- I build in choices or flexibility so my mood can dictate the workout rather than being trapped in a plan. On Tuesdays I'll give myself choice between hills, joining a local running clinic or track work. On Thursdays I can join some friends for a tempo run or go and challenge myself by trying to snag a Strava Segment. I also allow myself to replace an easy run with swimming or cycling if my legs are sore. Mentally this allows me to successfully stick to a plan while guaranteeing I'm getting the work I need.
This plan is very similar to my plan for the Vancouver Marathon in May of 2015 with a few exceptions. I felt I needed to have at least one more 30+km run (I need to work on getting more comfortable running for 3 hours) so I've added one. I've replaced Monday easy runs with indoor cycling or treadmill running in an effort to keep my legs happy for a hard Tuesday workout. I've also added gym workouts that focus on my legs and lower body to Tuesdays and Thursdays immediately after my run. I feel this trains me to work my legs when tired and doesn't reduce the quality of my run which is my most important workout. My first day doing HIIT training on the Airdyne bike after a tempo run was challenging but fun. I'm eager to see improvement throughout the plan. I've also written in yoga once a week into this plan. I really feel yoga helps keep my hips from getting too tight (a problem area for me) and keeps me mentally focused. It's no accident yoga is the day before my long run, the most important workout of the week.
You'll notice that after a race in the plan I give myself a slightly easier week to allow for recovery. When the plan calls for lower body workouts in the gym I focus on butt muscles, adductors and abductors as well as ankle strength, balance and flexibility. Upper body workouts focus on core strength, back muscles and shoulders which I feel help me keep better posture while running. Swimming workouts are easy continuous efforts meant to build aerobic ability and encourage recovery from a hard weekend of running. I find cold pool water work really helps me feel good after a weekend of pounding the pavement. Lastly I have one run on a Friday, and that's my "Christmas jog" which has become a bit of a tradition where I lace up after opening gifts in the morning for some cherished sweating before tucking into a huge holiday meal. I'll be posting soon about what food changes and diet plans I've made for the duration of training. As a bit of a preview alcohol, sweets and oil have been eliminated from my diet until race day.
You can find the training plan below. Should you decide you wish to follow it I'd love to hear how it goes for you. Remember though I'm not a trainer, you choose to follow my plan at your own risk. I just feel the need to say that. Marathon training has in inherent injury risk, it's important to listen to your body, rest when needed and have a good relationship with a foam roller.