Fail to prepare, prepare to fail!

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Having gone through the physical and mental rigmarole of testing your performance levels, it’s now time to plan your training. Exactly how you go about it is up to you, and everyone will have their own preferences. For me, planning means sitting down with a pencil and blank paper to sketch out my season, before transferring everything into TrainingPeaks. Other coaches stick to Excel spreadsheets with colourful charts, and still others plan their training in code in their little black books. However you like to go about it, there are a few sound principles to consider along the way.

Why Plan Your Training

In short, so that you know you’re going to do what need to do in training, in order to achieve what you want to achieve come race day. By reflecting on your identified strengths and weaknesses, and assessing the demands of your race and your goals, you can map your training to bridge the gap between your current and goal performance levels. Not only that, but your plan will provide a sense of the ‘big picture’ of your training, giving you direction and motivation to your training, and keeping you accountable during those cold, dark winter months where it’s all too easy to stay in bed rather than get up and out!

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Identify Your Goals and Time Frame

If you’ve not already, the first step in the plan has to be defining your end point. Perhaps you already know that you want to go sub-4 at London, or you want to complete the Manchester Marathon as your first ever 26.2. If you don’t yet have that in mind then that’s the place to start. You’ll want to clearly define when you want your peak performance to be, and what that peak performance looks like.

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Divide Your Time

You may well be the best part of 4 months out from your spring marathon right now, but how you plan to use the time can make or break your race.

A useful approach to planning your training, no matter what your goal, is to take your total preparation time available, the macrocyle, and periodise your training into defined blocks, or mesocycles. For example, the 24 weeks between now and the London Marathon might be considered your macrocycle and you may wish to break this down into mesocycles which each carries a specific focus. Mesocycles are further broken down into microcycles, which represent your weekly routine. When carefully planned, microcycles will become progressively harder week on week, to ensure you continually stress the body and keep improving across the mesocycle. Remember to plan a ‘deload’ week every 3-6 weeks where you reduce your mileage and allow the body to recover (hot tip- we’ll discuss rest and recovery in a future blog!).

Get Ready to Train
The first of these blocks is dedicated to getting used to running…lots. Regardless of your running background, building a solid ‘base’ of running on which to build your structured training is important. Dedicating 4-8 weeks (or even longer!) to slower, steadier running conditions your cardiovascular system to aerobic exercise and helps build resistance to injury. During this block, the focus is on gradually building your mileage so that you are ready to hit your hard training blocks coming up. Consider incorporating treadmill running to make sure you keep the pace slow, as this is all about increasing mileage, not speed.

Get Ready to Rep
After some time of exclusively slow running, you can now look to start building faster running into your weekly routine. During this stage, the goal of training is primarily to introduce your body to hard interval training. Begin building short, very fast reps into your training, such as hypoxicHIIT sessions. By doing so, you will also begin to see your running technique improve, meaning you will start to find that a given pace feels easier!

The Big Block: Quality Training
By 10-14 weeks into your training you should be planning to be comfortable running several times a week. With that big base of training in place, and your body ready to run quickly, you can begin the toughest block of work in this macrocycle. Within this block, you’ll be focussing on plenty of longer intervals, completed at a pace between your threshold and marathon paces. You might consider the particular demands of your course in this block. For example if you’re taking on Boston, with its infamous Heartbreak Hill, it’s probably worth dedicating a period of time to strength and hill work!

This is the time to plan your tough workouts- with a good few months of training under your belt, you’re ready for them! Look to schedule your longest long run in this block It could also be a really good time to throw in a low-key race, where you can practice your nutrition and race strategy. Consider a half marathon in this block. As a nice bonus, that hard training you’ve already put in often results in a real breakthrough performance!

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Get Ready to Race
The final few weeks can be amongst the hardest to plan. This time is a difficult balancing act between maintaining the fitness you’ve spent months developing, whilst also freshening up so that you are ready to race. As such, planning for it can be incredibly challenging. This far out from your race, you might decide it is only worth planning the duration of this phase so that you can plan the rest of your training around it. We’ll discuss tapering in further detail when it comes to crunch time. Whatever you do plan for this phase, remember to have faith in the training you’ve planned up to this point. You won’t suddenly gain fitness by putting in hard miles too close to the event, but you could leave yourself too tired to peak on race day!

So there we have it, your guide to planning your marathon training. Over the coming weeks we’ll look further at the elements you may want to include within specific blocks of training, as well as supplemental aspects including rest and recovery, nutrition and strength training. For more specific advice, why not come along to one of our programming drop in sessions, where we can discuss your goals in detail and start putting together a plan. For a more formal training programme consultation or to discuss a bespoke training package, email [email protected]