26.2 or bust
Make ’07 your marathon year with our simple training plan
By Christopher Prawdzik - Special to the Times
Posted : April 23, 2007

With about six months ahead of you before the fall’s big races — chief among them the Marine Corps Marathon, set for Oct. 28 in Washington, and the ING New York City Marathon on Nov. 4 — you’ve got just about enough time to be marathon-ready.

“Somebody who’s going to train for a marathon really needs to train ... for the better part of 16 weeks to be ready on race day,” said Eric Sorensen, founder of Principle Fitness, a Washington-area coaching group that offers training services for amateur and professional endurance athletes.

But that’s only part of it.

“Before that, there is — for lack of a better term — ‘training to train,’” added Sorensen, a 10-time USA Triathlon All- America qualifier. That can take at least six months.

Put in less time and you’ll pay the price, said Capt. Dan Browne, an Oregon National Guardsman and Olympic runner.

“A lot of people do a marathon, and then they can’t walk for about three weeks afterward,” said Browne, who holds the record for the Army Ten-Miler race with a time of 47 minutes, 29 seconds, in 2004. “When you train properly and run for a marathon, the recovery should be about a couple of weeks, and then you should be feeling pretty decent.”

You can get marathon-ready with a five-day training cycle. If you’re truly dedicated, you can pull it off with just a three-day cycle.
Set milestone goals

Browne ran the 10,000 meters and marathon at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece, and he aims to make the U.S. team again in 2008. He recommends tackling shorter races before gunning for a marathon.

“There’s no sugarcoating it,” he said. “If somebody said they wanted to run a marathon ... I would [ask], ‘Well, have you ever run a half-marathon?’ and then my next question if they said ‘no’ would be, ‘Have you ever run a 10K?’”

If the answer is “no” on all, he suggests setting goals for those shorter races before tackling the longer ones, but he also says he could whip most casual runners into marathoners, provided they have the time and dedication.

That’s where many runners get into trouble.

“Probably the biggest key mistake is just not having enough miles run on the pavement before they actually run the race,” Browne said. “Maybe people have gone out there and done one 20-miler or maybe even two long runs before a marathon, but if they weren’t running any miles in between, it can [become] a survival event.”

Sorensen agreed, saying most people, especially before their first marathon, wait too long to begin serious training.

“You can’t expect to run only 10 to 15 miles as your long run and then get to race day and realize that you’re going to be out there for another hour to an hour-and-a-half longer than that and expect to have your best race,” he said.
Build your program

Once you’re ready to start logging big miles, you need a training plan.

Increasingly, running coaches recommend a mix of drills along with regular road miles, such as short drills on your local track to build speed and hill repeats to develop leg strength.

Good running plans are built around gradual increases in weekly mileage. The best way to develop a plan is to work backward from race day. The gradual distance increase will help your body get used to the punishment of long road miles.

“When it comes to the marathon, we’re talking three to five times the body weight ground reaction force with every footstep, accumulated 1,500 times over every mile,” said Jeff Van Horn, a sports medicine expert who advises runners about their running physiology. “That is an extreme amount of stress being placed on the muscular skeletal system.”

Your longest run before a marathon should happen two weeks before the race. To build out your training schedule, work backward from that long run, cutting your distance by 10 percent each week.

If you can’t run at least three times a week, it’s tough to fully prepare for a marathon — a three-workout-per-week training schedule itself is brutal.

Five workouts a week will likely increase your endurance level even further. It will allow your body to adjust to a 20-plus-mile workout each week for four weeks before race day.

Assuming you can run five miles as your long run in the first week, you can easily build out a six-month training period that includes a “level-off” week every four to five weeks and a two-week rest period before the marathon. During that rest period, you should cut your longest runs in half, but still maintain midlevel distances through the week.

Along with distance, you also need to pay close attention to your pace. One easy way to track this is with a heart-rate monitor.

The ideal aerobic level on a typical run is 70 to 80 percent of your maximum heart rate; you can determine your maximum heart rate by subtracting your age from 220. On longer runs, stay between 60 and 80 percent of your maximum heart rate.

Working within those heart-rate zones will help you build the cardio endurance you need to go the distance.

“I think a lot of people don’t really ever get over that fitness hump — where they actually get fit,” Browne said.

Ultimately, there’s no magic-bullet substitute for training time.

“Finding a runner who knows more than you do can give you a lot of words of wisdom,” Browne said, but “you’ve definitely just got to put the work in to get the results.”

Christopher Prawdzik is a runner and freelance writer in Northern Virginia. E-mail him at lifelinesrunner@yahoo.com.