It’s getting to the time when people who are taking part in a spring marathon will start to think about their training schedule. When to start - Now? December? January? How many long runs? How far will the longest run be?
No matter what the answers to those questions might be, a lot of people fall down before they even start the first run by failing to put any safety margin within their schedule. Well, have you ever had a cold? Got family and kids? Work? Basically, 4 months through winter is a long time to go without getting a cold. It’s also a long time to go without family and work constraints taking over. A lot of people try to ramp up the mileage too quickly and then pick up injuries. This can also put pressure on the training plan, compounding the issues. So anyone planning 16 weeks of training with no flexibility is definitely planning to fail, not planning to succeed. Factoring in some time to accommodate family and work related constraints and health issues is key.
So how much flexibility do you need? There’s no simple answer to that. Ask yourself whether you can definitely commit to running big distances every single weekend in addition to running 3 or so times during the week. If not, try scheduling only 3 out of 4 of the weekends, leaving yourself a free weekend every month. This of course will mean that your overall plan will be longer, meaning in turn that you will need to start it sooner. That’s ok, it is also better for your body to ramp up slower and should help reduce injury risk in the process. But, there are other things you can do to free up time, combining running with other things. Running to pick up the kids, running to work, running on your lunch break…. all good options for fitting training into busy lives.
The key is prioritisation. If the marathon training is important to you despite your busy schedule, it makes sense to try to work out how that stacks up against other demands on your time. Be creative and think more about quality of the runs in your plan, and not the quantity. Focusing on quality will give you the confidence to feel ok when, ultimately, you need to drop sessions. Sometimes, the temptation is to try to replace a missed session as soon as possible in the schedule. This can be a bad move, adding additional strain where ordinarily you were planning a break. Being flexible enough to re-arrange runs for the week can be a better approach. Understand that a missed day is the same as an extra rest day and that rest is a key component of the training plan.
It’s inevitable that you will miss some sessions in your training. Planning ahead and making allowances for this up front will help you get through the training with lower risk of injury, better physical condition and greater confidence. Perhaps of the three, going into the race with a good level of confidence is the most important. A lot of people get through the physical training but don’t work on their confidence and the mental demands of the race – but that’s another topic.
Getting to the start line in good physical condition, with confidence, takes time and good planning and so if you are about to start your marathon training soon, take some time to think about whether you have enough flexibility in your plan. It could make all the difference on race day. See also Planning for marathon success.