Most of the time when we get questions about the timing of marathon training they have to do with trying to squeeze training into a short amount of time — either there’s not enough time to fully prepare or the runner has been laid off due to an injury and is trying to figure out what to do with the remaining time. Here’s a question that was submitted to us that takes another spin on the issue and raises some important issues:
“I’m planning to run in a marathon early next year and I want to follow a plan that I downloaded from the Internet. The plan is for 16 weeks (four months). If I start the program now, I’ll be done with it before it is time to run the marathon. Do you suggest delaying the time that I start the plan or working through the plan and then keeping the distance high for the last couple of months?”
This is a good question to ask, because it doesn’t pre-suppose the answer that a lot of people would have come up with — that being that the best idea would be to get done early and then keep the distance high for the balance of time coming into the race. But before we can really answer this question, let’s back up and think about the plan itself. Because the plan was created and designed to be 16 weeks long, certain trade-offs were made to “fit” marathon training into the time-frame. What I mean by this is that the person who wrote the plan most likely ramped the volume balancing the amount of time available against the risk of injury from ramping the distance too quickly. This trade-off actually underlies all marathon schedules. The desire is to get the runner to comfortably run the distance and build strength to handle both the long training and the race itself.
The second factor — after the amount of time — is the experience of the runner. The difference between a 16 week training plan for a beginner who has never run before and an experienced runner who has run a dozen marathons is a vast one. With only 16 weeks, the beginner will just barely be able to safely climb a ladder of increasing distance and get to the point of running 20 miles once before the race. An experienced runner that could start at say 6 or 10 miles would have much less of a challenge getting up to full mileage and even keeping it there for a few weeks.
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