Marathon Training Schedule for SCKLM'16

How to create a Marathon training schedule? I'm going to share how I came up with this training program for the SCKLM this year. Before that, I would like to clarify a few things:

i) This is not a guarantee program. There is no such thing called guarantee. I'm just sharing the idea. Not the exact distance, pace or workout. It might not work for everyone. Please try and error.

ii) There are plenty of training schedules made by world famous coaches and runners. The reason I don't really use their schedules is because most of them are customized for a final goal run. They usually start with a few weeks of base building phase and have a few micro cycles targeting different body systems which will make us peak right before the final goal run. For me, I prefer to start straight with some speed works and hope to perform well in other races throughout the whole training cycle. The fundamental training philosophy is still almost the same. The consequence of doing the speed works too early is we might get injured, over trained or peaking too early so we have to be extra careful not to burn out. But based on my experience, the load is manageable and the form can last.

iii) There is no golden rule here. We might need to bang the wall a few times to define our own rules.

iv) I think LSD and recovery run are overrated. :P

Let's start.

1. How many weeks we want to train for?

A typical Marathon training program can last for 12 weeks to 24 weeks. If I start from zero, I will feel more comfortable with at least 18 weeks. If I've been training or racing regularly with at least 30km per week for several weeks, I can go for a 12 weeks. I'm not confident with anything less than 12 weeks. Let's assume we start our SCKLM training next week, so we will have a 14 weeks program.

2. Taper weeks

Set the last 2 to 3 weeks as taper weeks. I prefer tapering for 3 weeks. My suggestion is if our peak weekly mileage is around 70km and above we should go for a 3 weeks tapering. My experience for a 2 weeks tapering is we won't get enough rest and we will have to suddenly reduce a lot of mileage during the last 2 weeks which perhaps will do more harm.

3. Micro cycles

Create 2 to 4 micro cycles with reduce mileage week in between each cycle. Each cycle contains 3 to 6 weeks. The purpose of the reduce mileage week is for our body to recover. We can divide our weeks evenly into each cycle. For example, 5-5 (reduce mileage on the 6th week). I usually like to join some shorter distance races at the end of these reduced weeks so I will work around with what I've already signed up. For example, a 3-3-3 cycles (reduce mileage on 4th and 8th week) will be just nice for me, I can taper a bit for Bukit Jalil and PAR relay.

This is now what it should look like

4. Weekend long run

i) How long to run?

Now fill in our weekend long run. Start from the distance we are comfortable with and increase 2km every week until it reaches 30km. I usually start from 14km to 16km. You can start straight from 20~25km if you are experience enough or you have been doing it regularly but this will make you reach 30km very soon. I don't like to run too much of 30~35km, with the speed that we are going to run I think they tax our body too much. I will run 2 to 3 times of 30km with 1 time up to 32~34km. I feel it's perfectly fine to stop at just 30km.

We can also measure it by hours. For the maximum long run distance, I would suggest not more than 3 hours regardless what pace we run. Actually for people who train for 4:00 to 3:00 FM, a maximum of 2.5 hours long run is sufficient. 1 or 2 times of 3 hours run are fine.

For reduced week, we can reduce our long run distance to something between 10k and 20k or 50% to 80% of the previous long run.

ii) Type of long run

As I mentioned earlier, I think long slow distance (LSD) is overrated so I like to add some speed elements into my long run. I like some of the runs recommended by Jeff Gaudette and Pete Pfitzinger. They are:

Surge long run: Long run with 4 to 10 sets of 60 sec to 90 secs surges (3k~5k race pace) with 3 to 5min slow jog in between each surges.

Fast finish long run: Long run with the last 4 to 15km at pace faster than marathon pace (25k~35k race pace).

Steady interval long run: Long run with pace slightly slower, around or faster than marathon pace and with a 10 mins long rest at the half way point.

Marathon pace long run: Long run with the last 5 to 20km at marathon pace.

After adding the weekend long runs

Note: How to read the workout?

For example one: 10k,4x(90s 3~5kp,5:00SJ),1k

10km easy pace, 4 sets of 90 secs at 3k to 5k race pace, slow jog 5 minutes after each surge, , end with 1km cool down.

For example two: 7k,6k 35-50kp,10:00RI,6k 35-50kp,1k

7km easy pace, 6km at 35k to 50k race pace, rest 10 minutes, again 6km at 35k to 50k race pace, end with 1km cool down.

5. Key workout

i) The arrangement and consideration

Now we need something that can get us up to speed – the speed work, aka "key run"/"hard workout". Some people like 2 speed works per week some prefer 1. I actually think, to train for a Marathon, 1 speed work per week or even biweekly is sufficient since 97~99% of a Marathon is using aerobic function so the speed part becomes not so crucial. However I plan to excel in shorter distance, I will sacrifice some of my weekly middle long run for another semi-hard speed work.

I prefer to run my key workout on Tue so that I can add the semi-hard workout on Thu or Fri. Semi-hard speed work is either reduce mileage or reduce intensity. I want to have an easy day or rest day in between 2 hard workouts. Also, I don't feel comfortable if I skipped the speed work. I tend to do it at the beginning of the week so that if let say raining or busy on Tue, I still can postpone it to Wed or Thu. If you do not like the idea of semi-hard workout or if you think it's too high intensity, we can change it to some other type of run eg. middle long run, steady run.

I feel it's very taxing to do 2 hard workouts without reducing the intensity in 1 week span. The Sunday fast long run and the races are considered very high intensity workouts already. With the mileage that we are going to run, I don't think our body can take it. I will even choose to skip the semi-hard workout if I'm running a race during that week.

During the reduced week, we can try to cut the mileage of the hard workouts but I usually don't cut them. I prefer to retain the intensity of the hard workout and reduce the mileage from the easy and long run.

ii) Type of speed works

A lot of them are the common one like tempo and intervals but I like some of the runs recommended by Jeff Gaudette, Pete Pfitzinger and Jack Daniels. Including the classic workouts, they are:

Tempo run: Run 20 to 40 minutes at 1 hour race pace.

Cruise interval: Break the tempo run into smaller chunk with 1 to 2 minutes of rest in between. For example: 3 sets of 2km at 1 hour race pace with 1 min rest.

Threshold interval: 4 to 10 sets of 600m~1.2k (4k~9km race pace) with 2:1 to 2:1.5 rest ratio. For example: run 5 minutes, rest 2.5~3.5 minutes

VO2max interval: 4 to 10 sets of 400m~1k (1.5k~4km race pace) with 1:1 to 1:1.25 rest ratio. For example: run 3 minutes, rest 3~3.5 minutes

Repetitions: 10 to 20 sets of 100m~400m sprints with 1:2 to 1:5 rest ratio. For example: run 200m in 40 seconds and slow jog/walk 200m in about 2~3 minutes.

Tempo and interval combo: Some mix, for example a 4km tempo and follow by 5x400m VO2Max interval.

Alternating run: Run with alternating the pace. For example: 1k at marathon pace and 1k at 15k race pace for a total of 8km.

Progressions run: A.k.a negative splits run or acceleration run, start the run with some easy run and run faster on each splits. For example: total of 6km with first km at 42k race pace, 2nd km at 30k pace, 21k pace, 15k pace, 10k pace and last km at 7k pace.

Others: Hill repeats, stairs, pyramid intervals, fartlek, etc. They are all different variation but fundamentally the same.

There are 3 micro cycles in the training program. The first cycle is to target the 12.5km Bukit Jalil race, the middle cycle is for the 3km PAR relay which has hills and stairs and the last cycle will be the Marathon specific weeks. We will train slightly differently for different races. For example, we don't really need repetitions and VO2Max interval in Marathon specific weeks; we don't really need alternating and long tempo run when training for short distance.

iii) Distance of speed works

Now fill in the distance for the key workouts. Same principles apply, start with something short and add 1 to 2k every few weeks for the same type of workout. Start each workout with 2 to 3k of warm up and end with 1 to 2k of cool down. Usually the tempo, cruise, combo, alternating, progression and hills cover longer distance. Threshold interval and VO2Max interval cover shorter distance. Stairs and repetitions are even shorter. For the rough comparison, 10k tempo (3k warm, 6k tempo, 1k cool) is as intense as a 9k threshold interval (3k warm, 5x800m with 200m slow jog, 1k cool) or a 7k stairs (3k warm, 20x100 steps, 1k cool).

My recommendation for the first longer speed work should be around 8~10km, shorter speed workout should be about 7~9km. Repetitions and stairs should be about 5~7km. Run the shorter distance if we are unfit or we run slower than 5 hour marathon, choose the longer distance if we are fit or we run faster than 4 hour marathon. Increase by 1k or 2k every 2 to 4 weeks. The total distance here including the warm up, cool down and the slow jog/walk distance in between the run. For example a 10km threshold interval can be something like 6x800m with 200m slow jog or 5x1k with 200m slow jog or 4x1.2k with 300m slow jog.

Example 1: 1 hard workout and 1 semi hard workout per week

Example 2: 1 hard workout and 1 middle long run/easy run per week

6. Weekly mileage

i) The Law Of Diminishing Returns

We have all the main stuffs filled in now, next is to think how much mileage we want to run per week. I don't go by mileage, I usually go by hours. I always think to get the same improvement rate, everyone has to train almost the same amount of hours regardless what our running pace is. This is a tricky part and some of the people don't agree. We can talk more about it in the future.

Base on this article, the new London Marathon champion Eliud Kipchoge trained only 200km per week. OK, 200km! How much time could he possibly spend in this 200km? He didn't state it but it's not hard to find out based on the article wrote "he runs 20-mile run at 5 minutes per mile". Give or take, he only needs 11~12 hours to complete the 200km. It's a lot to most of the amateur runners like me but it's not to some of the crazy and dedicated runners! How much mileage we normal human can cover in 11 to 12 hours? For me it will be about 110km which looks quite right. If I really want to get into that kind of improvement rate, for them is to shave 10 to 30 secs off from a 2:03 hour marathon, for me is like shaving 1 min off from 3 hour, then yes I need 11 to 12 hours of training. But I'm not professional and I haven't reach sub-3 level so do I really need to run 11 to 12 hours?

To make it simpler, this is what I think: if let say running 6 to 8 hours per week will make me run 5% faster, doubling the efforts to 12 to 16 hours will NOT let me improve 10%. It will be somewhere around 6 to 9%. The closer we reach our genetic capability the lesser improvement we will get, the diminishing returns become more significant. It's all mathematics and science. This is The Law of Diminishing Returns. The performance gain is not a linear growth.

ii) How much to run per week?

Based on the diminishing returns, my suggestion for how much weekly mileage we should train for should be: if we think we are almost hitting our genetic max capability (if we have run for many years already, you will know it yourself!) and we want to improve that few secs from our PB, then go for 10 hours and above. If not, just stick with about 5 to 8 hours per week. 5 to 8 hours per week should be about:

35~55km for a 6:00 marathoner,
45~65km for a 5:00 marathoner,
60~80km for a 4:00 marathoner,
80~100km for a 3:00 marathoner.

5 to 8 hours should be manageable for most of the casual runners. That's the minimum time we should spend to run a good marathon. Now fill in the other days with easy run and increase mileage slowly until we reach our maximum weekly mileage right before the taper weeks.

iii) Type of easy run

For the off days, we can choose to rest, do some core, strength or cross training. For easy runs, we can add some fun elements like 5x100m striding, 5x50m hills sprints, 5x100 steps stairs, etc.

My idea of recovery run is not for recovery. I don't really buy the idea of "recovery run is for recovery". I generally think recovery run add pressure and slow down the recovery process. I would rather completely rest or do stretching if I need to recover. So you won't see recovery run in my program. It is just part of the easy run. My philosophy of the easy run is just merely "I'm still fatigue, I can't run fast and I don't want to get injured but I still need my mileage so I run slowly". The purpose of easy run and recovery run is just for getting the mileage in so that we are able to benefit from the stimulation of the accumulated fatigue. We need to run more to run fast and long, so we take smaller pieces and put them together over a long time, build capacities slower. That's the point of doing the easy run.

Example 1: shorter weekly mileage approach

Example 2: longer weekly mileage approach

7. Taper weeks

i) Specific workouts

Tempo run on first taper week. Now we want to fill in the most crucial part - taper weeks. I prefer to do a stress test and super hard key workout during the first taper week. I will do a super long tempo run which is about 10km to 12km which close to or slightly slower than 1 hour race pace. But make sure it's not an all out run.

Cruise interval 10 days before. Based on Pfitzinger Advanced Marathoning book, the best time for a last speed work should be 10 days before the Marathon and he recommends 3x1.6km at tempo pace.

Marathon pace run 5 days before. Tuesday during the final week I will prep myself with a 5km pace run.

Weekend long run. For taper weeks, first taper week I will cut 20% and second week I will cut 50%. This makes it 24km and 15km respectively.

Other days will be easy runs. I will also slowly reduce and stop the core and strength training during the taper weeks.

ii) How much to reduce?

Typically, first taper week, I will cut the mileage down to the 80 to 85% of the highest weekly mileage. 50 to 60% for 2nd week and 30 to 40% for the final week.

Final 1: Shorter mileage, 1 hard workout and 1 semi hard workout per week

Final 2: Longer mileage, 1 hard workout per week

8. Pace!

The final crucial element is the training pace. Run too fast we will burn out, run too slow we can't get enough stimulation so we need to be particular. For simplicity, use McMillan Calculator or read the or google Pfitzinger or Jack Daniels. I also have a small guide here: How to find out your training pace if you are interested.

The pace that we should refer to should base on our current fitness but not the pace that we are targeting for. For example, if my current fitness for a 10k race is 1 hour and I'm targeting a sub-4 marathon, I will use 10k in 1 hour as the benchmark for training pace instead of 42k in sub-4. We will have to keep adjusting the training paces. I adjust them every week based on my training output.

9. Fine tuning and adjustment

The schedule so far should be almost ready but things can change from time to time and we should adjust accordingly. For example: if we are weak at hills and our race is a hilly course then we can add more hill elements. If we think back to back hard workout is important then we can modify some of them to b2b. If we think it's better to run long run on Sat then shift it. If we think hard workout after race is too tough then cancel it. We should fine tune the schedule from time to time. The schedule is merely a guide line and not a you-miss-something-you-are-screwed kinda thing. It should be F-L-E-X-I-B-L-E!

Now it's ready for the execution. Good luck!