Marathon Training Program Update

In the beginning, the idea was to go over a bunch of different marathon training programs in the blog and “review” them from the perspective of a complete fool novice. I’ve looked over a bunch of different ones and considered a bunch, including some from Runner’s World, and one from Hal Higdon that I found in an old book I have.

There are the two things that I’ve learned about marathon training. First, nobody knows anything. I read in a running magazine recently that, until the 1960’s, the medical profession thought that athletes’ hearts were weak and diseased from all that work. It wasn’t until they performed an autopsy on a three-time Boston Marathon winner and were shocked by the abnormally well-developed and healthy heart that the full benefits of running came to be fully understood. Even today, research in exercise phisiology continues to discover new stuff every month. I’m in grad school to be an English teacher, but my particular College of Education happens to have an outstanding Exercise Science program…maybe I should take an elective from there and try to figure some of this stuff out.

Second, that there are too many variables involved for any program to be perfect. Off the top of my head on a Saturday night, let me list the variables that a training plan must consider…

  • Overall mileage
  • Runner’s goal time
  • Runner’s prior level of fitness
  • Runner’s experience at other racing distances
  • Aerobic threshold (which, I believe, is similar to V02 Max, but don’t quote me on this)
  • Muscluar development and leg strength
  • Injury prevention and accommodating for lost time
  • Tempo runs vs. intervals vs. track work vs. lots and lots of slow miles
  • Length of long runs
  • Runner’s time commitment
  • Anaerobic threshold (the point where you hit “The Wall”)
  • Cross training–how much? how hard? how often?
  • Rest
  • Rate at which mileage and intensity is increased
  • Tapering

So yeah, there’s a lot going on here. I really think that I have four major needs in a training program:

  1. Flexibility–class, grading papers, meetings…all of these things can turn a teacher’s eight-hour day into a ten-hour day (//start rant: yes, those of you in the corporate world, teachers often do work from seven in the morning until five at night. And I should add that since I left the private sector, I haven’t had any hour-long lunches either. I get the same twenty-five minutes at the same cafeteria tables as my students. \\end rant) and then I have my own grad school classes to take. I’m doing myself a disservice if I don’t plan ahead for missed workouts.
  2. Specificity–Each day, I want to be able to leave my apartment and hit the road knowing exactly what I’m doing. How long and how fast?
  3. Injury prevention–thanks to some exciting skiing-related misadventures in years past, my knees can get a little cranky now and again. It was at its worst after high school, and I was forced to give up a spot running Division II cross-country. I’d like to be able to run this marathon without developing long-term knee issues, or any other issues for that matter.
  4. It should be eighteen weeks, which is the exact amount of time between the half marathon and the marathon

So, with all that in mind, I’ve settled on the FIRST marathon training program. From a lab at Furman University, the FIRST program is best known for requiring only three runs per week instead of the traditional four. The reasons for this are many, but most importantly all runs are done at a quicker pace and the program calls for two days of appreciable (30-45 min.) cross training per week.

The program includes a relatively low mileage for flexibility and injury potential reduction (“injury prevention” isn’t the right word here), is very specific about how fast I should run what distance, and is exactly eighteen weeks long.

I’m still looking around for people who have used the program successfully, and I’ll keep updating anything new I learn about this program.

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12 Responses to “Marathon Training Program Update”

  1. Wes Says:

    I’m doing the Jeff Galloway 52 week plan. It has you running 3 times a week the first year, no more. Two weekly runs at 30 minutes each, and the long run on Sunday. I’ve cheated a little and extended my week runs, but its been pretty good so far. Good luck in your half next week.

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