I raced the Columbus Marathon last week. Unlike last year, I didn’t get stressed out about the race. I was very, very ready (or at least I thought I was) when I showed up on the starting line. I knew it was just a matter of getting there with the right gear, a solid race plan and some good fall marathoning weather. I went after a 2:50 race, but landed on a 2:54, over four minutes faster than last year. You can read all the gory details in my race report.
So, how did I end up crossing the line with a 2:54:06 in October, after DNF’ing in May? I know a lot of you out there love reading our training logs. I truly believe that one of the best ways to find training methods that work for you is to stalk other people’s training logs. I’ll save you the stalking part: I’m going to show you what a sub-3:00 marathon training cycle looks like, from the workouts to the weekly mileage and more!
I know, I know. Many of you think sub-3 hours is just an impossibility, that women who run that fast are genetically gifted. I’m telling you right now, there isn’t anything all that special about them. They worked really hard to get there, had a good training approach and didn’t get injured. In fact, I would tell you that they did three things you probably aren’t doing: 1) they started running every single day; 2) increased their mileage to average somewhere over 10 miles per day; and 3) they train with complete consistency no matter what — at least during their race specific training seasons.
And this is what I did after I DNF’d in Pittsburgh. I took three weeks off and made some changes back closer to the way things were when my training went better (plus the lessons I learned, of course). I resumed running with a holding pattern of low stress 50-ish mile weeks. There were a few weeks of high mileage build-up in the 70 to 80 range, and finally this training cycle began in August.
The elements of a sub-3 training plan.
I think my training is pretty exemplary of other women with similar times, although with some variation for particular preferences. Here are the elements of my training:
- 10-ish Week Race Specific Phase. I kept my marathon-specific training period to about ten weeks. Anything longer than this just seems too long, and for the fall, anything longer also starts to encroach on crazy-early summer sunrises. This is the part of training where I’m focusing on racing 26.2 miles at goal pace, rather than generally working on speed, endurance, etc.
- Long Runs. For marathon-specific racing, a long run is anything 16 miles or longer. I really hate long runs, so I keep mine under 20 miles. Usually 18 miles, but sometimes as short as 16 miles.
- Cruise Intervals. I like cruise intervals, while other runners prefer tempo runs. Cruise intervals are typically longer intervals with very short rest run run at LT pace. This is somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 mile race pace, while a tempo may be a sustained run closer to half marathon pace.
- Marathon Pace Work. I like practicing, so long continuous marathon-paced runs are essential to me.The goal is 10 miles each session, about 100 miles total leading up to the race. I also practice water bottles, clothing and pacing during these runs.
- Doubles. I’m not that into doubles. I didn’t run any doubles in last year’s Columbus race specific phase, but this time a weekly double added some easy miles.
- No days off. I believe if you want to race your best marathon you need to run every day of your marathon-specific phase.
We all do something different.
So that is what I do. But what works for me, won’t necessarily work for you. If you are stumped, spy on training logs on Strava or our training logs to see what everyone else is doing. The best training approach is the one you actually do. The point is that somewhere between looking at what everyone else is doing, finding a training plan that you like and making sure you reinforce good habits, you can probably figure out a training plan that works for you.
The training log.
This log is copied directly out of my training log on Strava. I wish you could see it there, but this view can’t be shared. If you are looking at this mileage going [@?!?!?!$], what you should notice is that this sport has a lot of mobility. You don’t start at running seven days a week. You work up to it. To make it to this level, you have to make it to being able to run every single day. That helps fulfill the necessity of mileage.
After you work up to being able to handle training seven days a week, then you can work on the big marathon-specific workouts on top of the mileage. No matter where you are on your journey to marathon greatness, you have to run workouts with clear purpose and know that you are doing them right. This is particularly true when you’re running every day. They don’t have to be complex workouts. 3 x 2mi at 10 mile-ish race pace is really easy to understand, and it is easy to determine when you are doing them correctly. All you need is a watch and a track.
So visually, what does a season of subelite training look like?
Let me show you. At the end of this post is a visual representation of my training between my DNF in Pittsburgh and Columbus. Notice the 10 week marathon-specific training started the first week of August. After you check it out, let me know what you think.
Do you aspire to break-3 someday? Have you already? How does your training differ from mine?