You did it! You registered for a marathon! Whether it’s your first or your 50th, the next step is usually formulating a plan of how you are going to get to the start and finish lines. Enter the training plan creation stage or, if you have a coach, the conversation about how things are going to look for the next few months.
Even if you are a veteran marathoner, each training cycle represents a different time in your life that presents you with fresh obstacles around which you need to tweak your training. For instance, some teachers may choose to train for fall rather than spring marathons, as they have more time in the summer to dedicate to training. Other times, life gets busy and you realize that you just cannot fit in the time that you were able to last training cycle and you have to adjust accordingly.
There are many schools of thought out there when it comes to marathon training, and as you become more experienced and read about what others are doing, you may start feeling the pressure to add more weekly mileage to your schedule. But how do you know what’s right for you? Of if you have a coach, what can you discuss with her that will help her decide? What factors should you take into consideration?
Yes, experience can be a key factor in determining mileage for future training; those who are newer runners will likely train with fewer miles than those who have run the distance many times before. However, it’s not necessarily the be-all-end-all. Granted, I don’t know what each of their training looked like, but what about those women who ran their first marathon at the US Olympic Trials Marathon in February? I’d bet they weren’t following a beginner plan simply because they hadn’t run the distance before. Experience at running and at training in general can go a long way when making the switch to the marathon distance.
That doesn’t discount that experience at the distance could also actually lower the miles you need in order to be successful though. If you have gone the distance before, and especially if you’ve done it many times, your body is more likely adapted to help you get to that finish line
Your Fitness Level
While this can affect your goal and paces more, where you are in your training will certainly affect upcoming mileage. Do you have a good base you have been working with and can you build up to more mileage with ease? Have you been running a bit less and will you need some more time for a gradual buildup of miles? You don’t want to jump into a plan unprepared for the mileage, which drastically increases the risk of injury. On the flip side, if you have a stronger base, you might need to alter or skip the first few weeks of a plan to meet your training so you aren’t moving backwards so to speak when it comes to your fitness level.
Age is not the same thing as experience. Sometimes people will refer to an “older” runner needing less miles due to experience, but in my opinion this is only accurate if they use the term “older” to indicate having spent a greater amount of time training and racing.
Obviously though, a 23-year-old runner with 10 years of coached training and racing experience is far different than a 40-year-old runner with the same experience. So saying an “older” runner might need less miles due to experience isn’t necessarily true, but age is a factor on its own. There is a hard case to be made that, as we age, lower mileage is a good way to run healthy and injury free.
If you have a laundry list of past injuries, piling on the miles is probably not the best course of action. Specifically, when it comes to common overuse injuries such as runner’s knee, iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS), achilles tendonitis, shin splints, plantar fasciitis, and stress fractures more miles might actually sideline you rather than get you to the start line. Excessive miles and drastic mileage jumps (outrunning your current fitness level) increase the risk of injuries even before you factor in a history of those recurring problems. If you have chronic issues, proceed with caution. You might be better off spending the extra time on recovery.
There are runners out there who have families, full time jobs, or are in graduate school and still put in 10-15 hours a week of training, but it’s not possible for all of us. I myself find that I do better mentally and physically with a little more balance, so I don’t like to overdo my schedule in any one category. It’s all about considering what you want and choosing to make the time. If you enjoy the miles and have the ability to put in the extra time then go for it, but burning the candle at both ends can lead you down a rocky road.
Time on Your Feet
Like it or not, your paces should affect how much you are running. You have a certain amount of hours in a week for training and the time it takes to accomplish those miles should be taken into account. This is ONLY including the time you are running, this doesn’t even include the additional time spent on recovery, strength, cross training, traveling to run spots and everything else that adds time.
This should directly impact the training. Are you training for a PR? Are you training just to finish? Knowing your goal, and what you need in order to achieve it are very important. Do you NEED to run an extra 10-20 miles a week to just finish? If you’re really committed to that PR, are you willing to put in extra time and effort? If you are aiming for a more lofty goal, your training should reflect as such. This doesn’t necessarily mean more and more miles though; a more structured approach to how you run those miles will certainly help on its own.
Men might be able to run a certain time goal off X miles but a woman looking to run the same time may potentially need to run more miles, although this is certainly not a hard rule. This seems to be a commonly held belief, but I couldn’t find any hard science to back it up. If you can find something more compelling than a magazine article, please share it in the comments!
Once you have worked through the factors that affect your training, THEN it’s time to start looking at plans that you can fit within your experience level and time available. You don’t want to pick a plan which is centered around high mileage and certain workouts if you can’t keep the basic tenets of the plan intact. Modifying your training is inevitable, life happens! But if you are changing things so much that it defeats the intended principles behind the plan, what’s the point?
What factors do you consider before picking a marathon training plan?