Marathon Training Plans – The 5 Most Important Elements Of Any Running Training Program

Marathon training plans are simply the tools that runners use in order to reach their goals. If our goal is to finish a first marathon then we choose a conservative and relaxed plan that will get us to the start line in good shape and then onto the finish line without an injury. If our goal is to finish a marathon in under 2 and a half hours then the training plan will have to be more rigorous, perhaps more risky, and definitely more involved.

No matter what our marathon goals are, every good marathon training plan will include at least some of each of the 5 essential ingredients:

1)Quantity. It is ridiculous to assume that you can succeed at your marathon goals if you don’t expect to put in the appropriate quantity of training. This is usually looked at simply in terms of miles or kilometers, but it can also be defined by hours, heart rate beats, VDOT points or even number of strides. This quantity will vary drastically with regard to your goals, but if your training plan doesn’t refer to the specific quantity of training then it isn’t a valid training plan.

2)Quality. This is a little more controversial, but it is true to say that every good training plan will refer in some way to the quality of the training involved. This can be very specific such as “7 times 200m sprints at 86% Max heart rate with 1000m slow run at 5minute per kilometer pace”. It can also be very general like “half hour slow jog”. Either way, a good marathon training plan will always make it clear how fast or how intense any workout should be.

3)Purpose. A good marathon training plan will be clear about the purpose of each of its elements. Each workout (or even each recovery session) should have a specific and valuable purpose. You should be able to explain exactly why you are doing what you are doing and you should be able to reasonably expect that you will achieve those benefits from doing that particular session.

4)Timing. The best marathon training plans include timing for various sessions as well as various phases of the program. They will refer to specific training phases through out a season, variations from week to week, the location of hard and easy days within a week and sometimes even the best time of day to do various workouts in relation to rest or other key sessions. Those programs that don’t specify timing, leave it open for a runner to be doing the optimum training with sub-optimal timing, leading to less than satisfying results or even injury. The timing must be optimized to make the most of the work that is being done while giving the greatest opportunity for recovery to do its job.

5)Recovery. Some call it, recovery, others call it rest, repair, growth, adaption, or even non-running-training. The most important element of training that many marathon training plans ignore is structured rest to make the most of the structured work. Every plan must include the correct balance of work and rest. It is in this rest time that our bodies respond to the loads we have placed on them. If there is no recovery then there is no improvement. A good training program recognizes this and does not leave recovery up to chance. The quantity, quality, purpose and timing of each of the training sessions are optimized to ensure that there is just the right amount of recovery to rebuild the body before the next load is introduced.

These are the basic 5 points that I use in evaluating any marathon training plans or any running training program for that matter. Of course there is a lot more to it as well, but this should help you to start evaluating any of the millions of ready made marathon training plans.

Tom O’Leary is an Australian author and runner who currently, runs, writes and lives in Japan. His main event is the marathon but he also runs and writes about other distances. He prescribes a carefully balanced mix of work, rest and play as the only way to achieve goals in running. If you would like to read other running related articles, please visit his blog. http://www.runningmonkeys.com