Type ‘marathon training plan’ into Google and it returns over 4 billion results. So how do you choose a good one? Here, Girls Run the World founder and marathon coaches give her view
Choosing the right marathon training plan depends on your goal and experience. And the free ones that accompany race entry, the charity you might run for, or are free to download will not be specific to you, your background as a runner or even the race.
Whether you are a first timer, seeking Good for Age qualification or a specific race time, this is what you should be looking for in a good quality training plan.
Your plan should be clearly divided into blocks, showing progressive build. This can vary according to the length of the plan but generally includes a Build Phase, usually four-six weeks, a Peak Phase and Taper. Sometimes, these blocks will have an additional phase 1 and 2.
‘This helps to ensure the load is controlled and progressive, building the right strength and endurance for marathon running to achieve peak performance on race day and avoiding injury,’ explains head coach, Rachael Woolston, winner of the V45 Mumbai Marathon and 3rd Place Fort William Marathon. ‘It will also help you to plan for your life and work, aware of when the training will start to take more out of you physically and mentally.’
If it is not stated in a training plan, check whether the training volume drops for a week between the fourth to sixth week.
‘It’s in the recovery weeks that you adapt to the physiological stress that your body has been put under in the weeks that have gone before, and get stronger,’ explains Rachael. ‘Without planned recovery weeks, you are simply undermining your training efforts.’
Duration vs Distance
Whether you choose a plan for distance or duration is down to your experience as a a runner and personal preference.
‘Beginners will often benefit from a duration based plan as it helps you to train with injury,’ explains Rachael. ‘If you overdo miles to tick a distance box, your body is likely to break down and you will end up exhausted all week.’
Effort Level or Pace
If you want to get stronger, it goes without saying that plans should include a mixture of tempo, spadework, easy runs and long slow runs. Added strength work is even better (check out our fully comprehensive day by day, strength and running plans here).
But effort level, whether REP, rate of perceived exertion, suggested pace or heart rate should be included.
‘Most of our off-the peg training plans use REP, because it’s just easier for time poor women to get out and run based on effort levels than finding their heart rate monitor,’ says Rachael. ‘If you’re an experienced runner, you know what your pace is for every pace zone anyway.’
Ease of Following
It can be the best plan in the world, but if it’s written down on paper or printed out and you keep losing it, that is not much use. It is why we deliver most of our training plans are delivered via our partner training app, Training Peaks.
This sends emails the night before with your workout for the next day, or you can find your training workout directly on your phone and even synch the training workouts direct to your Garmin. Plus it will keep track of your data, and provide space for you to comment on your training. (See what Training Peaks looks like behind the scenes over on our YouTube channel).
Or you can purchase any of our training plans here.