A Successful Marathon Training Plan

bristol half marathon

proteinMarathon training plan

What is meant by a profitable marathon training plan?

A plan that produces results.

Why go out on the roads every day running mindless miles or do workouts on the track without producing a result?

Richard Knox of NPR stated in Avoid The Bonk: Running A Marathon Scientifically that during 2010 there would be approximately 200,00 Americans that would run marathons, 4 out of 10 of those runners would ‘bonk’.

We know what that is.

If you have ever gotten to mile 15 in the marathon and feel like an 800 pound guerrilla decided to take a break on your back you know the feeling is not one of comfort.

The article goes on to talk about a female marathoner with a 3.09 personal best and a notable doctor who tested her and stated she had the capability to run a 2.44 marathon time.

Once we run out of carbohydrate stores we begin to burn fat.

It requires far more oxygen to do that.

If the athlete has not trained the body to utilize fat stores at race efforts the oxygen delivery to the muscles will not be sufficient enough, thus the athlete slows down.

What is going on when we bonk?

According to Dr. Ben Rappaport runners are running out of carbohydrates in the liver and leg muscles.

The body is forced to metabolize fat. Fat is a much less efficient fuel source and requires a great deal more energy to burn rather then carbohydrates.

The Facts

There are far too many runners selling themselves short because they have a bad race without understanding the why’s of what happened.

Endurance events involve a mixture of carbohydrate and fat fuel usage.

We run long on the weekends to burn fat and increase endurance.

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The problem is when you are at race pace your body is relying more on carbohydrates.

Once they are depleted, it doesn’t matter how motivated you are, what times you have run in the past or what caliber athlete you are. You will slow down.

If you get to mile seven in a half-marathon and ‘bonk’ as Richard Knox stated in his article, or get to mile twenty in the marathon and either are forced to drop out or walk you are out of carbohydrates.

Fat vs Carbohydrates

If you can teach your body to do that, you will conserve carbohydrates and will not experience the ‘bonk’ so many runners have dealt with.

I did not experience hitting a wall or ‘bonking’ when I ran 2.19.35.

That being said, I have been on the other side of the coin and have experienced what it is to hit the wall and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.

Debra Schulman, Ph.D, in Fuel in Fat For The Long Run put what I have known for the past few years beautifully.

Follow the principle of specificity. If you want to teach your body to use more fat for fuel, then create training conditions that generate high fat metabolism. Your body will eventually learn to prefer fat.

Now THAT is the ticket. Teach your body to prefer fat over carbohydrate and you will have carbohydrates when you need them most, in the last 10 kilometers.

Our bodies only have approximately 1800-2000 calories stored at any given time as carbohydrate.  When do many runners usually experience hitting the wall?

It should be no surprise that in most cases it is between the 18 to 20 mile mark. We burn around 100-110 calories per every mile we run. You get the picture.

Researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden have proven that a 6-day-a-week program of 45 minutes of higher intensity training (running and cycling) increased fat combustion in the athletes tested by 41 percent.

The result? Less reliance on carbohydrates and better fat usage.

You want your marathon training plan to set you up for success and teach your body to use fat more efficiently at race pace.

The Truth

You want to train at higher intensities for longer periods of time as you build your fitness.

What this means is running at speeds where fat metabolism is at it’s highest.

Where is that?

running a faster marathonFor beginners it may be around 60% of your maximum effort. For experienced runners it may be more toward 70-75% of your maximum heart rate.

I started dropping HUGE amounts of time when I began doing long runs at slightly higher efforts, but not to the point where I was going anaerobic.

My goal marathon race pace is 5.16 per mile pace (2.18.00). My best marathon is 2.19.35 5.19 per mile pace).

‘Anearobic’ means ‘without oxygen’. It is the point at which your body is not producing the proper amount of oxygen to the working muscles.

There is simply not enough oxygen delivery for them to work properly and thus it begins to break down sugar and produce lactic acid.

Better said, lactate will not be able to be converted back into energy needed to sustain the pace you were holding.

What I did to go from 2.43.36 to 2.19.35

I started using heart rate monitors and focused on going from running at an easy pace hovering at 130-40 beats per minute to running at 160 beats per minute (more toward 75% effort).

Track workouts at a MUCH faster pace then goal marathon race pace.

This meant repeat miles at 4.40-45 per rep, long fartlek runs such as 60 minutes alternating 1 minute hard (4.55-5.05 per mile pace) with 1 minute easy (6.30-7.30 per mile pace).

Long track intervals such as 10x1000m repeats with shorter recoveries.

These forms of workouts teach your body to run more economical at higher exertion rates. You are teaching yourself to clear lactic acid faster then it is building up.

What happens?

You start to teach your body to rely on fat, rather then carbohydrates.

If your oxygen demand exceeds your supply you will go anaerobic and you will be forced to slow down.

If you teach your body to run at a higher percentage of effort, without going anaerobic, you will be training in a higher fat metabolism zone.

Your body will begin to use fat more efficiently and conserve carbohydrates.

Conserve carbohydrates means you will be able to call upon them when you need them most, when you have to sprint at the end of a race or in the last six miles of the marathon.

It isn’t that you don’t have the capability to achiever your goals.

You simply have to change your strategy.

Consider your options.


Jeff Gaudette, a 2.22 marathoner who ran for the Hansons Distance Project, reiterates my training philosophy by saying,

One of the most important elements to marathon success is being able to burn a higher percentage of fats versus carbohydrates when running at marathon pace. The longer you can maintain your glycogen stores, the farther into the marathon you can go before the brain and muscles, in the absence of glycogen, start to slow you down.

It doesn’t matter what your goal is or what level you are currently at. This is a universal fact.

When it comes to marathoning, any distance for that matter.

The more specific you are in your training the better results you are going to produce.

We have FAR more fat stores in our body then carbohydrates.

Once your reliance on carbohydrates is diminished and have taught the body to work better using fats at speeds close to or at your marathon race pace you are going to produce personal bests.

The problem is in order to do this you will have to require of yourself to run a speeds that are uncomfortable, what you are not normally used to.

So of you are, say a 4.20 marathoner, seeking to break a 4 hour marathon.

You have to, after having built the necessary fitness first, begin to implement higher training efforts and increase the time spent at those efforts.

How do you go from running 9.55 per mile pace to 9.09 per mile pace for 26 miles?

What are some example workouts that will help you to that end goal?

A higher focus on quality, rather then quantity in regards to mileage

Easy mileage is exactly that. Easy.

It is there to build fitness, to burn fat (at MUCH easier efforts, not at race pace) and build general endurance.

Too many runners think you have to run more miles to run a better marathon time, which isn’t the case. It is quality that breeds personal bests, not quantity.

Raise your effort level higher during your long runs.

If you are a 4.20 marathoner who has done long runs at 10.50-11.00 per mile pace in the past, consider finishing your last 6 miles of your next long run at 9.35 pace and work from there.

The key is, over time, teaching your body to handle running at harder paces for longer periods of time. As time goes on, your long runs will look like this.

20-mile run aiming for 10.45 per mile pace…first 8 at 10.45 per mile, last 12 averaging 11.25 per mile.

20-mile run – first 5 miles relaxed, next 5 miles at 10.00 pace, 5 miles at 9.20 pace, 3 miles at 8.50 pace, 2 mile cool-down

Which of these two runs do think will better prepare you to run a 4.00 marathon?

A better question is which of these two runs will teach you to use more fat at speeds closer to your goal pace and conserve carbohydrates stores?

The second is clearly the better choice.

Be patient, Rome wasn’t built over night and a successful marathon training plan takes time too.

This will teach your body to not only burn fat, but more importantly burn fat relative to the speeds you are trying to race at.

In closing, you have to remember this isn’t easy.

It takes patience and persistence to get yourself to these fitness levels but having a long-term approach to your training and understanding the physiology that goes behind it is going to make you a much more successful runner in 2013.

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