Professional runner Nell Rojas ran her first marathon as part of her training plan for an IRONMAN triathlon. Now, she’s a marathoner with a top-10 finish in the 2020 Olympic Trials. Here are her marathon training tips:
There’s no one right way to train for a marathon! Everyone is different and can tolerate different loads, has different time restrictions, is starting at a different place, has different goals, etc. No matter your story, here are some training tips for how to crush a marathon!
First, write down a realistic goal! My goal going into every marathon is to get to the line healthy and not over trained, execute my race plan that is formulated based on sound data, and learn some things along the way to implement for the next race.
A marathon training cycle typically starts 12-16 weeks before your race. You want to already have a solid aerobic base coming into this cycle! This will make it possible to build endurance and/or speed and reduce the risk of injury doing so. What does a solid aerobic base look like? Well hopefully it means that you’ve been running and mixing in other cardio for a while. The goal is to already have a foundation in cardio and a body that’s prepared for the rigors of running.
Lifelong runners and elite runners do not have to go back to dedicate an entire cycle to aerobic base training because they’ve built upon their base year after year. I personally plan a 12-week specific marathon cycle. A little shorter than most 16-week cycles but mentally and physically 12 weeks is about what I can handle to be peaked for the race.
I’ve seen successful marathons off of anywhere from 60-150 miles per week. That’s a big range, but it all depends on how much load you can handle, time restrictions, etc. Long runs can be anywhere from 16-22 miles. I personally do four twenty-mile long runs, spaced out every other week and ending 3 weeks before my race. The first one is all easy, the next one is a progression of 7 miles easy, 7 miles moderate, 6 miles hard, and the next two can vary depending on what I feel like I need to be prepared for the race. One is typically 5 miles easy, 5 miles at marathon pace, 5 miles easy, 5 miles at marathon pace, and the other is typically another progression.
For experienced runners I suggest following a weekly schedule. For beginners I suggest only one quality session in the middle of the week.
Tuesday: Threshold or marathon specific workout, strength
Example workout: 10k tempo or cut down; 5k/3200m/1600m
Wednesday: Aerobic conditioning run, cross-train
Thursday: Aerobic conditioning run, cross-train
Friday: Speed work or Intervals, strength
Example workout: 1600m tempo/12×400/1600m tempo
Saturday: Aerobic conditioning run, cross-train
Sunday: Long run
I think it’s important to do 3 races during this cycle:
1 – 10k 10-12 weeks out to set a baseline so you know where you are and what you need to work on
2 – Half marathon 6 weeks out for a hard effort and make a more accurate marathon prediction time,
3 – Shorter race (a 5k or 10k) 10-14 days out as a last hard effort.
Remember, all races provide data points to apply to training and to learn from!
Do it! This will keep you healthy and give you a performance boost for 20 reasons I could list off right now! You should have already done a good amount of strength coming into this cycle so that your main focus and energy can go to your strenuous marathon workouts, but you need to maintain the work you’ve done.
You’ll notice in the schedule above that I put in cross-training instead of a double run! There are very few people who can get away with running 100+ miles a week, and they’re mostly elite athletes. Elite athletes tend to have good biomechanics, have spent most of their life building the durability to run high mileage, and have the time to recover properly.
Let’s say that on top of being born with the right tools to run efficiently and with biomechanics that put less stress on their bodies, they “earn” their mileage by doing pre- and post-run stretches and exercises and make regular visits to PT’s, massage therapists, and chiropractors. You may even need to swap a day of running for cross training. I love cross training because it helps my aerobic fitness without the pounding, and most importantly, I’ve had success doing it!
Learn more about why cross training is worth your time here.
Start your taper 3 weeks before your race. To know how you perform your best, experiment with different tapers and take good notes. My last three weeks are 85% mileage, 70% mileage, and 30% mileage on race week. Keep some intensity in there but listen to your body and don’t overdo it! The last two weeks your focus should be on staying healthy, sleeping well, and feeling sharp!
The Mental Game
Keep a training log so that you know that you’ve put in the work. Write down 3 things in your training log that went well every run and revisit them. Visualize yourself hitting your goal and all of the little details of how you want your race to go. Set attainable goals that you’re confident you can achieve. Be confident about your race plan and do all the small things to prepare. Don’t put so much pressure on yourself, know that there are more races in the future and it’s all about showing yourself that you are tough enough to go through the journey of training and brave enough to show up at the start line!
Check out this blog for strategies to help build your mental game.
Practice! This piece is just as important as the run training. The greatest limiting factor in a marathon is glycogen depletion which will come from either not taking in enough sugar or going out too fast. You need 150-250 calories per hour and 20-30 ounces of fluid per hour. I would err on the higher side if your stomach can handle it! Find a gel and hydration mix that works well for you and practice on every long run.
You’ve put in the hard work, you’ve made a plan, you’ve practiced fueling. Now you’re set to crush a marathon!
Keep up with Nell on social media!