Making time for the marathon

author : Amanda McCracken
comments : 0

How do you incorporate marathon training into a triathlon training plan?

Member Question from Slowfatbeginner

"I have a training question. Right now I'm training for my first sprint in September. I would like to complete my first full marathon at the end of January 2012 and then complete my first HIM in March. I have run approximately ten half-marathons in the past few years. I'm a 29-year-old that can be categorized as an Athena. I'm not fast and I don't have specific time goals. My focus for those upcoming races in January and March is just to finish successfully. I have looked at Hal Higdon's website and read Jeff Galloway's "Marathon." I thought about basing my marathon training off of their plans and then somehow incorporating triathlon training. What is your best recommendation for training for both of those events?"

Answer from Amanda McCracken

Sounds like you have some lofty goals (a lot of firsts), but they are doable goals for this upcoming winter! My main concern for you is that you plan your training such that you have put in a healthy number of miles for the run and bike without overdoing it. You don't want to find yourself injured before the HIM or just after. That could ruin your spring training for the summer season.

First of all, you need to decide what you mean by "finish successfully". Does this mean you want to finish under the cut off time? Within the top 50 percent of your age group? Within the top ten of all Athenas? Do you want to try to complete your marathon near race pace of your past half marathons? Rank your goals so that, for example, your loftiest goal is "A" and your most meetable goal is "C." Likely by more clearly defining "success" now, your finish will feel more satisfying.

Secondly, you need to prioritize the races. My suggestion would be to use the marathon training as a complement to the half ironman training. When you say you've done ten half-marathons in the past couple of years, I'm assuming that means that you've actually put in the training miles for these races (not just signed up and dragged yourself across the finish line with only five long training runs under your belt) and therefore have a pretty solid running base now. If this is indeed the case, then we can steadily increase your run miles during the week in the form of only two long runs and one tempo run and then work in your bike and swim training. The two marathon guide references you mentioned could be used to determine the rate at which you increase your long run but don't think you can work in all of the miles either of these references is most likely suggesting for marathon training.

After September, if you've been training and racing throughout the summer, take a three-week hiatus with minimal to light training. That might look like doing half the number of hours/week you were doing two weeks prior to your sprint race. This will give your body a little rest and recuperation time before you start ramping it back up in October.

Keep in mind, as you are integrating tri-training into your marathon focused training, that bike miles do translate to run miles in some respects. They aren't going to make you an outright faster runner but a stronger one. Consider your bike miles as supplemental to your run base. One Runner's World writer/coach, Ed Eyestone, suggests the following formula: 60 minutes at or above 70 percent of your maximum heart rate equals a five-mile run. Depending on how good of a swimming background you have, you may add in optional swims in the p.m. The run workouts, however, are key! If your biking background is strong, then I'd advise you skip the bike hills/intervals every other week and do the optional run instead. I would consider the following routine from which to build upon until your marathon at the end of January. After the marathon, you can still use a similar template with a few additional changes I've suggested towards the bottom.

The basic template will look like this:

  MondayTuesdayWednesday ThursdayFridaySaturday Sunday
 a.m.Swim for DistanceTempo Run (build from 10-20 min) at 5k-10k paceBike at easy to moderate effort, build from 90min-120Mod-Long Run (build from 1 hour to 75 min)Bike Hills or IntervalsSwim for muscular endurance and speed: IntervalsLong Run build this up to 2 hours + (the extra time on your feet could be done hiking)
 p.m.Every other week take this day off completely Swim easy
(optional on nonrest weeks)
 Optional 2nd Run easy  

The rule of thumb for building miles, yardage or time calls for one to build no more than 10 percent per week. Build the swim yardage up and maintain at around 3,000-5,000 yards per week. Build the bike miles up and then maintain at around 50 to 75 miles per week. Build the run miles up and maintain at around 40 to 50. I like to do 3 build weeks and one lighter week where I back off on miles and time spent by around 5-8 percent.

As for the long run, I never like to go over 20 miles. I typically try to get in two 18-mile runs and one 20-miler. However, if you estimate your marathon is going to take you 4.5 hours or more, I wouldn't run for more than 3 hours but I would add on an hour of hiking later in the day to simulate the additional time on your feet. After the marathon, take a week off of running. Do only very light swimming and biking. Then you can ease slowly back into tri-training with (compared to prior to the marathon) more time in the saddle, a little more in the pool and a little less time running as you will have a base to help carry you forward.

Good luck!


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date: September 30, 2011

Amanda McCracken