How to Run Your Best Marathon—Year After Year


As fall approaches and the temperature drops, the days grow shorter and the runs grow longer. For many of us, this is marathon season. The popularity of the marathon has created a new breed of runner who believe marathon training begins 20 weeks before a race and ends on race day. It’s the new norm to sabotage your marathon success by spending the spring and summer running without a plan, only to switch gears in the fall to start training for the “real” race.

August and September are often spent finding running partners or running groups, maybe even hiring a coach. October and November are filled with dark, chilly mornings and the daunting task of sticking to the plan while trying to avoid setbacks as the weekly long run steadily grows. Forget about marathon specific workouts, when the body is struggling to adapt to the long runs, there’s little energy left over for anything else. Most weeks are spent just trying to recover enough to get through the next weekend’s run. Often this rapid increase in mileage leads to physical injury or mental burnout.

For those who make it to the starting line, the goal is rarely greater than crossing the finish line to crack a beer, take a break, and repeat next year. It’s certainly a great accomplishment to finish a marathon, but there are others who really want to conquer the distance. For those who want to get serious about improving their marathon performance, more emphasis should be put on the long run.

Training for a marathon doesn’t begin and end with the 20 week “buildup”. Training is a lifestyle, a perpetuity that begins when you start running, and doesn’t end until you stop. When you begin a marathon build-up, you shouldn’t be starting your training, you should be tweak your training. You make training more marathon-specific than what it was before. It might even take years of training year round, inside and outside of marathon build ups to reach your potential in the marathon.

Certain types of work should be included in one’s training program from January to December, regardless of the distance of your goal race. One of the most neglected of these building blocks is the long run. All too often people avoid doing long runs until their marathon build-up, as if rest and avoidance will better prepare the body for the stresses of training than physiological adaptation. Long runs can, and should, be done all year because they encourage physiological changes in the muscles that will aid every distance. This isn’t to say that everyone should try to run 20 miles every weekend 52 weeks out of the year, but something as simple as adding thirty to forty minutes to one weekly or biweekly run throughout the year can do wonders in helping the body tackle the marathon buildup when the time comes.

With greater comfort in long runs, you can place greater emphasis on pace work and other aspects of marathon training to give you more confidence. It will give you the opportunity the set pace goals in order to better each performance year after year.

Join us at Fleet Feet for our free 7 a.m. Saturday long run that happens every weekend throughout the year. Start your training for the St. Jude Marathon and keep training with us even after to see what you’re really capable of.

At Fleet Feet Memphis, Andrew Chumney is sharing his passions for running with our training groups. If you’ve come to our Thursday night speed workouts or the Saturday morning long run, you’ve definitely met Andrew, and run the workouts and routes he has planned. When he isn’t running or training others to run, he hangs out with his wife Kate and their two young daughters.

Do you have questions about getting started or finding a plan to work for you? Stop in and talk to anyone on our staff. We’ll be happy to help!

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