Marathon Running Training | Avoid The Performance Plateau!

Marathon running training…it’s a process! Whether you’re about to run your first or tenth marathon, you’re probably looking at a 16+ week training plan! In this post, we break that plan into 3 phases, guaranteed to keep it fun, interesting and effective all the way through the finish line!

Marathon Running Training: Mix It Up!

marathon running training

Before we even get into the 3 phases of your marathon running training, let’s talk about the broader approach to succeeding in your marathon!

You’re going to be putting many miles, days of strength training, and hours of mobility work all on one little running body. Mixing up your training with varied methods of stimulus will help keep your body sharp, strong and ready for anything.

Getting used to any one training distance, speed or type of terrain is recipe for getting stagnant in your progress and potentially developing an overuse injury.

So let’s get into the 3 phases of your training plan!

Marathon Running Training: Phase 1

marathon running training

One of the most important factors in your marathon running training is how you’re spending your time BEFORE the official training plan kicks off!

There’s no question…your training plan is going to include A LOT of long, potentially slow, grindy runs.

You’re quickly going to get used to pounding the pavement, hills, trails for hours on end.

Knowing this, it’s IMPORTANT that you spend some of your “off season” running fast and short!

This type of running won’t be showing up a lot in your marathon running training, so getting it in beforehand will help keep your training varied and body (and running form) responsive to multiple challenges and aerobic demands.

Here are a few ideas:

  • You can follow a speed progression using a track. Spend 4-8 weeks decreasing your 1-mile, 2-mile and 5K times.
  • Practice racing shorter distances. Sign up for a few 5Ks!

Marathon Running Training: Phase 2

You’ve officially started your marathon running training. The plan is in full force!

Before you’re in too deep…let’s make sure you’ve taken a good look at the terrain and elevation change of your marathon race course!

The bulk of your training should mirror the demands of your course, within the realm of what you have access to.

Of course you’ll occasionally mix things up to keep the body healthy, but most of your long runs should occur in areas, on hills, on roads or trails that best resemble the course you’ll be racing on!

If your course is very hilly and you live somewhere totally flat, make sure you’re getting some good incline treadmill work in too!

Now, let’s take a look at what the early-middle phase of your marathon running training should include.

marathon running training

No matter what your race course is, hill speed work early on will help you!

Hill sprints help your marathon running training in the following ways: 

  • They’re a perfect way to introduce speed work into your training, if you’ve never tried it before.
  • They require short strides, which give your hamstrings a break!
  • They take some pounding off of your legs.
  • They offer opportunity to get off of the road, if you’ve got some hilly trails near you!

You can use hill repeats as a warm up or standalone workout!

Depending on how you’re using them in your training plan, we recommend accumulating 5-10 hill repeats, each requiring 30-60 seconds of uphill effort before the recovery jog or walk downhill.

These are an awesome alternative to your long, slow, easy-breathing run.

Marathon Running Training: Phase 3

marathon running training

We’ve made it pretty clear by now…the way to avoid the performance plateau is by breaking up your long, moderately-paced marathon running training with SPEED!

And we’ve already shown you a couple of ways to incorporate it.

In the final phase of your marathon training plan (perhaps the last month or month and a half leading up to the race) you should sprinkle in speed work that affects the body from a neuromuscular perspective.

Unlike the hill sprints or 5K track workouts, this kind of speed work is specifically designed to get the muscles reacclimatized to “running fast”.

At this point, you’re probably a little burnt out. You’ve spent the last 3 months running long, hilly courses or rotating through the same few tempo workouts.

This kind of speed work is fun, not time-consuming and only needs to be incorporated once a week, preferably at the end of a tempo or long run!

Here’s what you’ll do:

  • Find an empty soccer or football field, if you have access to one.
  • Take off your shoes.
  • You’ll take off at a 5K pace (with your best run form) and gradually wind up into a shorter, quicker sprint, accumulating 50-100 meters.
  • At the end of your sprint (50-100 meters) you’ll slow down into a walk or jog for what would be equivalent to the length of 3 or 4 of your sprints.
  • In other words, you’ll sprint for 1 aspect and rest for 3-4 aspects.

This kind of speed work isn’t going to take it out of you in the way your hill sprints or 400 meter repeats will, but it’s going to improve your running form, foot speed (cadence), and help build that neuromuscular connection that tells the body “hey, this is what running fast feels like”. 

If you can break your marathon running training up into these 3 phases, and adjust your speed training as recommended, you will successfully avoid the performance plateau and CRUSH your next marathon!

And for sticking with us to the end, download and enjoy a free, COMPREHENSIVE marathon training guide that we carefully put together, guaranteed to steer you in the right direction for your next race! Get it HERE!