My running plan. How I’m training for a sub3 marathon (and sub 1:20 half)

Two years ago I discovered that I could run a lot faster. But the kick was actually the fact that I spent the first months of 2015 not running but training to improve my fitness. Well, if you have to know, it was also to lose my belly fat and man boobs :). So I found myself being able to run a 10k in just under 50 minutes, whereas previously, I could squeeze a 7k in 40 minutes with the cost of a couple of day’s worth of leg pain.

Like any runner who went up a level, you start reading about how to train. And similar to finding good nutrition related websites these days, finding a good running website seems like a real pain. You have to navigate through all the “5 ways to improve your running” and “scientists say ditch the tempo run, find out why” titles. Nevertheless, I have found some good websites,a part of which  were directly or indirectly suggested by my running buddy, Ilia: running.competitor.com and Jonathan Savage’s running wiki are just two good examples.

And if I haven’t said it already, I am aiming for two milestones this autumn: 80 minutes or less for a half marathon, 3 hours or less for a marathon. They are not equivalent, I consider running a half marathon at a pace of 3:48/km (6:06/mile) a lot harder than running a marathon at 4:16/km (6:52/mile). So I signed up for the Stockholm Half Marathon this September and Chester Marathon in October.

There are training plans out there for marathons but most of them include the weekly long run and few other easy runs. To me it seems like a waste of time. Maybe they’re good when you’re a beginner or, well, if you do have plenty of time. But my preference goes towards having some hard and short sessions and spend the rest of the time with my family, rather than spending the whole of my Sunday running. Not that I don’t love running, but it’s not the only thing I love. So, my two favourite words in training: medium, hard.

I was tired of running plans that only include running. This is how I'm training for a sub3 marathon and sub1:20 half marathon. Train smarter, not longer.

My actual training

First, it’s not all about running. Remember, when I started back in 2015, I spent a maximum of 20km per week running, there were consecutive weeks when I didn’t run at all. But I trained almost every day doing exercises, which improved my overall fitness. And this is what actually made me a good runner. And this is what I’m still doing now. I do classes at my local gym, including spinning classes and full body training. 2 or 3 classes per week. Full body sessions train my weaker muscles, so my overall strength is improved, not only my running economy.

Low mileage seems crazy when training for a marathon, isn’t it? Well, I try to keep it well under 100km weekly. I’m currently not going too much over 70km, actually, but I’ll have a build up before the marathon and run about 90km per week.

Instead of having a single intensive run per week like most of the training plans recommend, I usually have 3-4 medium/hard runs. And at least two of them are workouts. Either intervals or runs at threshold pace, alternating paces. This helps improve how my body deals with lactate building up at higher heart rate – a highly important feature for a fast half marathon run.

Whether I’m doing a medium or a hard run, I always try to run hilly routes. 7-10m elevation for each km is my aim. The numerous advantages of running uphill include improving your posture, your gait, your mental and physical strengths.

And speaking of strength, the ability of finishing a race in style is to actually train both your body and your mind for it. I usually finish my run sessions at fast pace, depending on how I feel. Just last Sunday I ran for 12km at marathon pace and then went for the last 6km at target half marathon pace – around 3:50/km. This is one of the secrets that allowed me to do a negative split at my last half marathon.

Not only I’m following a low mileage training plan, but I also have rest weeks, when I only do gym classes and very few running sessions, all adding up to around 40km. These come around once every 3 weeks give or take. When I feel too tired, I sleep more, I don’t run as much, but I keep my muscles toned and maintain my cardio capability. If you’re thinking about me losing my mitochondria density during these low running mileage, I say think again.

My last important training component is the nutrition. To be specific, I am practicing intermittent fasting – in general aiming for 16 hours of fasting and 8 hours between the first and the last meal of the day. This has three main advantages: your body recovers better than having to always deal with digested food (from meals, snacking and caloric drinks), your body regulates the hormones balance better and also your body gets used to running only on water and under low blood sugar condition, which in turn improves the fat burning machinery – not that I want to lose any more weight, but because this counts a lot during a marathon.

And yes, I also have a long run session, currently at around 30+km, which will get a bit longer during the last weeks of the build up before the marathon. However, I’m also running harder during these sessions, trying to have intervals which simulate the race paces as close as possible. And so far I’ve only done the long run every other week, not more often. Because I don’t run it at an easy pace, I consider a longer recovery time from it.

So you see why it’s hard to name my training plan. Since I haven’t found any plan to suit my needs yet on the Internet, I just created my own one once I knew some fundamental facts about running in general. I hope it will work, I’m somehow certain that it will. You’ll be able to check my half and marathon results on Strava and see if I was right or not. And it’s not that the plan you’re following is not good, I’m sure it is. But this is what I feel works for me a lot better than just plain running.

What plans are you following for your next marathon or half marathon?

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