Even if you’re not registered to compete in the New York Marathon on Sunday, November 6, this time of year always inspires us to to contemplate taking up long-distance running. But before you commit to next year’s race, there are four things that former Olympic runner and coach at New York’s Mile High Run Club, John Henwood, thinks you should know about marathon training. And runners who are gearing up for the final four weeks of preparation, he has some insight for you too.
Henwood competed at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games in the men’s 10,000 metre finals, and placed 13th in the 2005 New York City Marathon, which is pretty impressive considering there are usually around 50,000 people who finish the race! Here’s what he had to share.
You could get away with starting training 10 weeks out.
As you would expect, Henwood says the amount of time it takes to prepare for such an exhausting race depends on the individual’s “overall fitness and condition, running fitness, and experience.” As a rule, he recommends training for 16 weeks ahead of the race, but even 18 weeks or longer could sometimes be needed. If you’re in “very good shape” he says some people can get away with 10 weeks of training.
For most people, it’s too late to begin training now.
Sadly, if you’ve only left four weeks to train for the marathon, that’s probably not going to cut it – even if you’re already pretty fit. Henwood says only a half-marathon veteran can get away with such a restrictive training window. So unless you’re an “advanced runner who had just finished training and racing a half marathon and consistently runs 18 miles most weeks for a period of eight weeks beforehand,” it’s time to let go of the dream of competing this year.
Also, he says a “very conditioned and experienced Ultra Marathon runner” who has just finished a month’s break could also be able to train in four weeks or less. If that’s not you, shoot for next year’s race.
Your run distance should peak in the fourth final week.
Now is the time to really ramp up your distance, marathon runners, because four weeks out “is often the largest mileage week of the plan,” Henwood told us. He recommends you should be doing 20 to 23 mile runs three-to-four weeks of from the marathon.
Then, with three weeks to go the mileage starts to come down each week. “The goal of the taper is to hold your endurance and speed while lowering your training volume so that your body feels fresh and fast come race day,” Henwood suggests.
You still need to train hard in the last week.
Some people think that the final week ahead of the marathon is an opportunity to rest and recover, but Henwood warns against taking that mindset too far. While you can wind back the training, it’s important to more or less keep to your usual schedule: “Just because it’s the last week, it doesn’t mean giving yourself three extra days off. Make your run distances less and feel relaxed on these runs, but don’t take away too many runs. Often you’ll take one day off running in the last three days and maybe a day off early in the week,” he said.
Specifically, you should aim for a 10 to 12 mile run as your last long run a week before the marathon, and consider doing a 60-minute run mid-week of the final week. Good luck, runners!