Kent asks: I just finished racing a half marathon, and I’m starting 20 weeks of marathon training in 10 weeks. What should I do in the meantime?
Congratulations on your successful half marathon and kudos to you for asking this insightful question. When we push hard and race, it pays to recover just as intensely. This doesn’t mean lying on the couch eating TimTams and bingeing on Netflix. You need to spend some time focusing on easy running. Here is how I would navigate the next few months until your marathon training begins.
Because you have the time, give yourself three weeks for your recovery phase. (Full marathoners should take four.) The first week is all about promoting circulation and releasing muscle tension from the demands of the race. Focus on easy-effort, low-impact activity for 20 to 30 minutes for the first few days of your first week, plus foam rolling or massage to release muscle tension. Later in that week, if there are no aches or pains, run at an easy effort for 30 minutes to test the waters and see how things feel.
THE NEXT TWO WEEKS
During the next two weeks, gradually build your running time to 45 to 60 minutes per session at your normal frequency while keeping the effort conversational and easy. Weave in cross-training (strength training, yoga, low-impact cardio) on the non-running days, keeping the intensity easy. Although it may seem like you’re losing fitness, you’re healing, and that will help you more readily return to training and improving performance down the road.
THE FINAL SEVEN WEEKS
With three weeks invested in your recovery phase, you have seven weeks to play and maintain your base. The idea is to keep your running and fitness activities fairly steady in nature rather than progressive like your training plan to maintain fitness while giving yourself time off the push-recover training cycle. Here’s how to do that:
Alternate Long Runs
To maintain your endurance, alternate in a three week cycle running 9 or 11 kilometres, 11 or 13 kilometres, and 14 or 16 kilometres. During the shortest run, try doing some race-simulation kilometres (eight to 10 kilometres in the easy yellow zone, 3 kilometres in the moderate orange zone). Keep the longer runs at an easy effort. By alternating distances, you’ll not only maintain endurance that you’ve built up during the spring season, you’ll start your marathon training with a solid base of mileage so you can continue to weave in race-simulation workouts. The key is to avoid spending too much time on longer distances, which would extend your marathon season. Doing so can leave you mentally and physically fatigued in the middle of your training cycle.
Play During The Week, But Take It Easy Overall
Just because you’re not in training doesn’t mean you can’t add some variety to your midweek runs. Although it is wise to focus on easy effort runs, you can also benefit by adding some tempo-effort kilometres, hill work, and intervals. For instance, if you run three times on weekdays, you could make one a moderate hilly run, one run easier but longer, and the third a shorter, interval-based workout or fartlek. The key is to avoid pushing hard all the time—you want to save that for marathon-training season. If you have some niggling, minor aches, make all three runs easy effort and give yourself a little more time before you add faster running. It all depends on how your recovery goes after the initial race season.
Cross-Train and Mix It Up
The in-between phase is also a perfect time to focus more on getting in total body strength and flexibility work. You’ll make significant gains in your muscle and joint strength and mobility by doing 20 to 30 minutes of strength and flexibility work three times per week. This is an effective way to set yourself up for marathon training, and once the season begins, you can maintain this regimen by reducing the frequency to twice per week.
It’s also a perfect time to mix up your routine and perform activities you aren’t able to do while marathon training. Personally, I invest more time in lower impact activities like ElliptiGo, mountain biking, and road biking. In the spring season I ride road bikes for my cross-training work. In the fall, I hit the trails and mountain bike. By adding variety to your seasons, you keep your program fresh and reduce the chances of burnout.
In essence, it can be helpful to treat the in-between season as a time to keep our runs steady yet playful, while incorporating other activities you enjoy to keep things fresh and exciting. After all, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.