The New York City Marathon is less than a month away, and now that we’re coming down into the homestretch, it’s a great time to check in and see how your training and preparation for the marathon is going. 26.2 is a fitness goal that has a deadline–the marathon won’t be postponed because you’re not ready for it.
When a fitness goal has a time stamp, particularly those that pertain to major fitness events, planning your training for it becomes more straightforward, but it also requires a bigger commitment. You know exactly what you want to do; the biggest challenge now is sticking to schedule to make sure that you’re ready to hit that goal when the time comes. This goes without saying, but proper planning and preparation makes all the difference once you’ve committed to that marathon, race, or competition.
Of course, the biggest determinant of your training regimen is time. The more time you have, the more wiggle room you have, and the less setbacks or injuries will hurt you. Before embarking on your training though, it’s also important to evaluate your own physical fitness. The marathon is not something you can do at a moment’s notice–and some measure of physical preparation has to take place if you don’t plan on failing miserably.
When did you start preparing for your marathon? 6 months ago? 4? 3? None of these answers are wrong; but they certainly dictate what your training would be like. For the majority of the population, there are two main components of marathon prep to do reasonably well in them; strength-training in the gym, and actually running long distances. No surprises here!
Regardless, your goal should not be to be able to run a marathon now, per se. Your goal is to peak at the marathon. It’s great if you can run one right now, but if so, you probably have bigger goals in mind. If you’re already at this point, my guess is that you are looking to not just finish the marathon, but also to beat a certain time or previous personal bests. Even so, the majority of people, including both Olympian marathoners and sprinters, train to peak at the Olympics, and their training reflects that.
This means that as you progress through your training period, you should be focused on gradually increasing your total mileage on your runs week by week. The shorter you training period is, the faster your total mileage has to increase over that amount of time. Now that we’re a month away, it gets a little trickier. At this point, you have to start running less frequently in favor of longer rest and recovery periods, while keeping the mileage on each individual running bout high. Anything less than full recovery before these long runs isn’t exactly ideal, and you may have only 1-2 running bouts over 20+ miles left in you for the month before the big date in November.
Now is also the time to be stingy with your physical resources. You have to do everything in your power to focus on rest, sleep, and recovery on your off days, and you should do little else besides running. That “little else” bit should be strength-training in the gym; and like the running component, must be approached diligently and carefully. Now is not the best time to join a competitive basketball league or play flag football, unless you want to risk injury and setbacks.
The preparation and planning necessary to complete a marathon is best conceptualized through periodization. It’s the concept of planning your training over the long haul to succeed at a certain and specific time. Here’s a basic, but powerful periodization model that applies for almost all of us casual athletes:
This periodization model applies to both running and strength-training. Just like the running component, strength-training should also decrease in total volume (the total amount of weight lifted in each training session, akin to the total mileage and frequency of running) as the marathon comes into the picture. However, you can continue using the same amount of weight you were training with before, and maybe even push a little bit to keep the intensity high, as long as your volume remains low. In this instance, your sets and reps are likely the first things to decrease in number as the date comes closer. By this point as well, your lifting technique should also be proficient, as you want to keep the technical demands of exercise low on your central nervous system.
Hopefully, the above has given you a good idea of where you should be in your marathon preparation right now. Stay tuned for more specifics about periodization, including how it depends on where exactly your physical fitness is when you first begin your journey towards such events.
by Jeremy Lau
Jeremy Lau is a Senior Staff Coach and Metabolic Lab Manager at Halevy Life.
Jeremy graduated cum laude from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute with a BSc. in Biomedical Engineering and received his Master’s in Exercise Physiology at Columbia University. In addition to his academic accolades, Jeremy is a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS).
Prior to joining the team at Halevy Life, Jeremy completed a coaching internship at Cressey Sports Performance, where he coached both amateur and professional athletes, among whom were many professional MLB baseball players.
As an athlete, Jeremy has played baseball competitively for most of his life.