Marathon project - advice?

Hi everyone,

I'm a cyclist looking for a new challenge. In a nutshell, I'm giving myself a year to nail a good marathon time. I haven't been for a run in about 4 years, and I've just entered the Chester marathon in October 2020 (no goal, no motivation, that's the way I work :smile: ). I'd really appreciate some advice at the outset in terms of how to structure the months ahead.

A bit about me:

35yr old bloke. Been riding and racing competitively for 4 or 5 years, to a fairly good level (national road races, multi-day stage racing, European gran fondos etc). I have a solid cardio system and really strong VO2 max. Very light, about 57kg.

I got into cycling via triathlon, so I have trained for running (albeit not with much structure) in the past. I did an Ironman in 2013 and clocked 4 hrs dead for the marathon (I was 10kg heavier and obviously this was at the end of a long endurance event). But I haven't run for about 4 years.

My rough plan:

Whilst I am super fit from a cardio perspective, I completely appreciate that my legs will be totally useless initially. I will have very little strength and conditioning in terms of muscles and tendons used when running, and accept I will need to be patient building that up. I'm so tempted to go and smash a parkrun or 10k at the weekend and see where I'm at, but I know that's stupid and I'd end up needing a stairlift for a fortnight. So very roughly, I am thinking of aiming for something along these lines...

November/December - plenty of unstructured, easy jogging to get the legs accustomed to running again. No speed work or intervals, nothing too long, don't look at the clock, just run easy.

Jan/Feb - more of the same, with some structured work in Feb as I look to run a half in March.

March - half mara, good chance to see how I'm progressing [target time?]

March-July - focus on building endurance, increasing weekly mileage dramatically (but sensibly).

August-Sept - more structured work to finesse for mara in Oct.

October 4 2020 - Chester marathon, goal sub-3 hours.

Initially I'm thinking 3 runs per week, balancing it with some zone 2 cycling (don't want to give up the bike altogether).

Would be really grateful for thoughts / advice / reassurance that my plan looks broadly sensible (or not!). Of course, if anyone has any more specific suggestions, like individual sessions or sensible mileage, that would be mega.

Thanks very much. Excited to be back on 2 legs!


  • HA77HA77 ✭✭✭
    Sounds good to me. I'd advise looking at a few training plans. I've used a Pfitzinger and Douglas plan in the past and learned a lot from it. You don't need to follow the plans word for word but they will certainly give you some good ideas for sessions and, more importantly, how to plan your program so that you recover well, while still getting in the big sessions. It will also get you thinking about periodisation and peaking for your target event. 

    You're obviously coming from a better position that lots of people, with your cycling and triathlon background and I think you could do really well but I'm often surprised by how badly people do in their first marathon. It's almost like you have to have run a marathon to do it properly. You shouldn't be worried if it goes pear shaped the first time around. I think you'll have to run more than 3 times a week if you really want to finish strongly.

    I think you might be better off running a marathon in the Spring as well. No target time, just get around and see how it feels, keeping Chester as your main goal. I'd just be getting back into running Nov, Dec, gradually building up a weekly long run (certainly not forcing it). Then start a training program in the new year, building up to the Spring race. You'll learn an awful lot from the build up and race and then you'll be much better positioned to prepare for Chester. 

    Good luck
  • Thank you, this is very helpful. I'll certainly check out some plans if only to start educating myself. I'll have a think about a spring marathon too, I agree it probably helps to have gone through the experience before attempting a target run (I don't really count the IM marathon as a proper attempt, I was just dribbling round petrified I'd end up collapsing in the gutter...).

    If I do attempt a spring mara, I think it would have to be as late as possible. I don't want to rush things and run a hard 26 if my legs aren't ready for it - injury risk, silly recovery time etc.
  • Hi

    Given your background and a 4 hour marathon at the end of an I'm, I'd certainly say it's doable.

    Planning an entire year's training at once seems an awful lot, and it can be very hard to keep motivated with one training target that far away. 

    Same as HA77, I'd suggest a spring marathon. End of April gives you almost 6 months from now, plus another 6 before an autumn one, which are more manageable timeframes.

    I'd say doing a 10k of possible, or at least a parkrun, in the next week or two would give a better idea where you're at now, and hence what to do over the next few months with your training. You don't need to leave yourself unable to run for a fortnight afterwards, run it at a fast pace without going all out, so you know you could have gone a bit faster - recovery should be quicker, and it'll still help know where your running is at.

    I'm planning a spring marathon (aiming for about 3:15) then an autumn one (might try for sub 3) myself, so I'm just in the process of writing up a training plan. I've got a few recent half marathons and a marathon 5 days ago to base things on though.

    People use lots of different plans, though most would expect more than 3 runs week for a sub 3 marathon. For the first month or so, I'm planning on base training - mostly fairly steady or easy runs, some long runs over hills. It's not the sexiest bit of training, but it helps build the aerobic base needed for the next parts (speed training, then marathon specific). I'll throw in a few half marathons early next year to see where I'm at. After the spring marathon, a few weeks easy, then a similar plan from then to autumn, reflecting on what worked and didn't work during the previous 6 months.

    Your overall plan looks fairly similar, just over 12 months vs my 6 months
  • Thanks, appreciate your thoughts.

    I think I'm a bit wary about pencilling in a spring mara because I know what I'm like; I don't trust myself to be disciplined and reckon I would end up pushing my limits to try and run a good time. I really want to do this right, with patience and a sensible program. I will probably throw in a couple of 10ks and maybe another half or two between March and October, but my instinct is that a full mara is a bit risky.

    I've been for 2 short runs since posting; a 3 miler on Fri and a 4 miler on Sat. I literally told myself to run as slowly as possibly, slower than I've ever run before... and my legs are in pieces today! Not fatigued, just sore from the unfamiliar activity. It's quite a humbling process - my heart rate barely moved, I felt like I could run for hours and hours from a cardio perspective, but the legs are certainly pretty wooden.

    This is going to be a long old project! I'll try to keep updating here, as motivation. Fingers crossed the conditioning kicks in within a couple of weeks and I can start enjoying some longer runs. Any thoughts on goal weekly mileage whilst I build up?
  • The muscles will adapt fairly quickly, so that I would expect the recovery to improve significantly within the first few weeks.

    I wouldn't be too worried about weekly mileage at this stage - you've not got a major time constraint, just get out running regularly, at whatever pace seems comfortable for now. Once it's getting easier /you find yourself getting faster, and the recovery is less of a problem, then maybe think about starting to increase mileage. The ligaments /tendons /joints take a long time to adapt, and pushing things too much at this stage just risks injury.

    Just yesterday I bought an amazon kindle copy of the Runners World Run Less Run Faster book, it was only £3.99. Only had a glance through so far, but it is based on a 3 runs a week plan, with 2 xt days, much like your plan. Not convinced I'll drop down to 3 days a week after reading it, but it might be interesting. It basically has a tempo run, speedwork session and a long run each week, so would be a useful intro to those types of runs.

    What sort of times /pace were your last few runs? 
  • senidMsenidM ✭✭✭
    Not going to give you any specific advice, you may well be a much better athlete already than I ever was, but a few ideas.

    First, training frequency, old adage is Train Hard, Race Easy, so I would be slightly concerned with 3 runs a week schedule. Marathon running is all about strength in you legs, but with your biking background it may be there, just not in the right muscles.

    Secondly, a spring marathon: just not sure its a great idea, a couple of 20's yes, and you won't hurt your legs for an Autumn mara if you run them hard in the Spring. Ideally you shoul be able to finish in about 2;15 or under and your splits be consistent, i.e. you finish at sub 7 pace with no drop off.

    Thirdly, through the Summer, lots of speed work and stamina runs, but don't get them mixed up, a couple of Halves at 6:15 pace will give you confidence and a 1:20ish finish, but make sure your LSRs are at 7:15-7:30ish pace. Don't leave it on the road by thinking you've run a 20 in 2:10 in the summer, marathon will be easy! They bite back.

    Lastly, if there is a pacer there for sub 3, run with them? As a 1st timer its easy to get carried away and think these pacers are just too slow, only to have them trot by you in the last few miles as you slow drastically (see Point 3 above, Oh I've so been there!)

    Good Luck with your plan, really wish I could turn the clock back 40 years and be in your position, so make sure you enjoy the whole process!
  • Re. DOMS that's good to know and as expected really. I'm just going to tap out some regular short, slow runs for the first couple of weeks. Experience tells me you're right, the soreness should pass pretty quickly. I'm assuming consistency is the key for now. I'm almost telling myself I'm not training, but preparing my body to train. Noted on mileage goals and I'll aim to run to time rather than distance for now.

    Thanks for the book recommendation, however just to be clear, perhaps my original post was a bit misleading. I meant that I'll aim for 3 runs/week *initially*, but absolutely plan to increase that over the coming weeks. I just need to come to terms with the fact that my cycling is going to take a hit. But if I use the bike for active recovery rather than smashing out horrible anaerobic efforts and VO2 max work then hopefully I can balance the two disciplines. I'm not going to be racing my bike next season so I can afford to let the top end go, and that's the really taxing work that would impact on recovery and hence interrupt the running development.

    First 2 runs were 3 miles at 8:50ish and 4 miles at 9:00ish. Super disciplined. I even did some walking as part of the second run, just to keep the intensity mega low. I did 60 miles (mostly Z2 / aerobic base) on the bike yesterday and I'll aim to get another very gentle run in this evening, again no more than 30-40 mins.

    @senidM some good ideas on target events/distances, thanks. Not going to pen any more in the diary just yet, but will def get some longer practice races under my belt as we move through Spring.

    Think I need to find a running buddy! :)
  • Pavementmaster - what a great project. Biking to marathon running. Chamolk gives you a great recommendation with the Furman book. If you want to keep up with cycling then it’s a great plan. There is also an app which will give you a 16 week plan with exact training paces based on your current fitness. <div>I’ve followed the plans in the book & achieved a 1:20 half & a 3:05. marathon. </div>
  • The Furman book/approach looks very interesting. I am immediately a little bit sceptical because having spent years looking for shortcuts to speed and fitness on the bike (i.e. forgoing the long base/aerobic miles in favour of intensity sessions), I am not sure it's a sustainable long term approach. I have always found it beneficial to invest in proper base work to develop a deep, long-lasting aerobic fitness before looking to peak via intensity (anaerobic and VO2max work).

    Having said that, Furman does appeal because it gives you clear permission to go cycling (cross-training days)!

    For me, I think it's probably risky to jump in to something like Furman right off the bat. I'd rather build a base from which to build as I think/hope that will give me a more sustainable fitness and probably keep my injury risk down too. But it could be a good plan to follow next year once the bottom of my running fitness pyramid is in place and the legs work properly :smile:

    Ticked off another slow jog last night, 4.5 miles at 9:00s. Legs feel better today.
  • Pavementmaster - you’re definitely right to build aerobic fitness first. In fact, that’s what the FIRST book recommends before you begin one of their plans. Nice 4.5 miler & glad your letters feel better
  • ioweriower ✭✭✭
    I think the main concern with your background is actually bone issues, not muscles or fitness - coming from a cycling heavy background means less weight bearing. I'd be very careful with the rate at which you build mileage and consider where you run - softer ground, off road etc, and how you split your training. Also make sure to include plenty of recovery weeks to help adaptation. Speaking from personal experience (occasional shin splints sufferer - despite gradual mileage increases) with bike fitness from triathlon where I've felt well recovered and more than capable of running more each week, only to pick up that sort of issue 3 months down the line. You only have to look at elite triathletes and the prevalence of stress fractures - foot, leg, sacrum - to see how easy it is.

    I'd suggest similar to what you have planned - gradual build of mileage over the next 4 months at least, but i'd focus on frequency of your runs and total weekly mileage instead of fixing on the long run (you're better off with a shorter long run in a bigger week than vice versa IMO), and include some off road running to reduce the impact. No reason why you can't maintain z2 rides to keep the general fitness up on top of this.

    Personally, I wouldn't suggest adding a spring marathon as well - like you've said yourself, it will be difficult to keep a lid on it during the race and in your training building up to it. If you feel the need you can always run one in training at a time in your build which suits you as opposed to running one even if you're not in the best shape/position to do so. Running a 10k or half marathon race will give you a good enough idea of your capability over the longer distance without the stresses incurred with it.

  • HA77HA77 ✭✭✭
    I understand the opinions about avoiding a spring marathon but there is no substitute for the experience you'll get from racing over the full distance. No number of 20 milers will give you that. There are very few people I know who have run a good race first time around (even those who were experienced runners over shorter distances) and I know lots of people who have done a much better job on a second attempt. I'm sure there are plenty of people who have had different experiences but nearly everyone is surprised by how much harder a marathon is than a half marathon. On the "Inside Running" podcast they've had a number of world class runners who've moved up to the marathon and commented on how they didn't really understand how hard it would be.

    I don't think there is an issue with pushing hard during a spring race. Timing wise it'd be fine. You could still have an easy 5 weeks post race and then build up for Chester. In fact I think an intermediate goal, followed my some down time would be a good thing. The other thing I've seen a lot is people having a long build up, only to suffer some sort of injury or burn out part way through. Much better to build in manageable cycles of 3-4 months, with a bit of recovery time between. 

    Anyway, more than one way to skin a cat. 
  • More valuable advice there, thanks. I completely agree with @iower about building mileage steadily, and doing some off-road stuff where possible to keep impact to a minimum. I have a couple of good options nearby, including a nice big foresty country park - will have to drive there but it's no biggie, plenty of soft trails and muddy paths to enjoy.

    @iower are you still doing tri or focusing on running?

    @HA77 I hear you re. spring marathon and you are probably right, there's plenty of time to race that, recover, and build again with the benefit of experience in the bag. I'm not going to commit one way or the other at the moment - plenty of time, and lots of unknowns before then.

    Run #4 at lunch time today, I thought s0d it and stretched the legs a bit for the first time. Very pleasantly surprised, went through 10k in just under 41 mins before thinking I should keep a lid on it and doing a nice warm down. Really happy with that as it felt pretty comfortable, so it's given me confidence that the cardio fitness translates well from my cycling.... now I can focus on some sensible base mileage knowing the legs should still work when called upon.
  • 10k in 41 minutes during a training run is decent speed - that's just over 6:30 per mile. You've obviously got the aerobic base there, you'll just need to work on the running itself. With that sort of speed I'd say you should have little problem getting sub 3 (probably by spring never mind next autumn). 
  • Cheers @chamolk that's nice to hear! Not going to get ahead of myself here though.

    Question re. training - given I have signed up for a half on March 15th (18 weeks away), is there any sense in following a 16 week training plan after a couple of weeks' (re)introduction to running? I like the idea of having some structure and a goal. And if I was to follow a plan finishing with the half in March, should I follow a half mara-specific plan or something else? Bearing in mind that my goal event, the marathon, isn't until October. @SHADES kindly sent me a couple of marathon plans (thanks again!) which I could use... but obviously they are geared up towards a marathon rather than a half. Perhaps I could just follow one of those. I might miss a bit of speed work but overall I'm probably best banking the miles given my "A" target.
  • I think it depends on what you want to achieve. You can run /race a fairly good half whilst following a marathon training plan, but it won't be your best half.

    Personally, I'd find a year too long to train for one event, so I'd do a half training plan with the aim of seeing how well you can do in the half and giving it a good go. Given that 10k pace, you might end up getting closer to 75-80 minutes. The training for the half will still be a great start towards the marathon, and you've got 6-7 months after the half to focus on the marathon.

    I think you'd learn a fair bit from training for the half specifically, and racing it, that will be useful for the marathon specific training /race. 
  • I think you've nailed it there. Targeting the half will keep me motivated and will still involve a ton of miles which will serve as a good base for October.

    How about this - too aggressive?

    Looks like a lot of quick running and not a lot of LSD runs. I suppose that's what you get when you ask for a fast half plan?
  • I think the vast majority of runners following a schedule for that sort of pace will have a reasonable background in running before starting it. Some of the runs in that schedule are at fairly easy pace for someone running around 1:25 to 1:30 already for a half. 

    I think the main problem for you with these schedules will be that you don't have the running base. There's a high chance of injury if you try to train at 50 miles a week within a month. Yet the schedules that start at a more appropriate weekly mileage for you will not be aiming for an appropriate time. 

    It might be better to focus the first month or two on regular runs, fairly easy pace, then start doing some of the sessions from the plans at that stage. Generally you won't go far wrong (once you've got a bit of running under your belt) with a long run, a tempo run and maybe a bit if speedwork (though that's not as necessary for the longer distance races) 

  • ioweriower ✭✭✭
    I’d be looking at the opposite of that for now - lots of easy miles til you’re at wherever you want to be mileage wise then add quality if necessary (it might not be). Plans like this either depend on a quick build of volume or intensity (not good) or assume you’re already running x miles per week and have done for x time. 

    I ran a 1:21 half with not a great deal of fast work - mostly easy stuff (following a 36:55 10k a few months before) and one track session of 2-3 miles work per week. You need to build the fatigue resistance etc in the legs more than anything. Your steady 10k shows you don’t necessarily need to build speed/top end fitness, whatever you want to call it, beyond what it already is, you just need to be able to maintain it for 3 hours now. 

    Also, not running a marathon before next autumn doesn’t mean don’t race at all between now and then, I just think taking your time building a stable base of mileage will be more beneficial than ramping up to a spring marathon race, recovering then building again. A half (or a few halfs) will give you a very good idea of your potential without the same level of weekly/long run mileage required. If you really want to run a marathon I’d just build up to the distance and run it as a long run but aim for 3:20 or something
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