Marathon Alternative

Runners doing a run workout
January 30, 2017

D3 Staff


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Improving your run during the winter months

For most of us the season is winding down if not over entirely. With that comes the reflection on how your season went and what you need to work on to see improvement. If running is your weak point, you may be thinking that training for a winter marathon will boost you to the next level. On paper that makes sense, but in reality it rarely works as planned. The better solution is to train for the marathon, but only compete in a half marathon. This way you will get the benefits of a base period of running, but you won?t take the pounding and thus need the extended recovery time associated with a full marathon.

The plan is very simple, and easy to implement. After a period of active rest, and once you begin to feel like you want some structured training, you can start your build. It is important that you be mentally ready to handle the coming workload as well as physically.

Begin by getting in some light, easy runs to get the legs back and used to running again. After a week of this, you can start the real training. All of the running for this period should be done at an aerobic pace. The next 4-6 weeks should consist of a mix of long base runs, hilly runs and short recovery type runs. You want to build up the hours as you would for a full marathon. This should be done by adding time on to existing runs, and running more frequently. For instance, the first 2 weeks you may run 3-4 times for a total of 2-3 hours. Three weeks later you should be running 4-6 times a week for a total of 4-5 hours. This spreads the workload out more lessening your chance of injury.

The big question regarding marathon training is how long does my longest training run need to be? Since you will not be running a full marathon, this is not such a big question mark. For the half marathon, your long run can be as short as 15 miles, or up to 20 depending on what you can physically handle.

After the base period, give your body a week devoted to recovery, than you can move into a build phase. Here you want to keep the frequency up and start to add in some faster, tempo running as well. This tempo work can be added in several ways. Simply running at your LT for 30-40 minutes is the easiest thing to do. You can also sprinkle in some race pace and under intervals during your long run. Doing this will teach your body to handle the stress of race pace. Again, start smaller and build up your time spent running at or near your LT. Tempo work is very powerful stuff and should be added in carefully. Never do more than 2 tempo workouts in a week and allow 2 days between each session. This phase should last 2-3 weeks.

The build phase is also the best time to dial in your race day nutrition. Your race day nutrition is a big key to how well your event goes. The mistake many people make is that they don?t practice their nutrition strategy while at race pace. Eating a gel or drinking 10 ounces of fluid is entirely different if you heart rate is 120 than if it is 150. Make sure you know what you will take and when.

About 2 weeks from the event you can start your taper. During these 2 weeks you should reduce your volume, but keep the intensity. Continue to do some race pace repetitions, but keep them short, from 1 to 3 minutes is enough. This way your body remembers what race pace feels like without doing any real damage. You basically want to give your body time to recover while keeping it sharp.

By training for a marathon, but racing only a half marathon you can gain a new found aerobic base, without doing long term damage. All the work you do training for the marathon will benefit you now that you are ready to transition into triathlon training. See training schedule below.

Weeks 1-2: 3-4 runs, long run 1:00, no tempo run

Weeks 3-6: 4-6 runs, long run 1:30, no tempo run

Weeks 7-10: 5-6 runs, long run 2:00-2:30, tempo run: 1-2/week for 30-40 minutes, separate tempo runs by 2 days

Weeks 11-12: 4-5 runs, long run 1:30-1:45, replace tempo run with 1-3 minute efforts, taper ? work on nutrition

AJ Johnson is a USAT Certified coach. He can be reached for personal coaching at

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