Modifying your marathon plan for a race

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In our open Facebook group we have about 3,000 members (at the time of this) and so thanks to them I have a nearly unlimited source of blog topics. A right now, a frequent question we are getting is in regards to modifying the training plan in order to fit a race in. I always chuckle at responses people give. Some are so hardcore that they feel like the schedule is the Written Word and will “scold” a person for even thinking about racing during the marathon segment! Others live for racing and would race every weekend if budget and relationships were not an issue. Their responses are the complete opposite. The truth is, well, it depends on the situation. Like anything in life there is a time and a place for everything. So let’s take a look at what our options.

My General Feelings on racing during the marathon segment

There are a lot of people who become discouraged with me when I discourage them from racing very much during a marathon training segment. For me, every race (during the marathon segment) should serve a purpose. If a person is just running the local 5k to beat a rival, but then still want to have lofty goals for the marathon, then I always have to ask them what their big picture goals are. For one, racing a 5k in the middle of a marathon segment won’t do too much for your confidence. You’re not 5k sharp, you shouldn’t have the ability to run your best 5k while training for 26 miles. If you do, then I would be concerned. If you are a new runner who’s never raced any distance very much, then you’ll see improvement, but for any seasoned runner that shouldn’t be the case.

I see two, maybe three cases, for running a race during the marathon segment. Even in these scenarios, it should be at specific times during the segment. This we will discuss later on, but for now let’s discuss the three scenarios. One is if you are trying to establish a baseline for training. Let’s say you haven’t raced anything in the last few months, and aren’t really sure what kind of marathon time you should be training for. At specific times during the segment, a race can be beneficial to get a baseline for your marathon training goals. The second scenario is performing a dress rehearsal for the marathon. The purpose here is not trying to test fitness, but rather to go through every detail that you will on your big race day. If done right, the race is not set up for the person to race all out, so they have to go in not expecting a personal best. The last scenario is if the race falls into a time when a long tempo can be replaced. Every segment runners will complain that they struggle doing the tempo’s by themselves, and there’s a race that would be a perfect substitution. While I understand the desire to have a little extra motivation to perform well on a long tempo run, I also know human tendencies. I know that more times, than not, that runners will not heed speed limits and then dig themselves a hole that takes away from other training and sets us back. I am always a lot less likely to give full on green lights for this option.

So now that we know how I feel about racing during a marathon segment, let’s discuss what to do with that training plan of yours once the rage registration is paid for.

For short races (5k or 10k)

Since the speed is done in the beginning part of the training segment, the urge is to run these short races during this block of training. Honestly, the logic here is sound, if you can race responsibility.  These are races I typically see as beginners using to establish their baselines for marathon training, rather than setting personal bests. Advanced runners may have races they run every year and they fit in fairly well with being able to do their speed workouts and substitute for shorter tempo runs.

For those with no race experience:

Below shows Weeks 5 and 6 of the classic marathon plan. This is a great time to establish a baseline for not only your goal marathon effort, but also the workouts leading up to it.

Week Monday Tuesday Weds. Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
Week 5 Off 5 Easy Off 4 Easy 5 Easy 4 Easy 6 Easy
Week 6 4 Easy 12×400 Off 5 Tempo 4 Easy 8 Easy 8 Easy

Here’s how I’d adjust with a race on week 5:

Week Monday Tuesday Weds. Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
Week 5 Off 5 Easy Off 5 Easy 4 Easy 5k Race 4 Easy
Week 6 4 Easy 12×400 Off 5 Tempo 4 Easy 8 Easy 8 Easy

If you can’t find a race specifically on week 5 of your plan, then you set up a time trial for 3.1 miles and use that data, but even being in Michigan, I feel like I can find a 5k race almost any weekend. This way, you can take your race time, establish a marathon goal time and now put all the correct paces into the plan.

For Advanced Marathon Plans:

Here is what weeks 5 and 6 look like in the Advanced Plan.

Week Monday Tuesday Weds. Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
Week 5 6 Easy 5x1k Off 6 Tempo 7 Easy 8 Easy 12 Long
Week 6 6 Easy 4×1200 Off 7 Tempo 6 Easy 8 Easy 10 Easy

When and how I would adjust

Week Monday Tuesday Weds. Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
Week 5 6 Easy 5x1k Off 6 Tempo 7 Easy 8 Easy 12 Long
Week 6 6 Easy 4×1200 Off 8 Easy 6 Easy 5k/10k 8  Easy
Week 7 6 Easy 3x1M Off 7 Tempo 7 Easy 8 Easy 14 Long

When you race on Saturday of week 6, make sure your warm up is at least 2 miles. Then make your cool down long enough to get the 10 miles in that were scheduled for Saturday. Essentially, this will still give you an extra recovery day with Sunday being a shorter easy day. This should allow you to pick right back up with the schedule on Tuesday. Make sure you focus on recovery as soon as race is over (3R’s Rehydrate, Refuel, Rest).

Overall, your best bet to race short is early in the segment. Nothing longer than a 5k for beginners and 10k for advanced. With the right timing, you won’t miss much training- one Tempo that’s sandwiched between two similar distances and no long runs will be missed. After Week 7, the Tempo runs become 8 miles and doesn’t make sense to compromise these with a shorter race.

For Longer Races (15k to 25k):

Once we get past the speed workouts and into the strength, I always feel like it’s time to be all in for marathon training. This is when our training is solely focused on running a good marathon. So, if you do have to race, it has to be something that makes sense from a marathon performance standpoint. In all honesty I am talking about an opportunity to replace a long tempo run with a long race, but with speed limits.

What the Beginner plan looks like

Week Monday Tuesday Weds Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
Week 11 5 Easy Strength Off Tempo 8 6 Easy 8 Easy 16 Long
Week 12 5 Easy Strength Off Tempo 9 5 Easy 8 Easy 10 E/L
Week 13 7 Easy Strength Off Tempo 10 6 Easy 6 Easy 16 Long

Weeks 11-13 are common times people get the urge to race and it’s probably when it makes the most sense for longer races as you’ve no progressed from speed to strength workouts. The structure of the Advanced plan will look the same, just different easy day mileage.

How to adjust under different scenarios.

Saturday race on non long run weekend (16 miler):

In our example, let’s stick with weeks 11 through 13 of the Beginner schedule. Week 11 would require no adjustments.Week 12 would be the race week and will be your week of adjustments. First, scratch the 9 mile tempo on Thursday and replace it with Saturday’s 8 Easy. Friday would stay the same. Saturday would be your race and would take place of your tempo. Sunday should be a day to focus on recovery, but still get in 6-8 easy miles. With this, overall mileage for race week will actually be pretty close to what was scheduled. The few extra easy days between the strength on Tuesday and the race on Saturday can be a nice respite without taking time off or cutting mileage, too. The following week shouldn’t need adjustment as long as you really put your emphasis in recovering after the race through Monday.

Saturday race on a long run weekend:

First off, try to avoid this. I recognize that race dates will not care when your 16 mile long runs are, but if you can, avoid this. With that said, I attempt to live in reality. With that said, you have a couple options. Let’s say there’s a 10 mile race on week 13 of your training plan. Your best option would be to take Sunday’s long run to Thursday and shorten the distance up to 10-12 miles, depending on your experience level. Then keep Friday the same and “race” on Saturday. If you make the warmup and cool down longer your total mileage for the day will be close to what the long run would be. Just make sure that Sunday and Monday you run very easy and put a recovering high on your priority list.

Sunday “dress rehearsal” race:

Your best opportunity for this is 3 weeks out, or week 16 of the schedules. All your long runs are completed by now and you will have amassed about all the fitness you can by then. You’ll have only 2 SOS days left after this week is completed. Let’s look at weeks 16 and 17 of the Advanced plan to see how this shakes out.

Week Monday Tuesday Weds Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
16 6 Easy Strength Off 10 Tempo 6 Easy 10 Easy 10 Easy
17 8 Easy Strength Off 10 Tempo 7 Easy 8 Easy 8 Easy

An adjusted plan:

Week Monday Tuesday Weds Thurs Friday Saturday Sunday
16 6 Easy Strength Off 10 Easy 10 Easy 6 Easy Race
17 8 Easy Off Strength 7 Easy 10 Tempo 8 Easy 8 Easy

The biggest thing people will point out to me is that the tempo on week 17 has been moved to Friday, which would give you 9 days out. My first response would be that if you were that concerned about doing things by the schedule then I wouldn’t even be writing this! More seriously though, I would say that this is your last SOS day and still have 9 days to be recovered. Also, the two days is important after a big effort on the Sunday of week 16. I feel that if you did a half marathon and then came back and did a strength workout after one day recovery then you’d put yourself at a bigger risk for injury. Staying healthy that last two weeks is top priority.

I didn’t cover every scenario, but this gives you an idea of what you should be looking to do as a far as a race distance, when to do it, and how to approach. If done correctly, you can scratch that itch to race, but not hurt the big picture goal of the marathon for the current training segment.