20 Week Marathon Training Schedule
What must the runner seek in a 20 week marathon training schedule and what must it contain to get the best possible results?
Great question and my plan is to cover some of the necessary basics that runners around the world need to focus on to get the most bang for their buck when it comes to purchasing a training schedule.
I have spent the past 24 years focusing all my attention on how to run faster legitimately and ethically.
What did and are the best runners in the world past and present doing to mimimize slowing down in road and track races.
I am currently training for a marathon that is about 20 weeks away and will be creating my own 20 week marathon training schedule to prepare to attack my marathon best of 2:19:35.
What I do know is to get results when it comes to running you have to have a commitment, not a mere interest, to get better.
We all have them.
There are runners who have never ran a race before so finishing a 5K or their first marathon for them is just as impressive as earning an Olympic Trials standard in the marathon is to me.
We are talking about the marathon in this post and the fact that you are here now reading this tells me your focus is maximizing your marathon efforts.
A 20 week marathon training schedule is sufficient time for any marathoner to properly prepare for any marathon event.
5 months of focused, un-interrupted training will make any marathoner dangerous by the time they toe the line.
I will be covering some of what I will be doing in creating my own 20 week marathon training schedule and you can adjust some of these ideas as you see fit.
I do not know what your specific marathon training goals are.
All I know is these fundamentals were taught to me by the top coaches in the world and all focus on the forms of workouts that I will be following in my 20 week marathon training schedule.
My goal is to break 2:16:00 for the marathon so my time goals are different then most but the same strategies that will be discussed in this article you can use for whatever time goal you have in mind.
Let’s get started
The #1 workout you can possibly do in a 20 week marathon training schedule is to encompass long runs at or around 85 to 88% of your max heart rate.
The greatest physiological benefits for any marathoner come from conducting the long run not just in a long, slow manner but with more emphasis on training the lactate system.
Remember, the key to running a faster marathon is clearing lactic acid faster than it is being created while running.
The real problem for most runners isn’t lactic acid but the hydrogen ion within lactic acid which actually shuts down muscle functioning and capability.
How do you train your body to maintain pace while everyone around you is falling off pace?
I have always thought that long, slow running creates long, slow runners – Sebastian Coe, former world record holder for 800m (1:41:73)
The long run is my bread and butter workout and one that I will be strategically placing into my 20 week marathon training schedule.
You should alternate one long, faster paced long run with one, easy recovery long run.
There has to be enough time allotted to recover from these hard efforts and running hard every day is a quick way to staleness.
The biggest reason I was able to drop my marathon best of 2:40:02 down to 2:19:35 was by changing up the way I conducted my long run.
I was a 2:40:02 marathoner back in 2007 but was training like I was a sub 2:20 marathoner and based on the adjustments in training I was able to do just that.
How does this work for you?
What can you do in your own training?
Instead of doing a 20-22 miler easy at paces that are a minute or slower per mile then the pace you wish to race at for the distance increase the pace at which you conduct your long run vary your paces with the run.
What good is a 24 mile long run done at 7:45 mile pace when you are seeking to hold 5:20 pace for the marathon?
Sure, it will burn fat and build endurance but when it comes to pace goals and marathon specific training you had best get real acquainted to the pace at which you have in mind competing at.
I’ll also add training at paces that are far superior in pace to the goal marathon pace you have in mind.
You have to get marathon pace to feel comfortable, not labored and easy running will not do the trick.
It doesn’t have to be dramatic early on.
You have to first lay a strong foundation of mileage first to get accustomed to even doing long runs every week let alone hard, sustained efforts for long periods of time.
I would advise taking a look at these few workouts that I would also implement into your 20 week marathon training schedule.
A few examples of workouts I prescribe to athletes I coach online or have purchased one of my training schedules are:
20 miles with the first 10 miles at 150BM, 5 miles at 165BPM, 5 miles at 150BPM with last 5 miles at aerobic capacity (170+BPM)
20 miles: easy first 10 miles, 4 miles at goal marathon pace, 4 miles relaxed, 2 miles at half-marathon goal pace
24 miles: 2 mile easy warm-up, 12 miles at 165BPM, 5 miles easy, 6 miles moderate at 155-65BPM.
I conduct a lot of my tempoes and long runs wearing a heart rate monitor but if you do not have one or do not normally do heart rate training go off of ‘feel’.
You don’t just want to conduct long runs with a ‘ho-hum’ type of attitude.
I place just as much importance on recovery as I do hard workouts and you have to balance the varying types of workouts with proper rest.
Remember, the real training effects come in the rest, not from the workout itself.
You will be weaker, not stronger, immediately after the workout but if you pay close attention to your recovery you will get a supercompensation effect from the effort.
Supercompensation is generally the adaptation that occurs within 48 hours of a hard session where you actually are physiologically stronger within two days after doing a hard anaerobic session.
There is a general weakening of the body’s energy systems followed by a hardening and adaptation to the work done though.
2. Quality Over Quantity
Remember, in a 20 week marathon training schedule your goal is not how many miles you can run for mileage sake.
Mileage alone isn’t going to produce race results.
You need to focus more on the paces at which you do your miles rather then the amount of miles you put in.
Real racing comes from a strategy built on effort not bragging rights of how many miles you are putting in.
I ramped up over 140 mile weeks in the past and it left me running like a high school novice.
I dropped about 30% off that number and started running personal bests.
You have the capability so don’t second guess yourself if the workouts and paces aren’t coming as noticeably as you would like.
Act as if what you want has already occurred and it will eventually occur in your training and racing.
Stickability is the mark of all champions, not part-timers not willing to do the work to get the job done.
How long are you willing to endure to see your marathon efforts come to fruition?
I have been training for 8 straight years to better my 2:19:35 marathon best and the closest I have come is the 2:26:42 I ran in 2011 and 2:32:55 I ran in 2013.
It is a process and you have to be hungry.
Quality, not quantity is what makes for great marathoning.
The more competitive you are the more mileage does play a role but all great marathoners know long slow miles and in high quantities makes for long, slow 26.2 mile specialists.
Again, it all comes down to what your goals are.
The majority of marathoners I have known over the years have expectations of what time they want to run the distance in.
Focus on pace and recovery, not specifically all your attention on hitting 100 miles per week just to say you have done it.
100 miles a week seems to be the cool ‘guy or gal’ number but when it comes to racing the runner that will most often beat you is the one who has focused less on quantity and more on quality.
Quality is where it is at.
3. Be Aware Of Your Iron
In 2007, I was diagnosed with anemia and had no idea just how crucial iron and ferritin played on athletic performance nor did I know anything about glutathione and its role.
Iron and glutathione (an antioxidant) every cell within the body can and will run low and if they do you will see a marked difference in the way you are running.
You can have all the motivation in the world to train but if your body is running low on minerals and especially these two you will see your performances dramatically drop.
There is an easy fix.
Please ensure you keep these two vital components of your 20 week marathon training schedule on your ‘to-do’ list.
They both play a key function in oxygen carrying capacity of the cells and when you run low not only is your immune system weakened but so is your cellular and molecular aspects of the body.
Remember, marathoning is more then just workouts but the other areas of your life such as nutrition, proper sleep, recovery running and hydration.
You cannot put all your eggs in one basket and expect to get major returns.
All focus has to be placed on every aspect of training including mental training.
One key workout I will be doing in my 20 week marathon training schedule will be 16K on the roads alternating 1K at 160BPM (moderate effort) with 1K at 170BPM (aerobic capacity).
This is, to put it bluntly, is an extremely uncomfortable workout but makes for one of the best marathon training workouts.
Fartleks can be short in duration or long in distance.
It all depends on how you want to set them up.
You can do high-end, extremely quick sprints such as 30x30second hard bursts followed by 1 minute recovery between each 30 second burst to 20×1 minute hard followed by 1 minute easy.
Some of the top Kenyans I have trained with over the years also liked to do one-hour runs of 1 minute hard, 1 minute easy fartlek running.
Let’s just say their ‘easy’ isn’t what most runners would deem a ‘leisurely stroll’.
The reason these guys and gals are great is because they spend so much time at such high intensities.
They didn’t come out of their mother’s womb fast.
They had to work on their craft and you do not need to be a Kenyan to run fast.
I am as American as apple pie and I ran a time even many Kenyans have not run at 2:19:35.
That time came about from doing many fartlek workouts such as the ones I mentioned above.
You can use these forms of workouts to get the most out of your 20 month marathon training schedule.
Fit these workouts to meet your own needs.
My goal is just to give you some ideas and to give an indication of some of the training runners at my level do and those faster then I and you can use to fit your own needs but please adjust paces.
Just because we are marathoners doesn’t mean we dismiss leg speed.
The goal is to recruit as many fast twitch muscle fibers as possible and you don’t do that by way of easy running.
Type IIa and IIb fast twitch muscle fibers are recruited by extremely fast running.
If you want to get the most out of your 20 week marathon training schedule do not neglect leg speed.
Get your heart rate up over 170 pushing 180+ BPM.
You will not be able to hold this type of running long but it is the overall physiological boost you will get from doing very fast workouts that is going to make you dangerous come marathon race day.
What are some common workouts the elite runners do that you can utilize in your own 20 week marathon training schedule?
Here are a few I will be using in mine.
10 to 15x200m hill sprints all-out on the way up, jog or walk on the way down
16x400m at 5K goal pace (67-68 sec) with 100m jog recovery (when fit).
10-12x400m at 3K pace (61-63sec) with 60 seconds rest
You can walk 100m or even 200m earlier in your marathon training schedule.
The idea early on in a training segment is to focus on quality but full rest and as time goes on maintaining the pace but lowering the recovery time.
Remember, no rest in a race so you want to get to a point where you need minimal rest and can still minimize slowing down.
These are just a few sample sprint workouts I would do and the type of paces I would be looking at in my own 20 week marathon training schedule.
For the sake of time I will be closing this article but hope you got some ideas out of it.
I have created 5K to marathon run training plans that are for sale here at rundreamachieve that are built specifically with this training philosophy in mind.
I’ll be writing further articles on 12 and 16 week marathon training schedule that will be similar but have varying workouts outside of what I would do for a 20 week marathon training schedule.