Marathon 20 Week Training Plan | Pro Tips to PR

Are you seeking a new and strategic marathon 20 week training plan? If so, welcome to RunDreamAchieve. I am glad you have made it here. 5 months is most definitely sufficient time to prepare properly for this distance. I always tell the athletes I coach and mentor here that a longer build up is far better than a short build up. The reason being is you are not rushing your fitness.

Remember, it takes about 3 to 4 weeks for the body to physiologically adapt to the hard stresses we place on it. So, great marathon fitness simply is not going to come in a matter of a few weeks. Of course, you will build general fitness in a matter of 4 to 6 weeks. The minimum time I would recommend is 12 weeks and preferably 20 to a 24 week marathon training plan.

There are many tactics runners can use to run a faster marathon. One of the biggest changes you can make is to start running your long runs at faster paces. A major mistake many runners make is running long, slow and easy every single weekend. Yes, running easy is still vital for building endurance. That being said, our goal is to improve the body’s lactate tolerance. Easy running will not produce this physiological adaptation, faster, anaerobic running will.

Is 20 Weeks Long Enough to Train for a Marathon?

Yes, absolutely. 20 weeks is sufficient time to get ready to run a new personal bests. I have created training plans here that range in duration from 8 to 24 weeks. There are many runners who choose to train between 16 to 24 weeks. That being said, have had many others who focus on training between 8 to 12 weeks. Again, it really just depends on the schedule of the athlete.

The vast majority of runners are working a full or part-time job. In addition, are in school or are juggling other responsibilities. So, they may only have a shorter amount of time they can fit in prior to their next goal marathon. Yes, it will be a challenge for most athletes to get in the best possible shape in 2 to 3 months. The good news is that it still can be done. 20 to 24 weeks is the optimal time frames to get in the best possible shape.

Remember, this is the marathon, not the 5k or a 10k. So, it does take someone with a great deal of patience to get this right. I usually focused on 16 to 24 weeks for my own marathon build ups.

Can You Go from Couch to Marathon in 5 Months?

Absolutely. Again, the longer the build up the more time you are giving yourself to prepare adequately. I would recommend running easy, aerobic mileage for at least 4 weeks. You can also add in strides twice per week. Strides are short, 50 to 100 meter long sprints. The great news is that strides do not build up any large amounts of lactic acid. So, you can do these short, explosive drills on top of the other workouts that you are doing.

An additional recommendation is to consider investing in a heart rate monitor. Heart rate monitors will ensure that you are training at the proper intensities. More importantly, ensure that you don’t over or under train. I use the Garmin 245 myself regularly. So, instead of focusing so much on what splits you are hitting, focus on your heart rate instead.

Marathon 24 Week Training Plan

The paces you are hitting per mile or per kilometer will quicken as you get fitter. Remember, the longer you can extend your anaerobic threshold runs the better marathoner you are going to be. What has been the longest tempo run you have done in the past training for your marathons? 4 miles? 5 miles? If so, you are still running too short. We run between 85 to 89% of our maximum heart rate running at this intensity. I used longer tempo runs between 10 to 14 miles to help me lower my PR down to 2:19:35.

How Long Should Longest Long Run Be Before Marathon?

I would normally do my longest long run between 3 to 4 weeks out from my goal marathon. So, you want to definitely get that physiological boost that long runs provide. That being said, also need to time it in such a way that you don’t go into your goal marathon fatigued. I believe a 10-day rather than a 3-week taper is the way to go.

Remember, 10 days is plenty of time for your body to recover from a 20 week build up. A legitimate marathon 20 week training plan should focus on this. I have seen far too many runners go into their goal races feeling tired and lethargic. You want to feel motivated and full rested. A common mistake many runners make is they start dropping their intensity and volume too far out from their goal race.

Should You Run 26 Miles Before Marathon?

The marathon 20 week training plan options you will find here at RunDreamAchieve do not have 26 mile long runs. I don’t think running this far for your long runs will yield any additional results. The long runs I prescribe range anywhere from 17 to 23 miles at their longest. I do think there is a point of diminished returns the further you go for your long run.

I ran my PR of 2:19:35 for the marathon on long runs ranging from around 20 to 23 miles in length. Of course, results will vary from athlete to athlete. There will be some runners who do much better running less mileage. Whereas, other runners will do better with higher mileage. Higher mileage is not a guarantee that you will run a new personal best though.

The world’s top runners are running between 35 to 40 percent of their weekly mileage at or below their lactate threshold. Again, this is running between 85 to 89 percent of max heart rate.

Run Easy on Recovery Days

The real benefits of the hard training that you do today won’t be seen until several weeks and months from now. So, you have to make sure that you are jogging on easy days. There are many runners who are still running too fast on easy days. In addition, running too slow on faster, anaerobic training days. I have trained with runners who could break 2:10 for the marathon.

Remember, these are athletes who can run under 5 minute mile pace for 26.2 miles. That being said, they would run between 8 to 9 minute mile pace on their easy days. So, if they can slow down so can you. A marathon 20 week training plan that will impact your running should also focus on faster, varied paced long runs.

Should My Long Runs Be Run Slow or Fast

I think runners should incorporate both faster as well as slower long runs. I dropped 21 minutes off of my marathon PR from 2:43:36 2:19:35 using this tactic. Below is an example of the type of varied paced long run I did prior to breaking the 2:20:00 marathon barrier.

  • 2 mile jog warm-up, 8 miles@5:25 mile pace, 2 miles easy, 1 mile in 4:55, 4 miles@6:00 mile pace, 3 miles easy, 1 mile in 5:05, 1 mile jog cool-down (22 miles)

I would always run the following week’s long run between 8 to 9 minute mile pace. Again, success leaves clues and studying what the best runners are doing will help you succeed.

Closing Thoughts

Be sure to subscribe to the RunDreamAchieve YouTube channel. I create new training and racing videos to help beginner to elite-level runners get to the next level in their preparation. I also would highly recommend implementing mental imagery into your training routine. The world’s top runners combine both mental as well as physical training into their routines.

Remember, we have to train both the mind as well as the body to achieve the running paces we are seeking. A major mistake many runners make is placing all of their focus on physical training while bypassing mental rehearsal. So, I emphasize this in the marathon 20 week training plan options available here. In fact, it is emphasized in all of the training plans and running courses I have created here.

The good news is you don’t need to spend more than 10 minutes daily doing this. The best time to mentally rehearse is when you go to bed at night or when you get up in the morning. So, see yourself getting across the finish line with your goal marathon time on the clock. Also, running fast, confident and passing people. I hope that this post has been helpful to you. Make sure to check out the resources available as I am certain they will speed up your chances of success.

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