Response From Coach Neil Scholes
I think your word “campaign” is a good one as long distance running requires a significant commitment to training. I think also that this training should take place over a far greater period of time than most people, or the running media, traditionally regard as required.
In terms of time I personally would look to be giving myself a period of around 6-7 months. Most people tend to think in terms of 12-16 weeks but I don’t feel this is enough time to elicit any significant physiological changes. It also does not allow for illness (I almost guarantee you’ll get a cold before Brighton!) and does not allow for enough time to undertake the build up races I would like to see.
Key Build-Up Races
I’ll deal with the race structure first off as this helps us set out the backbone of the plan: When I was aiming for the Rotterdam Marathon in April 2013 I started training specifically for it in September 2012. This then allowed me time to build the training sensibly and to factor in a number of key races that let me know specifically as to how I was progressing and where my run pace actually was. This in turn informed my race pace which was vital for race day.
It is critical to determine the pace you train at based on current fitness and a good way of doing that is running a shorter race and utilising one of the many pace calculators available.
In terms of specifics I ran 10k races in September and October, I ran a 10 mile race in December and Half Marathons in both January and February before the Rotterdam Marathon in April. You can see straight away that programme of races would have been difficult if not impossible to achieve in a 12 week build up and thus I would not have truly understood what sort of shape I should have been in to achieve my finish goal, which on that day was sub 3:00.
The schedule of races that I utilised as alluded to above would be a similar one that I would recommend for yourself and that is why I would be recommending you start on this month.
In terms of weekly structure I would look to progress you up to perhaps running 6 times a week over 5 days; so that will entail one double run day and two rest days a week. That structure would of course contain the classic long run which would build but also one or two appropriate ‘speed’ sessions. These sessions would be mixed in with other runs to achieve the necessary volume and resilience.
The Long Run
Most runners understand the requirement to run long if training for the marathon distance. It develops the resilience that you will require come race day. In terms of pace during this long run I would look to mix race pace runs in with slower runs but ensuring that those slower runs are not too slow. I feel if you run too slowly in every long run then it just makes race pace efforts seem to strenuous.
For a sub 3:30 attempt the maths is easy; you need to run 8:00 per mile pace as this gives you a 3:29:45. For me that is a little close for comfort and would like you to be running 7:50s. To that end we might put a ceiling of around 8:20 on some but not all long runs and others may be a mix so a 12 mile run might look something like 4 miles at 8:20, 4 miles at 7:50, 4 miles at 8:20 for example.
I would also to look to introduce into your plan one or two very appropriate ‘speed-work’ sessions. These would be designed for you and your ability and would be very specific for your goal. Additionally, the experience you will gain from these faster-paced training sessions, coupled with the race plan I alluded to above, will enable us to plan and implement a smart race day strategy by running at the appropriate pace.
Another great reason why I start my build up in September for a Spring marathon!
The key is therefore to start now. It’s almost October and therefore now is the perfect time to get that formal structure and coaching plan in place in order that you can achieve your goal.
I hope this helps. Keep smiling.
Image via Kate FisherLast updated on March 2nd, 2021.