Marathon Training Schedule Phases – Run Faster Without Overtraining [3]

marathon training schedule phases

Marathon Training Schedule Phases

Identifying marathon training schedule phases with different fitness objectives, allows effective progression, yet stops you overreaching then crashing. Discover how effective phasing can:

  • ‘marathon-proof’ your body
  • transition you effectively into marathon-specific training
  • help you avoid injury and burnout, and
  • ensure that you peak on the big day.

All of this is made easier by having an effective running technique…

So, each week Dave will provide one FREE marathon running technique makeover.

Just follow these simple instructions.



Mark: Today, we’re going to be covering four different but related subjects and I’m going to hand it straight over and ask you Dave, how is it that ancient history, ties in with the marathon?

Dave: That’s a great lead in, because we all know the marathon is an iconic event.

And it’s made iconic by the fact that Pheidippides, all those years ago, ran from the plains of Marathon to Athens to announce a famous battle victory, and in so doing, ran those iconic 26.2 miles.

What I’d like to do is reflect on that epic journey…

In short, the four phases are:

  • the Trails Phase, which is obviously the initial bit when he left the battle scene;
  • the Steps Phase, when he alighted the steps in one of the temples in Athens;
  • the Pillars Phase as he got closer to where he’s proclaiming his famous victory; and then finally,
  • when you proclaim any big victory or any spectacular success, you want to shout from the rooftops, and that’s what I call the Pediment Phase, because that is a name for a temple roof, which as you’ll see is a nice metaphor for the tapering or peaking phase of your marathon training.

Mark: That’s when you get to the top of what you’re doing?

Dave: Absolutely.

Mark: Excellent job. Do you want to go through those one by one?

Marathon Base Training 

Dave: I will do indeed. There’s no better place to start than the Trails Phase because this is often called base training.

People often get very confused by that term. I really like the term trails, not just because of the link with that story, but it’s actually encouraging you, for once, to forget about the harsh terrain of tarmac.

Get off the road and get onto scenic trails…

Frankly, really enjoy your running, because in a sense, this is your pre-marathon training.

I know it’s part of the marathon training schedule I’m describing, but this is the bit when the focus is more on time on your feet, enjoying the scenery, not worrying about a watch.

I will often advise some pretty high-level clients that I’ve got to go out without a watch, which sounds like heresy to them.

But this is the time, as I say, to just listen to the birds singing and just enjoy yourself, but get those miles in, because there’s a serious purpose to all this, and that is to provide the essential conditioning.

We’re going to use this term again that we’ve used in previous episodes, this ‘marathon-proofing’ gives you the strength and durability for the more challenging, later stages.

Mark: Excellent. So we’ve gone through the base stage?

Dave: Which I’m calling the Trail Phase.

Mark: Trail Phase, right. Why do you call it the Trail Phase, just out of interest?

Dave: Because I really want people to think in terms of off-road and think of trails.

Because it always baffles me when I’m driving back along a highway or a dual carriageway and I see runners that are obviously not doing a key session where they require a flat course, but they’re running on the side of a major highway absorbing all that pollution.

And I’m thinking, why? Why are you not out in the countryside enjoying the fresh air, actually benefiting from the gentle undulations or the slight challenge of a gravel substrate?

Because all these little facets, they improve your strength and durability, as I said, for the later phases.

Mark: Okay. So after the Trail Phase …

Dave: Before we do that, there’s actually three Ts within it. There’s ‘Time’ on your feet, there’s ‘Terrain’ as we’ve talked about, and then this is also a great time to look at your running Technique.

Running Technique Assessment

Mark: You have in the past said to me that one of the best ways that people can see if their technique is good or not is to get someone to film them as they’re running, preferably when they don’t know they’re being filmed.

Dave: Absolutely.

Mark: People can use something simple like a mobile phone with a decent camera on, something like an iPhone?

Dave:  There’s never been a better time to perfect your technique using technology.

Mark: Yeah.

Dave: Get a friend, a fellow runner, your partner, whatever… and as long as they’re able to take footage of you running towards them and then away from them and then side on, you have got the perfect video footage.

Make sure that you look at your technique in that way at several different paces, the ones that you’re likely to be using in your training, so the slow jog, the easy run, the steady run, right up to faster interval paces.

Mark: What should we be looking for once we’ve got the video of us running?

Dave:  First and foremost, although there are numerous YouTube videos on the perfect technique, it’s got to be the technique that suits you, because you’re going to be doing a heck of a lot of training, including the marathon itself.

But that said, what I would really look for is a slight forward lean, very efficient arm action, and even though we’re encouraged by kids on street corners to lift our legs, what we really need is quite an efficient low knee lift with an emphasis on forward momentum, not too much up and down, and not too much torso rotation either.

Mark: I’m going to set you up again here, because what Dave’s going to do is, once a week, if you send your video in to Dave, no more than 30 seconds … How would you want it? front on? side on?

Dave:  I would say no more than 30 seconds in any one position.

Remember to vary the pace a little bit to get in all those different paces.

But if you can send me some footage, front on, back on, and side on, then yes, I’m willing to have a look at that technique for you.

Mark: So one person a week is going to get that done. That could be you.

No more than once a week, because Dave is very busy with his personal consulting clients, but one of you is going to get that just by sending in a video, very easy.

So there we have it. We’ve done the first phase. Dave, what’s the second one?

Marathon Transition Training

Dave: Pheidippides has now left the trail and he’s arrived in Athens and he’s going up the steps of the temple.

The Steps Phase is obviously a metaphor, because this is where you transition from that easy marathon-proofing, time-on-your-feet kind of approach, to actually testing out the transition to very challenging marathon-specific training.

And what I encourage people to do, and again the steps is a great metaphor for this, is get in some incline work.

Start working at different paces as well as different kinds of effort levels going uphill, because you’ve got to not only get used to time on your feet, but you’ve got to get used to your body and your heart working at different rates of intensity to cope with the very specific training.

Mark: Excellent. So that’s two phases. Next one?

Marathon Specific Training

Dave: The next one is the Pillars Phase, and this is where rubber hits the road, because this is the challenging marathon-specific phase.

This is the longest phase. Typically in a full programme I set with my clients this is an eight-week phase in itself.

This is where they do the marathon-specific training that gets them to the start line (after a taper that we’ll go into in a minute), ready to meet that challenge.

Just very quickly, I’ll mention the four key sessions within this phase.

  1. The Long Run, because we continue that theme from the trails but we extend the long run progressively through this;
  2. The Marathon-Pace Run, where you get increasingly adept at running at marathon pace as part of your long run for longer periods of time;
  3. The Faster-Longer Run, which is, as the name suggests, develops your stamina by running at a faster pace for longer. Not flat out, but faster for longer. And then finally, at the faster end of the spectrum of these four key sessions, are;
  4. The Faster Repeats, which is your classic interval training that is often done on a track, but not sprints over a hundred metres. We’re talking about three-minute reps, two-minute reps, that kind of ilk.

Mark: Excellent. I think we’re coming onto the last phase now, aren’t we?

Marathon Taper

Dave: Yep, and that is the Pediment Phase, which as you’ll remember is the roof of the temple. This is where you taper down and you reach a peak.

The key word here is you ‘preserve’ that fitness. This is not a time for trying anything new.

In fact, what I encourage, this is a great takeaway… I do a session called Peak Repeats with my clients, based upon similar sessions during the Pillars Phase, but they allow longer recovery, because the emphasis here is keeping the intensity up, but allowing a longer recovery.

And then the other key thing is the volume goes down significantly. I always set this for three weeks for the marathon, and the volume goes down significantly each week.

Mark: Excellent. So we’ve had the four phases.

Dave: Yeah.

Mark: That was the Trail Phase, the Steps Phase, the Pillars Phase, and the Pediment Phase.

Dave: Well remembered.

Mark: It’s what I’m paid to do! When people get to the last phase, how does that tie in with their actual marathon event?

Dave: I think you need three weeks to taper down. Let’s take extremes…

If it’s six weeks, you’re tapering down too much, and you’ll end up being a bit flat and jaded, or not even jaded, the opposite. You’ll be too fresh and you’ll have lost some training benefit that you could’ve accrued with some extra ‘Pillars’ training.

But far worse is if you don’t allow enough time, which is the most common mistake by the way.

Then when you arrive at the finish line, you might feel… Well, forget the finish line! You might not even arrive at the finish line…

But you arrive at the start line feeling jaded and quite flat, and psychologically, you won’t feel quite as up for this incredibly challenging event as if you’d allowed the three weeks.

It’s a bit like the Goldilocks porridge thing. It’s just the right temperature, three weeks is just right.

Mark: Don’t forget, you’ve got the possibility to have Dave look at your running videos, 30 seconds from front, side, and back?

Dave: Yeah, and vary the pace a little bit for each, so you’re working through the full spectrum of paces you’d expect to be doing during marathon training.

Mark: Yeah. And I’m assuming if someone sends a video in and they don’t get it done that particular week, they can try another week, obviously?

Dave: Absolutely.

Mark: So it’s just a random pick out of the virtual hat, as it were?

Dave: Yeah, that’s right.

Did you find the tips on setting marathon training schedule phases useful? Please leave a comment below. [/spp-transcript]

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