Marathon Training Plan – My Quest for Boston

Background

I have always wanted to qualify for the Boston Marathon.  A few years ago, I thought the qualification time for my age group was within reach.  That same year, the goal line was moved by five minutes.  Rather than stepping up my efforts, I effectively conceded.

Since then, I have continued to want to qualify, someday.  Today I am committing to actually train for a qualification time.  I am experienced enough to know that I can’t just hope for things to happen.  I must make things happen.  Running is a solo sport where you get out of it what you put into it.

As of today, I am a 38 year old male.  In order to run the 2019 Boston Marathon, I must complete a certified course in less than three hours and ten minutes in accordance with the men’s 35-39 year age group requirement.  To do that, I must be capable of running 26.2 miles at 7:14 pace per mile.  To do that, I need a focused training plan.  To do that, I need a plan for a plan.

Plan for a Plan

My baseline, or foundation from which I will start a training plan, is a long run of 12 miles and a 10k time of 46 minutes (7:24 pace).  This is fairly conservative since I could have gone farther or faster on either run.

So, not too bad, right?  I just need to get faster as I build up my endurance.  This is the fun of running.  The two are indirectly proportional in my experience.  I can go fast or I can go far, but I can’t go far fast.

To that end, I streamline my Marathon training into two major components – endurance work and speed work.  I am not a fan of weekly mileage goals or recovery runs.  These lead to junk miles which could hurt speed work or induce injury.  Each of my planned runs have a purpose.

Endurance

For this plan, I need to build my endurance methodically.  I typically add two miles to my weekly long run, but step back about 6 miles every third week.  In other words, my progression would be 14 miles, then 16 miles, then 10 miles before going to 18 miles, week over week.  The methodical part will be my focus on pace and successive workouts.  Since I have a base of 12 miles and some time in my schedule, I will do several weeks of 14 miles before actually starting the progression.  I need to focus on slow, but consistent pace.  Long slow runs do no good on race day if you always go out too hard and finish up too slow.  I need to hold back in the early miles to ensure I can maintain pace for the duration.

The pace for these long runs will initially be closer to 9:00 per mile but gradually come down closer to 8:00 per mile with time.  There is little risk to going too slow on the long run, unlike going too fast.  You want to target 60 to 90 seconds slower than your current race pace capability.  My race pace capability must improve over time if I expect to qualify for Boston.  Therefore, my long runs should get a little faster without requiring more effort.  The way to do this is with speed work during the week.

Speed

Speed work can take the form of tempo runs, intervals, hills, or sprints at the track.  For this plan, I need all of that, but my focus should be intervals and hills.  (I will likely do most speed work with my son(s) in a stroller, too.) Here, I should also determine my optimal pace and ensure that my workouts don’t increase in distance until I can maintain that optimal pace for each workout’s entirety.

Intervals have been my favorite form of speed work when training.  I have always liked Yasso 800s as a security blanket, but lately shorter intervals have been my weapon of choice.  From 100 meter sprints to quarter mile repeats, these shorter interval workouts have helped improve my race pace and aerobic threshold.  My plan will include a mix of shorter intervals, 800s, and tempo runs.  For quarter mile intervals, I rest for a minute and a half between reps.  For half mile intervals, I rest for three minutes.  I like to keep an eye how my heart rate is doing during these rest periods.  If I can’t get my heart rate down enough, I rest longer or stop altogether.

Framework

For this plan, I need to assess the available time I have for training.  I have tried plans in the past that required some type of work six days a week.  On those plans, running became a chore and I didn’t enjoy it so I didn’t make the time for each required workout.  I would either skip targeted workouts or just slog through some junk miles.

So let’s be realistic.  Given my schedule, I can make time for three runs a week.  I like a long run and one or two speed runs.  So my plan won’t require more than three runs a week.  Not only would this allow for flexibility within the week, but also leaves room for bonus runs or cross training.

Now, coincidentally, I will be running the Austin Marathon in February.  That means I have 21 weeks to expand my aerobic threshold to hold a 7:14 pace for 26.2 miles.

Here’s how I will do it.  We have already covered the long run progression, but this 21 week time frame will allow for 4 or 5 runs over 20 miles, unless I delay or slow the build up.  Exceeding 20 miles in training is not only necessary for your legs, feet, and stomach to experience, but also for your head.  You need to know what to expect in terms of your own self-doubt and rationalization in those high miles.  The voice that tells you how stupid this is or that you have done enough or that you are hurting yourself or that you just cannot go further will get louder and louder.  Part of training is to learn to ignore that voice or use it to achieve your goals.  Many training plans don’t require runs longer than 20 miles, but I prefer to go up to 24 miles just for the mental aspect.   Knowing my training included a 24 miler in bad conditions when I am at the race start also tells that voice that this is achievable.  Really, the key part of the long run is the time.  You need to be out there moving for over 4 hours.

When you put it all together, it looks like this:

WEEK
MON
TUE
WED
THU
FRI
SAT
SUN
1
Rest
800 x 5
Rest
45 min tempo
Rest
12 m run
Active
2
Rest
800 x 5
Rest
4 m pace
Rest
14 m run
Active
3
Rest
400 x 12
Rest
45 min tempo
Rest
14 m run
Active
4
Rest
4 m run
Rest
4 m run
Rest
10 m run
Active
5
Rest
800 x 5
Rest
4 m pace
Rest
14 m run
Active
6
Rest
5 m run
Rest
5 m run
Rest
10 m run
Active
7
Rest
800 x 5
Rest
4 m pace
Rest
16 m run
Active
8
Rest
400 x 12
Rest
40 min tempo
Rest
18 m run
Active
9
Rest
5 m run
Rest
5 m run
Rest
12 m run
Active
10
Rest
800 x 6
Rest
5 m pace
Rest
19 m run
Active
11
Rest
400 x 14
Rest
45 min tempo
Rest
20 m run
Active
12
Rest
5 m run
Rest
5 m run
Rest
14 m run
Active
13
Rest
800 x 6
Rest
5 m pace
Rest
21 m run
Active
14
Rest
400 x 14
Rest
45 min tempo
Rest
22 m run
Active
15
Rest
5 m run
Rest
5 m run
Rest
16 m run
Active
16
Rest
800 x 6
Rest
5 m pace
Rest
22 m run
Active
17
Rest
400 x 14
Rest
45 min tempo
Rest
22 m run
Active
18
Rest
5 m run
Rest
5 m run
Rest
16 m run
Active
19
Rest
800 x 6
Rest
5 m pace
Rest
24 m run
Active
20
Rest
400 x 14
Rest
45 min tempo
Rest
22 m run
Active
21
Rest
4 m run
Rest
4 m run
Rest
14 m run
Active
22
Rest
Rest
4 m run
Rest
Rest
Rest
Marathon

So there you have it.  This is my plan for the next 5 months.  I will provide some progress updates along the way, but feel free to implement any or all aspects of this plan in your training.  Let me know how it goes in the comments below.

Gotta run…

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