Shalane Flanagan ran up to 120 miles per week while training for her first marathon. You probably can’t do that. But you can emulate the key elements of the training philosophy she executed under the direction of her coach, Jerry Schumacher, using these three suggestions.
1. Practice running tired.
What makes the marathon different from other races is that fatigue begins to set in long before you reach the finish line. So it’s important to prepare for this challenge. “There’s no way to truly duplicate the last five miles of a marathon in training,” says Schumacher—but you can come reasonably close. Aside from the obvious measure of running 20-milers, you can also do some moderately long runs of 10 to 14 miles, faster than your marathon pace, as well as back-to-back long runs when you start Sunday’s 12-miler still a bit tired from Saturday’s 12-miler (for example).
2. Know your limit, but don’t test it.
There’s no question that you have to run a lot of miles to prepare for a successful marathon. But don’t make the mistake of trying to run as many miles as you can handle. “When you do too much, that extra mileage starts to undo the benefits you got from the rest of your running,” says Schumacher. Estimate the highest weekly mileage you think you can handle and run 10 percent less than that to stay fresh and feeling well.
3. Listen to your body.
Training plans are helpful tools to ensure your marathon training is properly focused and progressive, but don’t be a slave to your plan. Schumacher allows the day-to-day needs of his runners to influence the direction of their training. “A lot depends on how the athlete’s looking, how he’s responding to the workouts he’s already done,” he says. Listen to your body throughout the marathon training process and don’t be afraid to stray from your plan when necessary to stay healthy, address weaknesses and build confidence.