Sage Advice: Bridging the Gap

This question comes from Tracy.

I found your training program for the half marathon on the Athleta website and I was interested in trying it because I liked that it combined my two favorite workouts, yoga and running. I have been running for a little over two years now and after having used your program, I just completed my fastest half ever, 2:07. I ran the Capital City Half Marathon on May 7 in Columbus. 

This fall I plan on running the Chicago Marathon, my first marathon, and I was thinking about using your program again for the full. My training however doesn’t start until mid-June, and I am struggling with knowing how much I should be running, resting etc. and I wondered if you had any tips.

We can unpack a few issues from this good question. First, how long would recovery from a half marathon take? Second, what is a good maintenance schedule? Third, what should your baseline be as you start a marathon training program?

My advice, then:

Recover from the half marathon. I’d say two weeks for Tracy. (There’s a handy table in the appendixes of The Athlete’s Guide to Recovery charting time to recovery from races of almost every distance.) In those two weeks, which have now passed, I hope Tracy had a few days of no running, a few of really short and easy running, and a gradual ease into a week of easy, conversational running. Rest days are important in there, too!

Maintain your base of fitness. Tracy should run a weekly schedule that looks pretty much like the half marathon training, without the midweek intensity. Her long runs should be 90 minutes to two hours, depending on how much she likes them. As her time between races is actually pretty short, this part will last only a week or two. If the break were longer—three months, say—I’d suggest she choose a weakness to work on. That could be strength on hills or speed in shorter races or core strength.

Get ready for marathon training. The end of your maintenance phase should look a lot like the first few weeks of marathon training, so that your body is ready to handle the increase in volume. You can leave out most of the intensity, or keep some short pickups to keep your form sharp.

Throughout, be sure you enjoy the lighter parts. This break between concerted training cycles is really important for your physical and mental freshness as you start the marathon buildup. Consider it a summer vacation for your legs, lungs, and mind.

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