How I Trained for a Marathon and 5K at the Same Time Without Killing Myself
by Norm De Lue
Imagine that you have your sights set on doing well in an upcoming marathon. Finding a marathon training program is no problem. Nearly as many “run your best marathon” programs are available in the running literature as “lose 10 pounds fast” programs in magazines at a grocery store check-out line. You pick out an 18-week program and pull out your planning schedule. First you pen in the marathon race date, count back 18 weeks and then start copying in the various sessions. Immediately you see that it is difficult to incorporate your favorite 5K and 10K races. Some athletes focus their training totally on a specific marathon, but if you are like me, you want to run that marathon in a good time while not missing out on all the shorter races during the marathon build-up. How can you train for both?
Been There, Hurt Myself
I can tell you what not to do: In 1994, I took a 15-week marathon training program described by John Treacy (Running Times, January 1994). I then took a 12-week, 5K program as outlined by Bob Glover in his Competitive Runner’s Handbook and simply joined the two together by taking out one of the easy/off days from the marathon training program and substituting a 5K speed session. Sometimes I was running a 5K on Saturday and doing a long run the next day.
For the first month things were working out quite well. My 5K times were improving as I marched toward my marathon goal. During the second month, however, as the intensity of speed workouts and length of the long runs increased, it started to hit me. Getting to the starting line with dead legs, my 5K race times slowed. The Sunday long runs were torture and sometimes I had to walk the last mile or two.
Still, I stuck with my program. I figured that if I toughed it out, a two week taper before the marathon would revive me and I would be ready for a marathon PR. Wrong! On marathon day, instead of a PR, I went through the streets of Memphis at a death-march pace from 20 miles on. I even felt like arguing with those well-meaning spectators that insisted that I was still “looking good.”
The Problem and Analysis
Clearly my 1994 crash and burn disaster was a case of overtraining—too much mileage, speedwork, racing and not enough rest. For awhile, I decided to take the approach of dividing the year into spring shorter distance racing and fall marathon training. However, as I went through the dedicated 18-20 weeks of marathon training, I was always disappointed by slow race times in the shorter races that I did enter.
I revisited the concept of training for both the marathon and shorter races at the same time. Somehow I had to integrate the two training programs so that they worked together without burning me out. I turned to one of my favorites for training programs, Bob Glover, who has authored a number of books. In Chapter 15 of his Competitive Runner’s Handbook, Glover indicates that individuals can and should write their own program based on the guidance in his book, because you are the only one that knows which race goals you want to pursue and what levels of training intensity you can tolerate. You need to come up with your personalized training program that balances racing, speedwork, long runs and rest.
My goal was to devise a plan incorporating shorter distance races but still leaving me tuned and ready for the big marathon. I will show you the logic I used and you can apply these lessons as a template for creating your own integrated training schedule. My rationale was that by analyzing running schedules for different distances and written by the same running expert that I would be able to spot commonalties in the training as I blended them together.
Examine the table at right, partially abstracted from tables in Glover’s book, for the basic competitive runner.
There is no getting around the fact that marathon training requires longer runs and increased mileage whereas 5K and 10Ks require short but fast speed training. However, there is also overlap in the two types of training. For example, long runs for the marathon will more than cover the long run requirements for 5K and 10K training.
Consider speed training: To improve 5K and 10K times you are going to have to hit the track and run repeats faster than your current race pace, such as 800 meter repeats. Glover’s speed training for the marathon emphasizes one-mile or longer repeats at 5K to 10K pace. He also, however, teaches the use of tempo runs—runs of six or more miles at paces 20-30 seconds slower than 10K race pace. One can see the resemblance, but not equivalence, of marathon speed work and running shorter distance races. Early in my training, I opted to use a number of 5K and 10K races as my speed training. Later in my training schedule I switch to the more conventional marathon speed training.
The Plan (And You Can’t Have It All)
My schedule accounted for the fact that I am an experienced marathoner who was running 25-30 miles per week as a base, with long runs of eight miles. Your schedule may require adding or subtracting weeks if your starting point is different. Note that the key element of each of the steps on the program below are color coded in the table (e.g. easy days are in yellow).
1) My first step was to write down my goal marathon as the last entry in the plan. This served as the primary entry that everything would lead up to. I then worked backward for 20 weeks.
2) Next, I penciled in my favorite races leading up to the marathon, with a “key” 5K approximately 3/4 of the way through the program, where I would then switch to an exclusive marathon focus. These races were temporarily penciled in because this is where the “you can’t have it all” comes in. I had to eliminate some of these shorter races as I filled in the long runs and other training sessions. Here are some priorities I set for making these tradeoffs:
My first priority was to get in long runs from 10 miles up to and including at least three 20 milers. In most cases I spaced my long runs two weeks apart but as the distance increased I ran them three weeks apart to give me more recovery time. Some of the shorter distance races I wanted to run were sacrificed.
I did not run both a race and a long run on the same weekend. In my previously unsuccessful experience, racing followed the next day by a long run left me with fatigue that continued to build over time. I remembered Foster’s Rule, which states that you should take one easy day for each mile that you raced. Racing a 5K meant I should take the next three days easy.
I also scheduled no races within two weeks of the marathon. I reasoned that by giving my body and mind a break, I would be ready to toe the line on marathon day fully rested and finely tuned.
3) I filled in the easy and off days. After my previous crash and burn experience, I realized that it is important not to load up my schedule with races, long runs, and speed work and haphazardly let the remaining days be my easy and off days. Experts say that you must take the off days and run slow on the easy days because speedwork, short races, and long runs leave you with residual fatigue.
This time I took days off after a long run or a race—even when I didn’t feel like it. If I found that I was tired going into a shorter distance race or was having trouble completing a speed session, I needed more rest. I was not afraid to convert a few easy days into off days. I wrote in easy days after races and an easy day after each speed workout. I ran these two minutes per mile slower than my current 10K pace (Glover, Chapter 2) to ensure recovery.
4) I filled the remaining blanks with my speed sessions. Early in the program I ran hard-paced 800-meter repeats to improve my speed for shorter distance races. Following Glover’s recommendations, I ran the 800 meter repeats at about 3:10—roughly 10% faster than my current 5K pace (7:00/mile)—and used an equal amount of time for easy jogging in between. I also incorporated the suggested fartlek training, doing a variation in which, during a normal easy run, I would pick up speed to 5K pace and hold it for six minutes, then slow back down and run easily. When I had recovered, I repeated the 5K pace again.
Early in my schedule I did not do specific marathon speed training. Instead, I used shorter distance speed training and the races themselves to lay the foundation for marathon speed training. With about six-weeks to go, after my key 5K race, my focus shifted to the upcoming marathon. At this point my speedwork shifted to that more specific to the marathon, namely mile repeats and tempo runs.
5) Following Glover (Chapters 11, 12 & 21), I ran mile repeats slightly faster than my 5K pace and took about four minutes (one lap) of easy jogging between repeats. I also incorporated tempo runs in the middle of longer runs. After warming up 2-3 miles at my easy day pace, I accelerated up to a pace 10-20 seconds per mile slower than my 10K pace and held it for the distance indicated in the table. I scheduled speed sessions twice per week unless I also ran a short distance race, when I would only run one additional speed session.
6) The last four weeks of my integrated training program were spent with final marathon workouts and tapering.
A Final Word
The program described above is not a canned program. It was designed for one individual person for one particular season of racing and is meant for guidance rather than an exact plan that you should follow. For you, a different program is required based on your target races, motivation, genetic endowment, age, and many other factors. I hope that you can use this program not as a blueprint but as a compass. Make a conscientious effort to devise your own program. Dig into the details, stick with it and improve it with experience. Good luck, and see you at the finish line.
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