Key Training Principles for the First Build-Up Period of Your Marathon Preparation

Von Uta Pippig

Dear Friends,

© Betty Shepherd
© Betty Shepherd

Today I would like to share with you some thoughts on the key training principles for the first build-up period of your marathon preparation. It follows from one of my previous postings in which I detailed the periods of training for your marathon, recovery in between each training phase, distance progressions for your long runs, and other related topics. In the last part of this message I will flag the all-important signs of “overtraining.”

If you are planning to run a marathon scheduled for ten to eleven weeks’ time, I hope by now you have moved from the base period of your training to your first build-up period, with higher mileage and longer runs this month.

During the next three to four weeks, please focus on the following key training principles to ensure you will be well-prepared for the challenge of your second build-up period (ranging from three to six weeks before your race), which will include your highest mileage and your longest runs.

  • Follow the concept of periodization by adding an easy week of running after a longer period of intensive training. A good plan would be to complete two to three weeks of a hard training phase followed by one week of easy and less intense training. In this article, I share with you detailed information about your recovery weeks.
  • Since you are now in your first build-up period, adding more miles to your long runs is essential. Once you can cover a distance of 18 miles or more, they are now referred to as “marathon-specific runs.” For beginners, I would plan a distance between 15 and 18 miles. For advanced runners, up to 21 miles by the end of your first build-up period should be your objective. In one of my previous messages  to you, I provided additional suggestions on specific distances for each level of runner. Furthermore, please check the amount of your marathon-specific runs in your uniquely-tailored training schedule.
  • For our beginners and intermediate runners, slightly increase the speed of your long runs but only if you are able to handle the distance. Please focus primarily on distance and later, if necessary, you can add more speed. Also, start your long runs easier than you finish them by running “Negative Splits.” This means covering the second half of your chosen distance faster than the first half.
  • For our beginners, now is the time to add one tempo session per week to the long runs which you already are focusing on during this phase of training. This could be a shorter and faster run that you begin at a moderate pace and finish faster, or an interval program such as 800-meter repeats. If you are new to this training, please be extra careful in following the guidelines of the unique schedule with which you are working.
  • For our advanced runners, some of you have already included one interval program per week in your workouts—1000-meter repeats, for example—and now is the time for everyone else to do so. You then can move up to longer intervals in your second build-up period. Also, add the necessary mileage to your interval workouts, tempo runs, moderate runs and long runs, according to your uniquely-tailored marathon schedule.
  • During this first build-up period please keep in mind that another build-up period will start shortly. Always run with reserves—rather than running too often and too hard—and follow the overall training schedule with both periods in mind. Understand you are “building-up” your form and you are training in such a way as to be able to finish this phase strongly. Once completed, you should be ready to recover for a week and feel motivated and energized enough to be able to run the best workouts of your marathon preparation during your second build-up phase.
  • For our triathletes who follow these general guidelines and who will compete in a triathlon some time after the marathon, it would be good to shift your focus more towards running now. A combination of both marathon and triathlon training certainly can engender successful outcomes for both types of events.

In conclusion, the key training principles I hope you can focus on in order to complete the first build-up period successfully are: (1) increasing your overall weekly mileage, (2) lengthening your marathon-specific runs, (3) adding weekly tempo training, and (4) making “Negative Splits” a focus for all of your running training. With this approach, you will be able to avoid overtraining. It also will give you the best chance to begin the second build-up period with enough reserves and energy as well as the highest possible fitness level necessary in this phase of your marathon preparation.

You still have plenty of time until your marathon, and I hope you are feeling confident with your schedule and that you are healthy and on target with your training.

One more thought: If you ever feel in doubt about your next hard workout (i.e., whether or not to do it), always play it safe and go easy. Please avoid risking overtraining.

Signs of overtraining:

include having (1) an elevated resting pulse in the morning and elevated pulse during training and recovery after your workout, (2) a diminished ability to recover in general, (3) prolonged fatigue and higher muscle tightness than usual, (4) an inability to complete your workout, (5) a greater propensity to get injured, (6) lower immune support, combined with an elevated risk for colds, (7) a decreased appetite, (8) a change in your sleeping pattern, (9) a lack of concentration, and (10) a sense of often feeling tired and overwhelmed.

Please try not to feel discouraged if you suffer an injury or get the common cold, or if travel or other work-related or personal situations delay your training. These challenges can affect everyone and we are all more susceptible when we are training intensively. If it happens, it always is prudent to step back, re-think, re-schedule, and continue your training—and maybe even re-adjust your time goal for your race. If you need to, why not? It is better than adding too much pressure to your already challenging daily routine and training schedule.

I send you good wishes for your fitness and training, and I hope you can stay injury-free. Enjoy all your runs on always happy trails!

Keep running,

Reading Suggestions:

  1. Uta’s Summary for Your Marathon Preparation. Part I: Training
  2. Uta’s Summary for Your Marathon Preparation. Part II: Cross-Training
  3. Uta’s Summary for Your Marathon Preparation. Part III: Nutrition

Updated February 1, 2016
Updated February 2, 2014
Posted in July 2013