Throw a metaphorical dart through the internet, and you’ll come across a marathon training plan.
Training Plan Options
You can get a free, generic template just by searching the internet, you could pay for a template based on your recent race performances, or you could look into getting a specific template based on your own fitness from one of the many running programs throughout the internet that feature online coaching.
It’s easy to find a template, but you want to find one that works correctly for you. Unless you go the online coaching route, you’ll need to be picky with what you choose and make some big decisions as to what you’re looking for.
Do you need a 12, 16, or 24-week training plan? It depends. Obviously, you want a plan to coincide with your next race, but that isn’t the only factor. One good way to decide is to look at the first long run in the training plan. If you don’t feel you are able to do that, then you may want to consider a longer duration training plan or work up to where you can do the first long run. For example, if the first long run is 12 miles, but you haven’t done more than six at any one time, it is best to work up to at least ten easy pace miles before starting that plan.
Another thing to consider is the longest training week. If the peak week is 65 miles, but from experience, you know you start getting hurt after building to 50 miles you may want to consider a lower mileage program or make sure there is a sufficient buildup to the peak week.
If your training plan consists of a spreadsheet with target distances and nothing else, you may want to look elsewhere. Training for a marathon requires slow long distance runs, tempo runs, hill repeats, interval runs, etc. if you want to be able to finish the race running comfortably or hit a PR. Not pairing up intense workouts with recovery runs increases risk of burnout, overtraining, and injury.
Marathons are extremely difficult when you try to run to your potential. It taxes various metabolic systems that adapt more efficiently when trained by specific workouts. For example, long slow runs stress the aerobic system which increases mitochondrial density, while tempo runs aim to increase lactate threshold (the pace where lactic acid begins to increase rapidly in your blood). You will need more direction than the number of miles to run on a given day if you would like to run to your potential.
Cross-training, stretching, strength training
Running is great, but without some sort of stretching, strength training, or cross training, it is almost guaranteed to cause muscle imbalances that lead to overuse injuries. It is important to pick a training plan that has rest and cross-training days built in so you can recover from runs and become more resistant to injury through a basic strength program that address common muscle imbalances such as quad dominance.