Marathon Training Basics:
by Kevin Beck
This post introduces a four-part series about the basic needs of serious marathoners.
Over 15 years ago, when I was working on a Running Times article about Keith Dowling, the top U.S. finisher at the 2002 Boston Marathon, Keith opined:
“Some say there’s no magic formula. I say there is. It’s just that the magic is different for everyone.”
Patience, trust, resilience, and the ability to learn from past experience are the greatest psychological determinants of success in long-distance running, just as they are in other realms. The greatest physical determinants are, regardless of your event, an aerobic base developed through years of accumulated mileage and — just as important — consistency (a by-product of resilience, both physical and psycho-emotional). Believe this philosophy, scrawl it on the inside of your eyelids, live it, and regardless of your inherent abilities, you’ll look around one day and be pleasantly astonished at your own improvement and achievements.
Pared down to the essentials, then, hard work and confidence are all a distance runner truly needs. I have found that regardless of whatever permutation of miles, intervals, tempo runs, hill workouts, and long runs I settle on for any given stretch of training, the thing that matters most is nudging your total time spent training ever higher until you find your personal “sweet spot” and only then, when you’re ready to attack a period of racing, become truly concerned with intensity.
If you give this a try and in the first two, three, six or twelve months weather some lackluster or abysmal races, good. You will need them. Only if you then quit will you have paid your dues for nothing. If you stay healthy and train consistently for a period of years, you will reach or exceed your purest of goals. Not every time, but often enough to make it worth it. You will be beat up and you will be atop the world.
Does this mean there is one perfect way to train and that I – one more guy with a hobby, a keyboard, and access to a server – have found it, integrated it seamlessly into my training and life, and led a cast of thousands into the promised land of limitless personal bests? Of course not. But despite the personal foibles which both both invigorated and hamstrung my running over time — and you’ll deal with plenty of your own — I’ve not been blind to obvious patterns.
If you feel your training has shortcomings, you may simply be neglecting the basics — the elements which, in spite of individual variations in “magic formulas” noted by Keith, are common to the overwhelming fraction of top distance runners around the globe. I’ll be writing about these in the days to come.