This morning, after I got a cup of coffee in me, I followed my normal routine of reading Facebook groups/pages and a couple of blogs. One of the blogs caught my eye; it was a blog about how long your marathon training plan should be. For the most part I do not disagree with what I read, but I think the author might have over simplified the answer.
Before deciding how long your training plan should be, an athlete, first and foremost, must be completely honest about what their goals are and what their current fitness level is. I have found with myself and others that we will spend hours searching for the perfect event and set amazing goals without being fully honest about our current fitness level or time available for us to train. Once an athlete chooses an event, an honest assessment of their current fitness level and ability needs to be done. Being realistic about your swimming, bike handling skills and running ability will pay off in the long run. Overestimating where you are will lead to frustration later on during the race or during training itself.
Something important to consider is your current mileage and rate at which you are currently training at verses what your goal is for the race. The larger the gap the more time you will need to train and the longer the plan will need to be. The one factor that gets overlooked most often is the 10% rule of increasing distance and speed each week during training. For example, if you are training for a half or full marathon and your current long run is 5 miles and you want to increase, there needs to be a 10% increase for each week, but remember most plans have you do a recovery week on the fourth week. This makes for funky math, but it’s not really as hard as it sounds. It would be something to the effect of 1st week 5 miles, 2nd week 5.5 miles, 3rd week 6.1 miles and then the fourth week you would be back down for a recovery week and then back up for the next training cycle. With this example your training plan needs to be longer than it would if your current long runs are 10 miles.
When some people, including me, switch from being a pure runner to doing triathlons, their bike handling skills are not as developed as they should be. I had to assess my ability and develop a plan to develop these skills. This meant that I had to add some extra weeks to my plan to prepare for my first triathlon, whereas some of my friends that had been on bikes for a long time, required less time and therefore their plans were shorter in this regard.
When I first went from just running to triathlons, my swim was non-existent. I could just about swim 100 meters without stopping to doggie paddle. I had to seek out advice from whomever I could corner at the local swimming pool and ask them numerous questions. This added to the length of my training, as well. The person who grew up on the local swim team could shorten their swim training requirements. You still have to remember the 10 percent rule that was talked about in the previous paragraph. Whatever the gap is between your current swim distance and speed, to your goal, will determine just how long you will need to train.
The bike training is the same as the other two sports, but some may find that increasing weekly mileage is easier than on the run or swim. Plus, some will find that the more they bike the quicker their swim and run will improve as well. The general guidelines still exist for the bike, just as they do for the swim and run. A weekly increase much more than 10% may result in injury or burn out.
Time available is one of the biggest areas where we, as athletes, tend to overestimate what we have. It’s easy to think that in a perfect world I have all the time in the world to train. But, unless you have a safe full of money or you are a profession athlete, the average person does not have unlimited training time. I am not only talking about time we spend at work, traveling to and from work, sleep and recovery time, and the other normal stuff we have to do on daily basis. I want to address things like that week for family vacation in Jamaica that is already planned and paid for, or the week of finals or the week before finals when you have to study and write that last paper, or anything else that comes up that is not part of your normal routine. If you did all the work to build a plan, using things talked about in the earlier paragraphs and came up with a 20 week plan and you just got reminded that holidays and travel or the family cruise lies in the middle of your new plan, you just extended this 20 week plan to maybe 22 or 24 weeks.
This is the one of the main reasons why you see a lot of posts on year round training and athletes having coaches all year long, verses long off seasons and starting at a lower level of fitness. The main idea of year round training is, at least in my view, that you start the season at a higher level of fitness, shortening the actual training weeks for a specific race or event. I do believe that whether you have a coach or self-coach, it pays to adopt a year around training plan