Fall Marathon Training Plan: How to Up the Miles and Find Your Pace

If you’re training for a fall marathon, you’ve hopefully built your foundation and have entered the thick of your training. The miles are getting longer, the runs more frequent, and the hard work is underway. These next four weeks you’ll focus on extending your long run, finding your goal pace, if you have one, and further preparing your body and mind for the rigors of a marathon.

Here’s what you’ll need to get through this next, more specific, training block.

Until now, your goal has been a weekly long run of at least 10 miles at a “conversational” pace. In this next period, you’ll be extending that by a mile or two each week, ideally finishing with a 15-mile run.

“Make your long run your biggest priority each week,” said Magdalena Lewy-Boulet, an exercise physiologist and Olympic marathoner.

Overall, you should do four to five weekly runs, including a long run and a medium-length run that’s about 50 percent of your long run, said Jennifer Harrison, a coach in the Chicago area.

When planning your long runs, try to find routes that are similar to your upcoming race, said Ms. Lewy-Boulet. The New York Marathon, for instance, features bridges and inclines, so seek out hilly courses. Before every run, don’t forget a dynamic warm-up.

If you’ve got a goal race pace in mind, now is the time to practice that within your long runs. Begin with an easy two miles. Then try to run three miles staying within five or 10 seconds of your desired pace. Take another easy mile to recover, then run near your goal pace again for two or three miles. Then return to an easy pace for the remainder of your run.

For variety, you can also pick one run each week to incorporate some faster paces or more taxing efforts, such as hill repeats.

“Find a hill that takes about 30 to 60 seconds to run up and repeat that four to six times, jogging back down in between,” said Ms. Harrison. Alternately, on a flat stretch of road, run four to five two-minute segments at a faster pace — think 5K or 10K race pace, if you know yours.

You might also consider doing a race, like a 10K or half marathon, to experiment with nutrition, pace and even clothing. “This helps break up the training and allows you to practice what you’ll do on marathon day,” said Joanna Zeiger, Olympian and author of “The Champion Mindset: An Athlete’s Guide to Mental Toughness.”

For newer marathoners, the best race experience comes from negative splitting — finishing the second half at a faster pace than you began. To master negative splits, get in the habit of starting your long runs at a pace that feels effortless, even slow, then gradually pick up your pace around the halfway mark. This will train your legs to run hard, even when they’re fatigued in the later miles.

As your miles increase, proper fueling before and during runs takes on a bigger role. Running more than 90 minutes at a stretch means burning through your stored carbohydrates. “This is when to get a bit more prescriptive around your grams of carbohydrates,” to ensure you’re getting enough energy to complete your runs without crashing, said Tamar Samuels, co-founder of Culina Health, a virtual nutrition service.

This means eating an adequate meal a couple hours before your long run. A 150-pound person might have a couple pieces of toast with nut butter, plus a banana and a sports drink, for instance.

Experiment with your carb intake during runs as well, aiming for 45 to 60 grams per hour. This can take the form of whole foods like dried fruit, or a protein bar with a sports gel pack or chew. Once you’ve found the formula that works for you, stick with it until race day.

“If you’re a heavy sweater, you might need to supplement with electrolytes, but remember they can have an impact on your gut as well,” said Ms. Samuels. Formulations with a high electrolyte content can lead to bloating and diarrhea, especially while running, so tinker until you get it right.

As you proceed through these longer weeks of training, you may struggle with motivation. “Don’t look at all four weeks of the block because it might overwhelm you,” said Ms. Zeiger. “Instead, set weekly or even daily goals. Keep track of your accomplishments and use those daily wins to propel you forward.”

If you have a time goal, think about how important it is and the speed you need to get there. “Your goal pace should not feel crushingly hard, but it shouldn’t feel easy, either,” said Ms. Harrison. If you’re unsure of your goal, a pace calculator can help you dial one in.

Remind yourself that not every workout will go as planned, and don’t beat yourself up when it doesn’t. “Missing a workout or not hitting a goal is OK, as long as you’re getting in the majority of your training,” Ms. Zeiger said. “If you’re still out there consistently, you’re moving toward your goal.”

Amanda Loudin is a freelance writer covering health and science.

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