TRAINING PLANS OF ELITE MARATHON RUNNERS (2/2): TRAINING VOLUMES, INTENSITY ZONES AND TAPERING

London Marathon 2018

In our previous post we focused on periodization and training methods followed by some of the most well-known elite long-distance runners. In this second post we will deepen in the training characteristics of these runners.

 

Training Volumes

Most world-leading marathon runners train 500–700 h/year, relatively low compared to other endurance sports (cycling, triathlon, or swimming for example).

To obtain a relatively high training volume, these athletes seem to compensate by running twice a day most of the week

Most injuries are attributed to rapid and excessive increases in training load. Elite marathoners increase the total running volume gradually during the initial 8–12 weeks of a macrocycle. They start at 40–60% of peak weekly running volume, increasing by 5–15 km each week until maximal volume is reached.

Thus, typical weekly running volume in the mid-preparation period is 160–220 km distributed across 11–14 sessions. Peak volumes can be 20–30 km higher, but only for short periods (2–3 weeks) of time.

Despite this, some marathoners run “only” 130–150 km/wk although with a high proportion (25–30%) at near marathon pace.

Regarding female marathon runners they usually covered around 5% (or 10 km) less distance than males, although they trained 30–40 min/wk longer.

 

Intensity Zones

Training intensity quantification is complicated. No single intensity parameter works well as an intensity guide.

From an effort point of view there can be distinguished Low Intensity Training (LIT), Moderate Intensity Training (MIT) and High Intensity Training (HIT).

Training intensity distribution in long-distance runners have followed mainly one of the next three models:

  1. Pyramidal model: large volume of LIT combined with a small volume of MIT and an even smaller volume of HIT.
  2. Polarized model: same large volume of LIT combined with less MIT and more HIT.
  3. Threshold model: where a relatively large proportion of training is in the intensity range defined by the lactate/ventilatory thresholds.

MIT and HIT sessions are psychologically and physiologically demanding, requiring longer recovery times compared to sessions of LIT.

Most elite distance runners train most of their running distance (≥80%) at low intensity throughout the training year. One of the most important weekly sessions for marathoners are the ones consisting in 30–40 km runs slightly below marathon pace.

 

Tapering

It is defined as a marked reduction of total training load before competition. Its main intention is reducing the cumulative effects of fatigue while maintaining the competitive edge.

A successful tapering period is said to enhance performance by 1–3% in well trained endurance athletes.

Most scientific guidelines define the ideal tapering as a 2-3 weeks period with 40–60% reduction in training volume, while maintaining training intensity and frequency. However, many long-distance runners only start decreasing training volume during the last 7–10 days pre-competition.

 

Conclusions

  • In the general preparation period, elite marathon runners focus on building aerobic foundation, with weekly running volumes between 160 and 220 kms.
  • During this period 80% or more of total running distance is performed at low intensity.
  • From the specific preparation period onward, the training intensity increases, with more running distance at race-pace
  • The tapering process typically starts at least 7–10 days prior to the competition.

We hope that some of these training tips, from some of the most successful marathoners in history, are useful to you.

Don´t forget that most of their training sessions were easy runs. You don´t have to push your limits each training day to achieve your running goals.

 

Bibliography

Haugen, T., Sandbakk, Ø., Seiler, S. et al. The Training Characteristics of World-Class Distance Runners: An Integration of Scientific Literature and Results-Proven Practice. Sports Med – Open 8, 46 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40798-022-00438-7

Photo by Miguel A. Amutio (Unsplash)

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