What if Your Training Plan Doesn’t Have the Correct Number of Weeks until Race Day?

Here is a type of question that we get frequently. We featured this question in the quick tip segment on episode 291 of the MTA Podcast.

“I’ve always wondered if I start a training plan with less than the number of weeks of the whole plan should I start it in the middle and count to the number of weeks left until my race? Or should I start at the beginning of the training plan and take it as far as I can until my race?” -Teri

Incorrect Number of Weeks until Race Day

Thanks for the question Teri. This is something that comes up a lot because frequently the weeks until race day and the number of weeks in a training plan won’t match up. There are typically two common scenarios:

  1. Not having enough weeks for the whole training plan.
  2. Having more weeks than the training plan does and not knowing what to do with the extra time.

I’ll address each of these issues separately, but first a PSA to beginners or someone just coming back to long distance running after a hiatus of some kind.

Do you Have a Solid Running Base?

If you don’t have a solid running base it’s rarely a good idea to jump into the middle of a training plan. That’s like heading to the beach and starting to build a home on the sand at low tide. The view may be beautiful and you may enjoy being close to the water for a few hours. But it doesn’t provide a solid foundation for anything long lasting and you won’t be enjoying life at high tide. If you try to rush the process of training for a marathon the result is often injury, frustration, and a less than stellar race experience. And that’s not what we want for anyone in the MTA community.

I know that many people are wondering what constitutes a solid running base. This will vary depending on your level of fitness and conditioning prior to starting to run regularly.

  • But for simplicity sake the minimum needed for a solid running base prior to training for a half marathon is running (or run/walking) 3-5 miles, 3 times per week for three plus months (without injury). If you’re looking to run a marathon you’ll want to extend this running base to six months for the best results.

So, in answering this question I’m making the assumption that you have a solid running base and aren’t attempting the distance in question for the first time. If this is your first half marathon or marathon it’s best to allow the full number of weeks for training.

Problem 1: Not enough time to complete the whole training plan.

For example, if you’re 12 weeks out from your marathon and have a 16 week marathon training plan you can simply jump into the training plan twelve weeks out from race day. That way you’ll still be able to build up your long runs sufficiently and have time for the tapering period before your marathon. Runners who do multiple half marathons and marathons per year will rarely have time to complete full training cycle for each race. Instead, the other races can be integrated into your training plan. For example, if you have a half marathon in 7 weeks and a marathon in 14 weeks you can focus your training toward the marathon and simply do the half marathon in place of one of your long runs.

Problem 2: Having more weeks than your training plan does and not knowing what to do with the extra time.

For example, if you’re aiming for your first marathon in 24 weeks and your training plan only has 20 weeks there are a couple things that you can do. The first is to simply continue maintaining your running base and cross training for four more weeks. The other thing you could do is do the first four weeks of the training plan (if you really want the extra structure) and then start the plan over again 20 weeks out from your race. Having more time can work to your advantage.

Obviously there could be an infinite number of race and training plan scenarios so there’s not a one-size fits all prescription. Some runners with multiple races on the calendar or extra weeks up until race day will decide to purchase a custom training plan that’s exactly tailored toward their fitness level, schedule, and races on the calendar. Many runners find that it’s helpful to work with a running coach to get personalized training and support along the way.

We currently have a team of 10 awesome coaches who are excited about helping their clients reach their running goals. If you want to find out more about MTA coaching just head over to the coaching info page.

Academy member Arianne turned her training plan into a giant sticky note wall map. Love it!

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