Sep 26, 2017

Is your marathon training on target?

Determine if you're on track to achieve your running goal

If you chose a reasonable goal at the start of your marathon training, you may be wondering if you're on target to reach it. (If your goal is to run 26.2 miles in 1:45, we applaud your ambition — but you're likely going to be disappointed). It's natural to be curious if your training plan is being effective. This article explains some methods you can use to find out.

Is your goal realistic?

You likely have a "goal time" for your race, however, randomly picking it isn't advisible. There are accurate ways to determine your time and pace, both of which are explained in our post about Setting a Marathon Goal Pace.

If you picked a reasonable goal, you likely started following an appropriate training plan to achieve it. Even though you may be hitting the prescribed amount of distance and intensity each week, you may still want to know if it's going to pay off on race day. Here's what you can do...

Measure your progress

Most marathon training plans feature a base phase where you concentrate on building your aerobic efficiency and endurance. As you get closer to the race, they typically ease up on distance and focus more on pace and threshold training.

Runners usually start to wonder about their goals when speedwork takes priority over distance. It's logical why this happens: suddenly you're not running as far, and questioning how you're going to be able to crush an entire 26.2 miles.

A female and a male running outdoors

Get in tune

Training plans often encourage paricipating in "tune-up races" around four weeks from your marathon, and the half marathon is the most common distance. This event is long enough to put your endurance training to the test, but not so grueling as to require prolonged recovery and interfere with your main race.

This is an ideal environment to test your fueling strategies (where, when, what, and how much to eat and drink before and during the race). You can also use it as a dress rehearsal for your marathon by wearing and using the same gear that you plan to use in your marathon.

In addition practicing using cold Porta-Potties in the wee hours of the morning, a tune-up half marathon is fantastic for testing your marathon-goal pace. However, this requires a lot of self-control. Races come with a boost of competitive energy that you don't get in training, and it will be very tempting to run faster than your marathon-goal pace. Don't give in.

Use the extra energy of the race atmosphere to test how long you can comfortably sustain your marathon-goal pace. If possible, try to maintain it for the entire duration. You should feel good at the finish like you still have lots of gas in the tank. Faltering is a sign that your goal time may need adjustment.

A screenshot of SportTracks fitness tracking software

Compare and contrast

You can analyze your current progress by comparing a recent effort to a similar workout that you completed earlier in your training. You want to look for obvious things like faster paces and times over the same courses and distances (while taking weather conditions into account), but it can also be telling to compare stats like Aerobic Efficiency and your Efficiency Index (EI requires a running power meter).

Trends to look for:

  • Higher Aerobic Efficiency scores
  • Higher Efficiency Index scores
  • Faster paces and shorter times 

As for what kinds of workouts to compare, LTHR tests can be informative, due to their "all out" nature and the fact that you should be redoing this test every six weeks or so. It can also be interesting to look at identical Ladder workouts from different parts of the season, as they tend to cover a range of intensities and interval durations. However, for the most accurate Aerobic Efficiency stats, you should only compare longer, sub lactate/anaerobic threshold workouts.

Be the operator of a running calculator

You may have used a running calculator (like our Race Finish Time Predictor) at the beginning of your marathon training to determine an accurate goal time and pace. It can be interesting to revisit it at a later stage to see if you're improving. Enter the distance and time from a recent tune-up race, or a training run that mimicked a race-like atmosphere (one of the benefits of organizing early morning group runs with starting points that require a vehicle to get there). The time that the calculator spits out will tell you if you're on target.

Do you have a method to test your training that isn't mention here? We would love to hear about it in the Comments section below. Thanks!