Wisdom of the Masses
With many different marathon training plans to choose from, Graydon Snider looks for common wisdom across them all
To run a marathon, whether going for a personal best or simply looking to cross the finish line, you’re going to need a plan. Sometimes it feels like there are too many plans for runners, so it’s difficult to choose which one is right for you. One way is to look for commonalities found across a number of plans. With that idea in mind, I wondered what would happen if I combined several marathon training plans (including popular plans from Jack Daniels, John Stanton and so on), into one meta version to see if any useful insights emerge. In total, I assembled 12 plans from nine books. A few rules guided me through this process: • Work backwards from the marathon date to combine plans of different lengths (Week 1 equals seven or fewer days before race day). • Average the fractions of each plan’s peak weekly mileage (because these vary widely). • Average the absolute long-run mileage (because it remains similar across plans).
I also added error bars, represented by dotted vertical lines, for a sense of the variation between plans and a running fraction of plans counted by training week (short answer: most are eleven to sixteen weeks long). For total mileage, we see a series of gradual upward steps leading to race day. Early-phase training is about 60 per cent of your eventual peak, building in a series of steps with peaks over 90 per cent of maximum three to seven weeks out, then tapering down to 50 per cent a week before race day. The shape seems simple at first (a rise, then fall), but the details week to week show hints of more complexity.