I am looking at the article "Training for a Marathon" by Bob Seebohar. Can you explain why the distance running program peaks at 19 miles in week 20 when the marathon distance is 28 miles?
Marathons are a challenge for most individuals but are very realistic to complete with a well planned training program. Covering the 26.2 mile distance for most is a physical feat in itself, but what is typically more of a challenge is the training that is associated with marathon preparation.
The primary role of a coach in assisting an individual with any type of endurance related goal is injury prevention. Marathon training is no different and requires a more delicate balance of training volume, intensity and recovery due to the higher lower body impact of running.
Almost all marathon training programs peak between 19 and 21 miles for this very reason. Certain injuries are prevalent among runners and can range from mild to severe including corns, calluses, blisters, muscle cramps, hip, knee and ankle injuries, shin splints and the ever popular plantar fasciitis. Some factors that are significantly related to the development of running injuries include previous injury, lack of running experience, competitive running and excessive weekly running distance.
As can be seen, excessive mileage can predispose a runner to injuries. Because of the biomechanical and anatomical stress placed on the human body when running long distances, it is important to remember that training for a marathon does not (and should not) include running the full distance in one training run.
In addition to this information, it is also important to assess the training status and sport history of the individual before prescribing long runs. Certainly, there are elite athletes who train at a higher running volume, but their long runs rarely exceed 20 miles in one session. Rather, their frequency of training is higher (two to three runs per day). Amateur or beginning athletes seeking to complete a marathon need not worry about exceeding approximately 19 miles in one training session due to the “point of no return.” That is, the physiological benefits from running two to three additional miles in a long run do not outweigh the exponential increase of injury risk.
It is also important to consider the age and maturity of the individual training for the marathon. As the biology of aging progresses, cartilage decreases in joints, in particular the knees, and most individuals falling into this category require an even lower peak mileage for marathon training. It is possible that this person would be more successful with a long run of 17 miles but with a greater frequency of shorter runs throughout the week.
In summary, I recommend a peak mileage of 19 miles for the long run for most individuals training for a marathon because I prefer to be conservative from an injury prevention standpoint. However, if a coach is contemplating prescribing a peak run greater than 19 miles, he or she must carefully consider if this provides more physiological benefit or more risk of injury.
- Caselli, M.A. & Longobardi, S.J. (1997). Lower extremity injuries at the New York City Marathon. Journal of the American Podiatric Medical Association; 87(1), 34-37.
- Noakes, T. The Lore of Running. 2003.