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The Anatomy of a Marathon Race

A marathon race is run at 40% of your maximal speed. That recruits 100% of your slow-twitch, 23% intermediate fast-twitch, and 0% super fast-twitch muscle fibers.
That requires 80% of your VO2max (maximal aerobic capacity) which is with 2.6mmol blood lactate/liter significantly below your lactate threshold.
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Training for a Marathon Race

In my opinion, the most suitable training periodization for competitive road runners is funnel periodization (see graphic above). Since its short cycles continually train (or at least maintain) the full spectrum of physiological skills, it allows for multiple peaks within one season and seamless transitions to different race distances. After all, racing multiple distances is the best strategy for long-term progress. Here’s my suggestion for plotting a marathon PR with 16 weeks of training:


1. Foundation

This is the ‘base + speed phase’ which is characterized by extreme polarization. Here 95% of the training is carried out below your lactate threshold. On the other end of the intensity-spectrum are supramaximal efforts (above VO2max) to develop your maximal speed. Middle-intensities are left out. The reason being: Without a strong base of general endurance and maximal speed you won’t be able to maximize your VO2max and lactate threshold.

Suggested training modes (intensities):

General endurance = easy pace

Aerobic support = easy to steady pace

Race-specific = marathon pace

General speed = 1500 – 400m pace


2. Pre-Competition

This is the ‘fitness phase’ with a strong focus on VO2max and lactate threshold. Here 90% of the weekly training mileage continues to be comprised of easy runs and increasingly longer long runs while the other 10% is made up of VO2max intervals and threshold runs. As a result, you’ll get noticeably faster across all your training runs. This is also a good time to throw in a tune-up race to acquire the necessary mental toughness.

Suggested training modes (intensities):

General endurance = easy pace

Direct endurance support = lactate threshold

Direct speed support = 10K pace

Anaerobic support = 5K pace


3. Race-Specific

This is the ‘sharpening phase’ where your race-fitness is brought to a peak. Here 85% of your weekly mileage is run at an easy pace to buffer the rather demanding marathon-paced and LT-paced efforts. These race-specific runs resemble the demands of the marathon. 3 weeks out from your peak race the overall volume will be reduced to ensure fresh legs on race day. Since your lactate threshold is of major importance, it is maintained here.

Suggested training modes (intensities):

General endurance = easy pace

Race-specific = marathon pace

Direct endurance support = lactate threshold


“Just because running is a simple activity doesn’t mean running training can be simplistic. The physiology that powers your running is incredibly complex. Therefore, improvements in athletic performance beyond the ordinary necessitate a science-based, experience-tested, 21st century training program.”

Hi! I'm Sandro Sket, a NSCA-Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist and coach to competitive runners. Having studied the philosophies and methods of all the great coaches (past and present), I’m here to help you achieve faster race results with my 4SPEED™ Method.
Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialists (CSCSs) are professionals who apply scientific knowledge to train athletes for the primary goal of improving athletic performance. They design and implement safe and effective strength training and conditioning programs.

Marathon Training Plans

Extraordinary marathon race results are the outcome of comprehensive, systematic training. Run faster than you thought possible with the 4SPEED™ Method that maximizes your general endurance, lactate threshold, VO2max, and neuromuscular power through funnel periodization within 16 weeks.

Train more effectively (and efficiently!) to achieve new personal records.

Advance your general endurance
Elevate your lactate threshold/tolerance
Boost your aerobic capacity (VO2max)
Increase your neuromuscular power

Mar Novice

16-week plan
3 running days/week
25 miles/week (40 km/week)

Mar Intermediate

16-week plan
4 running days/week
40 miles/week (64 km/week)

Mar Advanced

16-week plan
4 - 6 running days/week
55 miles/week (88 km/week)

Mar Pre-Elite

16-week plan
5 - 7 running days/week
70 miles/week (112 km/week)