Fitness Training and Obstacle Racing

The 5 x 5 Principle of Marathon Training

Please note there is no scientific evidence to support what I am about to discuss and in fact there are a lot of coaches that have their own views and opinions on when and how to train at the next level of running distance. This is my opinion based on my coaching experience in more than ten years of working with people who are stepping off the couch. This post is written for the beginner – someone who has completed little to no running up until this point and has decided to start running because they love being outdoors.

There is a growing trend these days that has people considering running a marathon. The problem with this trend is that many people are unprepared.  There’s a big difference between people who have run a marathon and people who have completed a marathon. In truth, I have not yet run a marathon. In my eyes running a marathon is somewhere in the 4 hours or less finish time category. That means you’ve spent enough time building aerobic base to tackle the distance and your body has adapted to what it needs to do to survive. It also means you’ve done enough trial and error, made enough mistakes and are ready to go.

I am like a lot of people that tried to run a full marathon as one of the first events I ever ran and it was a mistake. My body was not prepared and it took me nearly five hours to complete. To my own standard, this is not running a marathon but completing one. I do aspire to run a marathon again in the next year or two. Since the marathon I ran many years ago, I’ve run a bunch of half marathons and more 10km and 5km races than I care to count. Running 5km’s or 10km’s is something I do sometimes twice a day. I’ve run a half marathon on the trails on the weekend for no other reason than because I love it. Still, that elusive full marathon is not something I’ve tackled since my last debacle when I started running.

I believe in the 5 x 5 principle of training to build up to a marathon (for those just starting out). I disagree with a program that has you running zero to a full marathon in 18 – 24 weeks. The 5 x 5 principle gives you enough time to learn good running bio-mechanics, adapt tissues to the load you are going to put on them and make you feel confident about your chances of running a marathon.

Here it is:

  1. Five months of running with no races. Just get out for 10 – 30 minutes and enjoy it. Run anywhere you want. Trails are awesome but roads are good if no trails are nearby. Get a coach to teach you good bio-mechanics and work on running well and properly.
  2. Five 5km races with a proper taper, rest and rebuild for the next race. This could take you 6 months to a year to accomplish.
  3. Five 10km races with a proper taper, rest and rebuild. This could also take you 6 months to a year to accomplish.
  4. Five 21.1 km races (half marathon) with a proper taper, rest and rebuild. This might take you closer to 2 years to complete because it requires a lot more running and effort to complete.
  5. The Full Marathon is now in your reach, assuming during the final half marathon you’ve hit at least a finish time of 1 hour and 55 minutes. If you were slower than this on your half marathon, go back and keep working on it.

Building up to a marathon distance takes time and you shouldn’t be in a rush to get there. Master the lesser distances before you consider the marathon. And as the distances get greater (Ultra-marathon), make sure you master one distance before you do the next.

This isn’t to say it can’t be done and you’ll never run that fast if you don’t follow this rule. This is meant as a guide for people to consider prior to planning for a marathon. People complete marathons untrained and unprepared all the time. But if you want to give yourself the best chance at a good running time with less required recovery and little to no injuries, I believe the 5 x 5 principle is a solid platform to build on.

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