Thomas wrote to me explaining that he has a race coming up that would squeeze his ideal 18-20 week marathon training plan. He needed to shave off a few weeks but wasn’t sure how.
While reducing the amount of training time you schedule for a big race risks leaving you unprepared for your race and/or at a higher risk of injury, there are several ways you can rationally shorten your trainng period while minimizing the associated risks.
First, gauge your current fitness and see if you are in a position to lop off some of the earlier week’s training. If your current conditioning is equivalent to where you would be at week 3, for example, you could jump in there and shorten the total schedule accordingly. If you’re not sure, then you’ll have to go a bit by feel — everyone’s fitness and resiliency is a bit different. While a more gradual build-up will help prevent overload injuries, you might get away with a shorter trainig cycle — like 12 weeeks — if you body is better suited to hanndle it than other folks.
Second, as a general guideline, I would recommend that you increase your reliance on cycling as cross-training. You can rely on cycling to build your base quicker, since it is less risky than rushing the running component — just as I explain in Smart Marathon Training. Again, the larger the training load and the bigger the increments added, the higher the risk of injury, such as stress fractures.
To some extent, this is going to be a calculated gamble. Pay attention to related details, like sleep and nutrition, to make sure that you allow for maximum recovery. And if you feel any aches and pains (meaning more than just routine muscle soreness) absolutely cut back for a day or two to see if it abates.
Good luck, Thomas!
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