Marathoning for millennials: the marathon redefined

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The Marathon Redefined

Eric Bofinger



In ancient times, it was believed that the marathon was the furthest distance a human was able to run. Legend had it that after winning the Battle of Marathon, Pheidippides, a Athenian courier, ran from Marathon to Athens (approximately 25 miles) to announce the victory.  Upon arrival, he died from exhaustion; hence, when the modern Olympics were established in 1896 the organizers created the marathon as the furthest running race. The first women’s Olympic marathon wasn’t until 1984 because completing this distance was still thought to be 'dangerous' for women until that time. Thirty-five years later in this new Millennium, 'recreational' runners are running 100k races & the marathon has become a track event with pace rabbits and carbon fiber plated shoes, as publicized by Nike's Breaking2 attempt.


Clearly, as the event has evolved, so should the training. Ten percent weekly mileage build-ups with a long run on the weekend for the “weekend warrior” is no longer adequate. We live in an era where we are given constant feedback from our technology, which we should use to improve our training methods. However, having all the GPS watches, specialty socks and clothing, latest and greatest shoe designs, etcetera will not actually make you run faster or farther. All runners need accountability to actually go out and run, whether from a training group, running partner, or a coach.

If you're going into this blind, the first thing you want to do is log your miles! The old-school pen and paper method is fine or get on Strava, which is pretty much a millennial runners dream running log and social media platform built into one. Build your base, formulate your goals and immerse yourself into the running culture. A first step is to pick your goal race! Typically on the east coast, marathoning is split into two seasons (fall & spring). When you've established your racing distance and location you want to focus specifically on your race about 6 months out, with the last twelve weeks dedicated to honing into your race pace and volume. At this point you need a plan, whether its something you've found in a book, online, developed yourself, or are getting from a coach. A marathon training plan must be progressive in volume and most importantly work with your schedule & talent level. The marathon won't run itself. You need to commit to the miles and make time for injury prevention.

As mentioned prior, a typical training cycle is about six months. The initial three month period is used for aerobic conditioning, and building a base. For someone with a low experience level (young running age), it may look like a few miles a day with small increases in volume each week; gradually building volume by increasing number of days per week and length of your runs. Seasoned runners will be able to progress through this phase much quicker or may always be ready to hop into the next phase. Typically, many runners NEVER get past this aerobic building stage in their training. For marathoning, the second phase is generally a strength or a threshold phase, which lasts another twelve weeks. This is where you will see your traditional long run mileage build up (ex. 10, 13, 15, 18, 20, etc.). Also you'll focus on lactate threshold runs (similar to marathon race pace), tempo runs (30 sec slower per mile than 5k race pace), and even some shorter faster runs or 5k & 10k races to refine your running economy. Most importantly, don't forget to add in your recovery days! It's important for most runners to dip in volume every four weeks to allow their muscles and joints to recover. 

Personally, one of my favorite marathon workouts is the 20 mile long run 3-4 weeks out. Typically, I start out easy, then increase my pace for the first 7 miles of the run before hitting and holding marathon race pace for the last 13 mi. Two weeks out, I love to do a workout called Yasso's 800's. Run 800m at your goal marathon time (ex. 4 hrs = 4 min) with equal time recovery for 400m. If this can be done for ten repetitions you'll be able to hit your goal marathon time given you've done all of your other distance training. It’s a challenging workout that has proven time and time again to be a good indicator of fitness and marathon readiness.

There are so many aspects of good marathon training and planning that sometimes it can be hard to remember every detail. My favorite training principle is 'specificity,’ to achieve a desired effect training should be relevant and appropriate to the sport/activity in which you hope to achieve success. 

In order to prepare for all of the nuances and challenges of long distance racing I created the OSHITT acronym:

O- Outerwear- When you train are you wearing gear that is going to be similar to what you are wearing during your race?

S- Surface- Are you training on a surface similar to the surface in which you are racing on?

H- Hydration- What does your hydration / nutrition look like while your training, pre-race, during the race and post-race? Are you practicing your game plan while you train?

I- Intensity- Are you doing the appropiate amount of training runs that mimic the intensity of your race pace? Are you working to simulate or get ready for the last 10k of a marathon to avoid hitting the wall?

T- Temperature- Am I training in the same temperature as I am racing? If not, how will I adapt during race day?

T- Time- Am I simulating some of my runs during the time in which I will be racing? Are my biorhythms ready for race day?

With all of the technology, experience, and information available marathon training looks a lot different than it did when Pheidippides ran to tell news of battles won or lost. It also looks a lot different from when the first modern Olympic Marathon was won in a time of 2:58:50, a time that would barely qualify for the 2020 Boston Marathon in most age categories.

Take advantage of the resources and support around you! Don't conform to the masses and aspire to simply run a marathon. Study, train & self-reflect and learn how to race a marathon!


About the author:

Eric Bofinger is the owner of Eric Bofinger Training, a primarily online coaching & concierge service for runners of all experience levels and abilities. Professionally, Eric manages a fitness boutique in PA which is attached to a physical therapy clinic. He also coached nine seasons of cross country at a small D3 college in PA. He attended Messiah College, where he ran track and cross country for four years and earned his Bachelors Degree in Sport and Exercise Science with a concentration in Health & Fitness. He holds certifications from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA-CSCS) and the United States Track & Field (USATF-Level1). Eric resides in Pittsgrove, NJ and can be found running at Parvin State Park, the Elephant Swamp Trail, and country roads in Salem and Cumberland Counties. He recently won the Inaugural Running THE AVE 5K with a time of 16:52 and is currently training for the Club Cross Country Nationals at Lehigh University in December, and has qualified for the Boston Marathon in April of 2020. To learn more or to answer any questions from above, you can contact Eric by visiting www.eric-bofinger.com.

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Marathoning For Millennials is ongoing series by SCR with the goal of introducing long distance running to America’s “favorite” generation. Read the first installment here.

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