Planning a successful summer of training

For a marathon, arriving in good shape on the big day means having carefully thought out the schedule of your training sessions beforehand, as early as the month of June for the Paris 2024 Marathon Pour Tous, scheduled for early August. Coach Olivier Gaillard provides explanations below.

© Getty Images / Alessandro Biascioli

Ensuring success on a marathon does not solely lie in the amount of running you have done until you take starter’s orders. For the 26 miles and 385 yards (42.195 km), as with other distances, planning your training plays a vital role. “Training is a series of cycles in which you alternate intense work with recovery to digest the load. The ideal plan is to schedule three weeks of effort and then a lighter week to recover,” points out Olivier Gaillard, an FFA running coach and author of your training programmes for the Marathon Pour Tous. This principle is even more essential when it comes to training in the height of summer, when heat takes its toll on the body. Here are some tips to follow.

June and early July: work on core strengths

“With the Marathon Pour Tous taking place on 10th August, the bulk of the preparation will take place in June and early July,” says the coach. “The period of June and early July will be used to work on core strengths, before concentrating more on recovery and speed at the end of the preparation period. A first three-week cycle in June could be envisaged to gradually increase the training load, but care must be taken not to increase mileage too abruptly. Any increase should not be more than between 10% and 20% more each week, so that the body can get used to it: care should be taken to avoid fatigue or overtraining. If you run 40 kilometres the first week, then you can increase to 50 km and then 60 km the following weeks”.

How to increase volume
Should you run longer as your preparation progresses? This notion should be applied to long runs, “which can be lengthened by ten minutes each week,” as well as to split runs. “In this case, the idea is to increase either the overall volume of the session, the total number of kilometres covered in each session, or the volume of each split run,” says Olivier, who puts forward the following illustration: “If, at the beginning of preparation, you carry out sessions with a format of 8 x 1,000 m, as the time passes, you can move up to 4 x 2000 m and then 3 x 3000 m. There are, therefore, two variables to play with. In any case, the important thing is to go from the shortest to the longest as you prepare, because you are inevitably less prepared at the beginning”. However, it is important to bear in mind that, “80% of the week’s work must be done at a basic endurance level, at a pace that is easy to maintain”.

Recovery phases
“Placing a week of lighter training, where the volume of running is reduced, at the end of three more intensive weeks, is essential to allow the body to assimilate the work that has been done up to that point,” underlines Olivier, who also sees a twofold benefit in complying with this rule. “There is obviously a physiological interest, namely assimilating the work done. The body needs it and this rest time will then allow overcompensation which will improve a runner’s state of fitness. The second advantage is psychological: avoiding the weariness of ever-increasing preparation. Once per month, for a week, you can tell yourself that you are going to take it easier and switch from four to three sessions per week for example, without putting any pressure on yourself”.

The end of preparation
“From 29th July, two weeks before the event, you can already programme to relax the intensity and length of your training sessions. I often advise putting the longest run three weeks before the marathon, in this case around 21st July, but no later”. Let’s not forget one last point, which is probably just as essential as the advice on optimising your training: “In these very hot periods, you should also consider running early in the morning or late in the afternoon, or even running once or twice around 8 PM, to adapt to the heat  and the specific conditions of summer, but also to have conditions close to those you will experience on the day of the race”. Good planning also depends on details like these… 

This article was written in association with the French Federation for Athletics.