Building Your Next Training Cycle – Long Distance Race Goals


At the end of every marathon/half-marathon/ultra season (and sometimes before the race is even run!), runners start asking me about their next training cycle. Runners are planners. We like to know the path ahead, and I get it. As a competitive runner myself, I’m always working to figure out the best sequence of training to achieve my future goals. That’s why I built my training plans to be stacked together to build a customized training cycle for each and every runner and for each and every goal.

To start, I’m providing my proven Marathon and Half-Marathon Recovery Plan for FREE as part of my Run Team. I do this because I find that if left to our own devices, we can often ruin the next training cycle with sub-optimal recovery. Instead, if you recover quickly and optimally, then you can get to the next training cycle sooner and the quality of your training will be higher.

Once recovered, you can begin to build the sequence of training that leads to your next goal. While there are thousands and thousands of combinations, here are some common sequences that I’ve had particular success with (and the runner that it best fits):

Scenario #1: Another long race in ~6 months
Half/Marathon Recovery Plan – up to 4 weeks
Base training plan – up to 8 weeks
Hill Module training plan (optional) – up to 6 weeks
Speed Module training plan (optional) – up to 6 weeks
Half-Marathon | Marathon | 50k | 50 mile-100k | 100 mile | – up to 16 weeks NOTE: If you do the preparatory plans, then you only need the last 10-12 weeks of the race plan.
Total length = 16-36 weeks

This training cycle is perfect for the runner following the traditional two-long races-a-year cycle (e.g., spring/fall marathons). The philosophy is that we build aerobic efficiency, leg speed/form, muscular durability and mental strength from the base and hill plans. Then, we work to get fast first (with the speed plan) and then carry this new speed into the marathon plan. I’ve had really great results with helping runners break through to a new performance level (particularly those chasing an elusive BQ), by getting them faster first then adding stamina from the marathon plan. They have higher quality workouts within the race plan that results in better preparation for the race. If you’re close to your BQ but just can’t quite reach it, this is a great plan for you.

Scenario #2: The need for speed
Half/Marathon Recovery Plan – up to 4 weeks
Base training plan – up to 8 weeks (can shorten plan by 2-4 weeks)
Hill Module training plan – up to 6 weeks
Stamina Module training plan (optional) – up to 6 weeks
5K-10K training plan (or other distance) – up to 12 weeks
Total length = 12-32 weeks

This training cycle is perfect for the runner who is taking a break from half/marathon/ultra training and who wants to focus on shorter distance races. You’ll notice here that instead of the speed plan after the hills, I prefer a stamina plan. The philosophy is that we build the usual base and hill qualities mentioned above but that now, we get a boost of stamina before we ultimately work on speed. Again, this preparation allows them to run better in the speed training and that results in faster racing. So, it’s all about doing a great job preparing so your race-specific training plan can be of very, very high quality. I’ve had great results with this sequence for two types of runners: those who’ve done several consecutive marathon cycles and need a break from the distance and especially for those that are falling significantly short of their marathon goals (e.g., 15-20+ minutes slower than BQ time). Often, these runners just need a break from longer races. Getting faster and feeling rejuvenated with faster training and racing helps them return to the next marathon cycle even more prepared to attack their goals.

Scenario #3: Half marathon future focus
Half/Marathon Recovery Plan – up to 4 weeks
Base training plan – up to 8 weeks
Hill Module training plan (optional) – up to 6 weeks
Speed Module training plan (optional) – up to 6 weeks
Half-marathon training plan (or other distance) – up to 16 weeks NOTE: If you do the preparatory plans, then you only need the last 10-12 weeks of the race plan.
Total length = 12-36 weeks

This training cycle is perfect for the runner who is taking a break from marathon training and who wants to focus on the half-marathon. This cycle is similar to Scenario #2 above but here, we do a speed plan before a half-marathon plan. This works really well for runners who have no interest in shorter distances like the 5K or 10K, but know they need to get faster at the half-marathon in order to run a faster marathon. Endurance-oriented runners love this sequence as they still get their fill of endurance and stamina work but do find benefit in the weeks where they build the foundations of speed.

Scenario #4: Quick marathon/half-marathon turnaround
Half/Marathon Recovery Plan – up to 4 weeks
Half or Marathon training plan – up to 16 weeks (since coming off a recent marathon cycle and marathon recovery plan, can shorten by 8-12 weeks)
Total length = 4-10 weeks

This training cycle is perfect for the runner who wants to run another marathon or half-marathon in the next 4-10 weeks. I use this a lot with runners who have an off day at their marathon (or the weather wasn’t conducive, GI issues, etc.). They finish the marathon, but are left feeling unsatisfied. And, since they didn’t really beat themselves up too much (and this is a requirement), then they can do a quick 1-2 weeks of the marathon recovery plan, then finish the last few weeks of the half or full marathon plan. HOWEVER, I have them choose a level lower than their usual level. (NOTE: My plans are divided into four levels and when you go through the McMillan Calculator to get your recommended plan, you’ll select your runner level.) So, if you are a Level 4 runner normally, you’d choose a level 3 plan. The reason is that for the second half or marathon, we don’t need to train at 100% volume and intensity. You are already fit, so we just need to refine the fitness leading into the second race. Training too hard in between the two races is where most runners fail. You don’t need really hard training. You just need training that maintains your previous fitness and helps you feel refreshed for the second marathon. Also, you can choose a different version of your plan than the first time. For example, if you used a Combo version of the plan for race #1 but feel you could use more speed, then choose the Speedster version of the plan for race #2.

And, I want to emphasize again that this is only a good sequence if you are NOT beat up from the first marathon. If you are really sore, mentally fried and/or injured, then don’t attempt another marathon in such a short turnaround. It’s likely to not go well. However, if you aren’t beat up and recover quickly, then this quick turnaround can be done. Then, you should complete a full Marathon Recovery Plan.

Scenario #5: Quick! Race again while fit
Half/Marathon Recovery Plan – up to 4 weeks
10K training plan – up to 12 weeks (since coming off a recent marathon cycle and marathon recovery plan, can shorten by 4-8 weeks)
Total length = 4-8 weeks

This training cycle is perfect for the runner who wants to quickly capitalize on the marathon fitness and try to run some PRs at shorter distances before taking a full break. It addresses one of the tough things about marathon training in that you get very, very fit, run the marathon then take a break. Whereas we’ve seen examples of runners who race the marathon well then turn around and race another time or two at shorter distances (5K-10K usually) with great success. This scenario requires that you are not beat up mentally or physically from the marathon and that you have no lingering aches and pains. Similar to scenario 4 above, you use the marathon recovery plan for 1-2 weeks then slot into the last 4-6 weeks of a (one level lower) 10K training plan. Pick out 1-2 short races like a 5K or 10K and go get em! I like the 10K plan as opposed to a 5K plan as the 10K plan provides enough faster running but not so much as to be a big shock to the marathon-trained body. And since you have a big endurance/stamina base from the marathon, you really just need to get used to the faster leg turnover of the speed workouts and you find that you can really fly in the shorter races. After your shorter races (and new PRs!), then it’s time to take a bigger break and let the body/mind fully recover.

(Here is my short distance training plan sequence article if you are getting ready for a short race.)

Training Cycle Builder Video – Let me show you how

I highly recommend you watch my video Training Cycle Builder where I share my McMillan Training Cycle Builder Worksheet and walk you through how I actually build a training cycle using scenarios like those discussed in this article.

Getting Started

As I mentioned, I’m providing my Marathon Recovery Plan for free (through my Run Team free trial) because I think it’s the most important first step to any of your future goals. To help you train for your next set of goals, I’ve created my recommendation tool within the McMillan Calculator so that based on your goals, I can provide my recommended training plan for you.

Of course, the best option is to join my Run Team, which is only $39.95 per month but you can try it for free for 2 weeks. With this program, all your plans are included (as long as you stay a member) and you get coaching access from me. I can help you build the exact sequence for your goals and then help you along the way as the inevitable questions come up. This program has become my pride and joy as I love getting to be more involved with your training and I enjoy seeing the camaraderie that comes from all the McMillan runners in this private online training group. I priced it at only $39.95 so hopefully, it’s a no brainer to at least try.

And, as always, let me know if you have questions or need help planning your next training cycle. Till then, recover well and dream big.



You can now try McMillan training plans for FREE! For a limited time, I’m offering a 14-day free trial of my training and coaching system called Run Team. Take a plan for a spin. Kick the tires as they say. If you like it, do nothing and your subscription will start. If you don’t like it, just cancel and you owe nothing. It’s a great way to experience training on what has been called, “The best training system on the planet.”

Click to try it for FREE for 14 days and you get set up instantly.

Written By Greg McMillan
Called “one of the best and smartest distance running coaches in America” by Runner’s World’s Amby Burfoot, Greg McMillan is renowned for his ability to combine the science of endurance performance with the art of real-world coaching. While getting his graduate degree in Exercise Science he created the ever-popular McMillan Running Calculator – called “The Best Running Calculator” by Outside Magazine. A National Champion runner himself, Greg coaches runners from beginners to Boston Qualifiers (15,000+ and counting!) to Olympians.

Read Greg’s Bio




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