Training for a Marathon on Zwift

Training for a Marathon on Zwift

ON December 18, 2019 by Zwift

Have you signed up to run a marathon? Maybe you’re considering a flat, fast road marathon in the Spring or Fall. Perhaps you’re looking at a trail marathon over rolling hills or on a rugged coastline.

As a regular runner on Zwift you might be wondering what percentage of your training you should or could do on the treadmill. If you’re going to be racing on the roads, should you train on the roads? If the terrain is going to be muddy or rocky, should you be out there instead of in here?

Let’s discuss how to divide your training so you are fully prepared for whatever you are about to face.

Training Sessions

If you are new to marathon training, knowing where to start and what to do can be daunting. However, there are some basic sessions all marathon runners should be incorporating every week or every other week in their training.

A marathon is 26.2 miles or just over 42km. How far you run each week will vary depending on your previous experience, your work-life balance and where you are in your training block. As the weeks progress you will generally add to your weekly mileage.

However, as a starting point you might be running 25-30 miles each week. These miles should be divided into focussed training sessions with specific goals. Sessions types include:

  • Intervals
  • Speed Training
  • Tempo Run
  • Hill Session
  • Long Run

These various sessions can be combined or interchanged. So you could do a Tempo Run in the middle of your Long Run, or do your Hill Session one week and a flat Interval Session the next. For a more in-depth look at what is involved in some of these training sessions, see:

Using Zwift

How many of these sessions you do on Zwift is up to you, but it is certainly possible to complete all of the different types of run on the treadmill.

If you have a busy life and you find it difficult to get out of the house to run, jumping on the treadmill is a great way to fit your training around the rest of your life.

In theory, if you have to, you could do all your training on Zwift with all the variety of distance and speed required, and you would be very well prepared, certainly for a flat road marathon.

However, if you are able to get outdoors it’s always good to mix things up. Perhaps you could do two sessions a week on Zwift and three outdoors. But each week you could vary which sessions you do on Zwift.

Zwift Events as Training Sessions

A quick look at the Events tab in the Zwift Companion App reveals a multitude of events which would sit very well in a marathon training program.

Monday Run Club would work very well as a Tempo Run, where you need to be running ‘comfortably hard’. If you know about Heart Rate Zones, this would be in zones 3 and 4 of your HR. If you would like to read more about HR Zones see this related article.

Wednesday Workout is perfect as an Interval session. It is almost always a combination of hard effort and a recovery repeats, which is a great cardio workout and good for improving speed and endurance.

There are regular race series on Zwift which are perfect as speed sessions, and the Weekend Long Run is great for doing your long run in the company of others from the comfort of your own home.

The Hill Session

The only regular training session which is not a scheduled event on Zwift is the Hill Session. Although elevation is recorded by Zwift, not many runners have the capability to send their treadmill incline to the app.

A Smart Treadmill will send incline data and an iOS app called Runcline can also help. In addition, a new product called the Runn Smart Treadmill Sensor measures treadmill incline and sends it to Zwift.

So it is possible, but if you are doing an undulating trail marathon, it is probably a good idea to get yourself out on the hills from time to time. Even for a flat road marathon, hill training will help with leg strength and speed.

Treadmill Discipline

Some people also forget that treadmill running in itself is a helpful discipline to master. Because there are no roads, cars, curbs, trees, or other obstacles to negotiate, treadmill running allows you to concentrate on your form.

It’s also great for teaching you what maintaining a constant pace is like, locking that feeling in your legs and brain for race day!

Furthermore, because Zwift displays your Heart Rate so prominently on the screen, it’s a great way to monitor your HR during your runs. You can learn to train to HR and to understand what your ‘perceived effort’ feels like in particular heart rate zones.

Summing It Up

Zwift is here to complement your training. It can make those occasionally unavoidable treadmill sessions more entertaining and even fun, but it is also very possible to do your entire marathon training on Zwift. Indeed, as we have seen,  it may even be advantageous to do some of your sessions on the treadmill!

However, using Zwift as part of your training, in a balanced way, with plenty of outdoor running on different types of terrain in different weather conditions, is the way forward for most.

Good luck with all your marathon training exploits over the coming months. Work hard, stay focused and disciplined and we’ll see you on the start line!