Tracy here: this is PART ONE. My sister emailed me enough material that I'm going to split it up into a couple of days' worth of blogging so that I don't have to keep talking about running when I'm not doing it. Complete with a picture of me and my sister looking NOT AT ALL like tourists in Egypt!
Now, my sister. She's too modest to talk up her credentials, but she's run like a million marathons (okay dozens), thousands of ultras (okay several) and is super fast. She's training for the CIM right now, and if you don't believe that she's a superstar, she often can be found at major marathons pacing the 3:30 group to success.
How much should you run in training for a marathon?
For new runners, follow a program like Hal Higdon's Novice Marathon Training Program. Do not question it, do not add miles nor skip too many runs. Run your first marathon and see how it goes and then you can start trying a different program. For more experienced marathoners like Tracy (she ran her first marathon 10 years ago!!) you know your body and what you can handle. Most coaches (including pseudo-coaches like myself) recommend running as much as your body can handle.
How much can you handle? Unfortunately you can only figure this out through trial and error. The guidelines are to increase your mileage gradually... very gradually. For example, I started my first marathon training program (11 or so years ago) peaking at 40 miles per week. I thought that was a lot. Over the past 11 years I very gradually increased to a high now of about 105 miles per week. Seems like a lot, well, it is. I have found my body can handle it. I race a lot better on high mileage than I do lower mileage. I don't have kids, just a full time job and I am a full time grad student.
Then take Tracy. She is prone to stress fractures. She has not suffered any other major injuries, but she has found through trial and error that she can handle about 40 miles per week when she is healthy. That is the key, to stay healthy. So, over the next 6 weeks I will try to gradually increase her mileage from about 30 (where she is now once her tibial tendinitis heals) to about maybe 45 miles, depending on her injury status. She won't run 45 miles for very many weeks, but just enough for her body to get used to the mileage and pounding necessary to finish the marathon in her goal time.
On I went, out of the wood, passing the man leading without knowing I was going to do so. Flip-flap, flip-flap, jog-trot, jog-trot, curnchslap-crunchslap, across the middle of a broad field again, rhythmically running in my greyhound effortless fashion, knowing I had won the race though it wasn't half over, won it if I wanted it, could go on for ten or fifteen or twenty miles if I had to and drop dead at the finish of it, which would be the same, in the end, as living an honest life like the governor wanted me to. -Alan Sillitoe, "Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner"