To improve your time in the marathon, you need to include at least one weekly workout that helps you build both endurance and speed. The key to improving is to vary your workouts. This means intensity and distance must both change throughout the plan, so you can gain both the physiological and psychological benefits from completing these workouts.
Following are 7 different types of runs that you can plug into your training plan. As best as possible, I’ve tried to recommend pacing and at what point in your schedule you should be running each type of workout.
8 – 16 X 1-2 min with 1-min recovery. Start reps at 10k pace and progress to 5k pace.
FARTLEK workouts are a great way to build your speed. I like to schedule these at the beginning of my training plan, but I also have 1 longer workout with 16 x 2 minute bursts about 3 weeks out from the race. The benefit of running this workout is that not only does it make you faster, it also makes marathon pace seem easier. The result is that this will help to ensure you can run at an easy effort during the early stages of the marathon. After completing a 10-15 minute warm-up, start the fartleks at 10K pace, then about 1/4 way through increase to 8k pace and then at halfway point to finish, run the repeats at 5K effort.
GOAL PACE RUN
Typically 4-12 miles at MARATHON PACE.
These runs are the best practice for your race. Including marathon goal pace runs throughout your marathon training plan is vital. These workouts will help you with your race-day pacing, but more important, they help you become more economical at marathon pace. This means you become more efficient at burning carbs, which will help you later in your race. I like to build up the distance of workouts throughout my plans. The 12 mile run is typically 2 weeks before the race. I also complete a 7 miler 1 week before and a 4 miler about 4-5 days before.
8-10 X 800m WITH EQUAL RECOVERY
First developed by RunnersWorld’s Bart Yasso. Yasso 800s are included in many training plans, because they work. They build stamina and really give a great indication of your fitness. After your warm-up and strides, run the 800s at the minutes and seconds of your goal marathon time. Take an equal time for recovery between each 800. For example, if you want to run 3 hours, 25 minutes for the marathon, then run your 800s in 3 minutes, 25 seconds, taking a 3:25 jog between each rep. I recommend completing this workout twice during your marathon training. About half way through your plan complete at least 6 reps. About 5 weeks out from your race complete 9-10 x 800s.
Ensure you pace yourself evenly. This workout is only a good predictor of your race time if you complete a minimum of 8 x 800s. For example, if you’re running the 800s in 3:30, this then translates to a 3:30 marathon. Sometimes people think the recovery is too long at first, but trust me, you’ll be glad later in the workout that you took the additional seconds to stay on pace and to complete the workout.
FINISH FAST LONG RUNS
One of the keys to success in any race is teaching your body how to run faster on tired legs, late into the race. One of the best ways to do this, is to complete what Greg McMillan calls “finish fast long runs.”
When you get to near the end of your race, whether it be 10 miles or 22 miles, you’ll have the confidence gained from completing your finish fast long runs to push hard and keep increasing the effort. The reason this workout helps, is you train your body to burn fat more efficiently while running at marathon pace or faster. I like to schedule a finish fast long run every other long run starting about halfway through the plan or once my clients have established a good running base. Typically we start on 14 mile runs. The first 10 miles are at easy pace and then the next 3 are at race pace. The last mile can be at easy as a cool down.
When we get up to 18-20 miles, the first 10-12 are at easy and the last 6-8 are at race pace. Again, leave some room at the end of the run to cool down at easy pace.
6-9 miles with Progressive Pacing
Tempos are included in every marathon training plan, because they work so well. Near the beginning of each plan, I start these runs at 4 miles. Later in the plan we extend the workout to 8 miles. There’s many variations to tempos. My favorite is to divide the workout into thirds. Start the tempo run at 20-30 seconds/mile slower than marathon pace and progress in the second third to marathon pace and then finally to 20-30 seconds/mile faster than marathon pace during the last third.
As a general rule, I instruct those that I coach to go slower at the beginning of the workout so they can finish at the prescribed faster pace and finish the entire workout. Depending on the ability of the runner, when these workouts are included later in a plan, we call for the longer distance (9 miles) and faster pacing (1/2 marathon pace and slightly faster).
Time based ladder. Run at 5K race pace.
After completing warm ups and strides, run 1-2-3-4-5-4-3-2-1 minute reps. Recovery is half the time for the preceding rep between intervals. For example, jog 30 seconds after the one minute interval and jog one minute after the two minute interval, all the way until the end. Then complete your cool down.
Descending distance ladder
1600m (1/2 time recovery), 1200m (2 min recovery), 800m (90 second recovery) 400m (1 minute recovery) 200m (30 sec recovery).
This workout is typically completed near the end of your marathon training when we’re trying to put a little speed and leg turnover into our workouts. It will test your fitness as the recovery gets shorter after each interval. The goal is to concentrate on form and running smooth and quick, but under control, even as you tire with the decreasing rest. After your warm-up and strides, start the intervals at 15k pace, light jogging for recovery between each repeat. Increase pace slightly with each interval, finishing the last 400m and 200m strong, but controlled (not an all out sprint).
LONG INTERVALS also known as strength runs
As with Tempo Runs, Strength Runs develop your anaerobic threshold. We are improving our endurance with these workouts and teaching our muscles to work through the discomfort of lactic acid build-up. These runs are in the last 4-5 weeks of my plan. At this point we’re really in marathon or 1/2 marathon race preparation mode and getting our bodies ready to handle the fatigue associated with completing the long race by training our bodies to use less oxygen at the same effort. In other words, hold the optimal marathon pace longer.
3 x 2 miles and 2 x 3 miles run at progressively faster pace. Start at marathon pace for the first set, then complete the 2nd (& 3rd) set at 10 seconds faster than marathon pace.
To get the best benefit, it’s really important to run each set at the correct pace and not too fast. Especially not too fast on the first set, because it may cause you to go too slow on the last set. Also, the recovery is 1/2 mile between sets at easy pace. I typically run strength runs on marked bike paths. It’s much less monotonous than running countless circles on a track.
In summary, I have identified 7 different types of runs that you should incorporate into your marathon or 1/2 marathon training. As discussed above, training with variety is essential to your success as a runner, so you need to incorporate all of these workouts into your plan. Each workout not only has a specific purpose and position within a 16-20 week plan, but each should be run at a specified pace. How to determine which pace is dependent on your goal time and specific athletic ability.
I can help with identifying proper pacing and putting together a personalized training plan. If you’re interested or have questions, please contact me.
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