Run a faster marathon: Part 2
BY DAVE FOLEY
Editor’s note: Dave Foley, whose marathon personal best is 2:25, competed for the Michigan ADIDAS racing team in the 1980s and has been coaching marathoners for 35 years.
This is the second of three articles written for the marathoner who would like their next 26.2-mile effort to be a personal best. The ideas presented I took from training programs advocated and used by Arthur Lydiard, Bill Dellinger, Bill Rodgers, Ron Daws and Benji Durden. Their running schedules were rigorous and helped the United States athletes rise to the top of the world distance runners’ rankings in the 1970s and early 80s.
In part one I outlined a training program that featured a long run, a hill workout and a session of fast running each week. Let’s look at these workouts in more detail.
The Long Run
This is the most critical part of your training. To run efficiently for 26.2 miles, the body needs to make adjustments. Through weekly long runs gradually increasing to 20 miles, leg muscles are strengthened, the cardiovascular system developed and the body becomes adept at effectively metabolizing glycogen and fats – your stored energy fuel for running. In addition, when you extend your running time into a second and third hour, it can become mentally challenging. As fatigue courses through your muscles, the temptation is to slow down or even take a walk break. If your muscles are genuinely fatigued, you can’t help but slow down. However, the problem may be all in your head. In that case, summon the determination to continue at the same pace. That’s why just running a single 20-miler is not enough; it usually takes three to five 20-mile runs to prepare you mentally and physically to race a fast marathon.
Pace will be critical in the actual race, so it needs to be practiced. Your race day plan should be to run even splits throughout the race or even negative splits where the second half of your race is faster than the first. Time your runs; this will give you an idea of your level of fitness. Run at a pace that is slightly faster than your comfort level but not as tiring as a race. I use the same race course and have every mile marked through about six and then every third mile thereafter. I note the split times as I pass by these mile marks. Each should be reached at about the same pace. When the split times begin to fall off, that indicates where my training is at that point. The next week I will try to hold the even pace a mile or two longer. If later in the run, my pace dramatically slows, I know I started out too fast. My goal is to run each long run at a progressively faster average pace. These runs are tiring; however they should leave me fresh and ready to run hard again after a couple days of recovery.
At some point do a long run at the exact time of day that the race starts to give you an idea of what it feels like to run at that time of day.
Predicting your Finish Time
Your long runs will be the best predictor of your finish time. Most marathon-training programs recommend you do long runs one to two minutes slower than the goal pace for your race. I feel the pace should be closer to 45 seconds per mile slower than your goal race pace. This pace will give your body a hard workout but still allow enough recovery so hard training can resume on the third day. You may need to slow down to accommodate bad footing, rugged terrain, as well as inclement or hot weather. However, your practice runs should never be at race pace or even within a half-minute of it.
Predicting finish times is not an exact science. Ideally you have run previous marathons and by comparing training logs you can begin to predict, based on past workouts and races, what will be your next goal.
Keep a detailed running log, noting the specifics of your workouts – times, distance, along with mention of where weather might have influenced your effort.
Perhaps once in the later stages of training you might try running a practice marathon. Start with three easy warm-up miles, then do your 20-miler and finish with three easy cool-down miles. Let’s plug some numbers in and see how it looks. If your goal is to run a 3:30 marathon, your race pace is 8:00, your 20-miler training pace is about 8:45. Your warm-up and warm-down miles of your practice marathon are done at 9:15 to 9:30.
For speed work I like to repeat halves or miles at race pace or slightly faster. At your training peak you should total 20-30 minutes of fast running. For example, running six 800s at a 3:30 pace equals 21 minutes of fast running. A more grueling variation is to run a 1-2-3-4-5 then 5-4-3-2-1. Begin with a minute of fast running and then jog until your wind comes back. Next, run two minutes fast, then jog for two minutes and so forth up to five minutes of fast running. Now do another five-minute run and work your way down to one minute. That’s 30 minutes of speed and a very challenging workout. In all workouts, never take a walking break. Jog between intervals. Speed work can also be done effectively on a treadmill.
Running up hills strengthens legs muscles, increases stamina and builds mental toughness. Even if you will be racing on a flat course, hills are still essential. Running over rolling terrain is fine, however I prefer to use repetitions on a hill about 400 yards long that is steep enough so that it is never easy to go up but not so steep that climbing it is agonizing. Start with four to six repetitions and over time try to get to 10-12 repetitions, charging uphill then turning and going swiftly downhill. As you descend, try to lean forward. You can’t really lean forward, but you want to avoid leaning backward and slamming your feet. Arrive at the bottom ready to race uphill again. If you are exhausted when you reach the bottom, then go more slowly on the descent. Gradually increase the number of hills you run until you are doing 20-30 minutes of uphill in a workout. If hill running is new to your training, you will be stiffer after your initial workouts, but you will adapt.
If you have knee problems or there are no hills available, substitute rigorous fartlek runs. A fartlek is a tempo run interspersed with fast surges lasting from a few seconds to a couple of minutes.
That’s your training program. Each week a long run, some speed work, a hill or fartlek session and several easy runs.
A quick note on easy runs – these are for recovery. No fast running or no extra effort expended. Most folks run their easy runs too fast. If you are trying to run a marathon at an 8:00 pace, your easy miles are around 9:45 to 10:00.
In the last part of this marathon-training series, the focus is on the 10 days leading up to the race and strategies for race day.