Getting race fit for a marathon includes more than just the weekly long run. Competitive marathoners, whose goal is not just to finish the marathon but to run a fast one, should include at least one weekly workout that builds the stamina (lactate threshold) and speed (VO2 max) necessary for a fast marathon performance. Here are seven to consider.
#1 CRUISE INTERVALS
6 TO 8 X 1,000m WITH 200m RECOVERY JOG
Jack Daniels popularized “cruise intervals” in his book Daniels’ Running Formula, and I’ve found them to be the perfect start to your more intense marathon training. Start with six to eight 1,000m repeats, jogging for only 200 meters between each repeat. Run these at between 10K and 15K race pace. It’s a good idea to start them at 15K pace and progress to 10K pace during your last repeats if possible.
Daniels’ term “cruise interval” is the perfect word to describe the effort. It should be fast and smooth but not gut-wrenching. The workout should fatigue you simply from the duration of the repeats, not the speed. It’s more important to complete eight repeats (10 for elites) a little slower than to run five repeats very fast.
#2 TEMPO INTERVALS
4 to 5 x 2,000m WITH 400m RECOVERY JOG
In Workout 2, you double the distance of the repeat as well as the recovery jog from Workout 1. The pace may be slightly slower, but not by much. Again, work on running a strong steady pace and focus on volume of running, not speed. Complete at least four and up to five repetitions. Make you last two repetitions your strongest. Many runners find that starting this workout at half marathon pace and progressing down to near 10K race pace is ideal.
#3 YASSO 800s
8 TO 10 X 800m WITH EQUAL RECOVERY JOG
I’m a fan of Yasso 800s (I’m also a fan of Bart Yasso, the workout’s eponym). This workout not only provides a great stimulus to get fitter, but is also a good predictor of your marathon potential.
Run the 800s at the minutes and seconds of your goal marathon time and take an equal time for a recovery jog between each. 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. Start with at least eight repetitions and work up to 10. A common mistake is running the first few repeats too fast, fatiguing before eight repetitions can be completed to get a better “predictor” from the workout. Try to hit your goal and leave it at that. You may feel the recovery is too long at first, but those precious seconds are necessary to complete the workout properly. (Repeat this workout later in your training plan to see if you’re on track for your goal time.)
#4 TEMPO RUN
5 TO 7 MILES WITH PROGRESSIVE PACING
Your fourth workout is the tried and true tempo run. For competitive marathoners, I find it best to extend the tempo run to 5 to 7 miles. Start the tempo run at slightly slower than half marathon pace and progress to slightly faster than half marathon pace by the end. As with all of these marathon workouts, it’s better to go slower and run more volume with each workout than to go faster and not be able to complete the faster part of the workout range at the end. In other words, run only as fast as will allow you to run at least 5 miles for this workout at pace. If you can extend it to 7 miles, all the better.
#5 GOAL PACE RUN
8 TO 12 MILES AT MARATHON PACE
Practice makes perfect: Including a marathon goal pace run within your marathon training plan is important. Not only does this help you with your race-day pacing, but you also become more economical at marathon pace, which might save some of your precious carbohydrate stores for later in the race. While this workout never feels as easy as you’d like during marathon training, putting in 8 to 12 miles at marathon pace will pay big dividends on race day.
Workout 5 is also a great chance to practice everything you will do before and during the actual marathon – diet, hydration, equipment, etc., can all be tested. Performing this workout within a local race is a great way to mimic race morning.
#6 FARTLEK RUN
8 TO 10 X 2 MINS WITH 1-MIN RECOVERY JOG
While technically Workout 6 improves your VO2 max, the real benefit to the marathoner is that running at 5K pace in this workout makes marathon pace feel easier. Building in this “speed reserve” – the difference between the pace you feel is fast and your marathon pace – ensure you can run at an easy effort in the early stages of the marathon. Start this workout at 8K or 10K pace, run the bulk of the repeats at 5K effort and finish the last one to two repeats at slightly faster than 5K pace.
16 TO 20 X 400m WITH 400m RECOVERY JOG
Another key to fast marathoning is running economy – the amount of oxygen required to run at a given pace. Improve your economy, and your carbohydrate stores are used less quickly, giving you power at the end of the race. This speed workout not only helps improve running economy and build your VO2 max, but like Workout 6, makes marathon pace feel easier. Run each 400m at 5K pace or slightly faster and take a full lap jog between. Each lap shouldn’t feel super hard, but the accumulation of doing 16 to 20 repetitions will build your fatigue resistance.