Your Training Mix
Here are some of the key runs you should think about including in your training. This is not an exhaustive list and doesn’t outline specific sessions but will get you thinking a bit about variety.
Long Runs – are vital in your plan and key to running well over the marathon. Initially concentrate on increasing the time on your feet rather than worrying about distance. Start off by heading out for at least an hour at a totally conversational, easy pace of at least 1 min/mile slower than your planned race pace. Gradually this will build and closer to marathon day look to include blocks of marathon paced running in the final 60-90 minutes of the run with a maximum long run of 3hrs – 3.30. These runs improve your muscular endurance and condition your body to burn fat as its primary fuel source.
Threshold Runs – after the long run, threshold runs are your most valuable workouts. They are run at a controlled brisk pace, you’ll only be capable of uttering a couple of words of speech if needed. Tempo/threshold runs improve your lactate threshold and your body’s ability to utilise oxygen. All this helps to improve your endurance. Looking to include blocks of running at ‘threshold’ effort in a weekly 45-60 minute run – for example 5 x 5 minutes, 3 x 8 minutes, 3 x 10 minutes – gradually building up to longer sustained blocks of 20-30 minutes at this effort.
Easy and recovery running – training for the marathon requires your body to work harder than it has ever done before. To see improvement without breaking down, you’ll need much of your running to be at an easy or recovery effort. These should be nice and easy and you should feel relaxed. Enjoy the scenery. You should be breathing easily and be capable of holding a conversation throughout the run.
Continuous Hills – Hill running develops strength in your muscles and tendons, which will be vital for that final 10km push at Brighton. For the marathon ‘continuous hills’ are more specific and useful for most runners than the traditional approach of sprinting up short hills. Run up a 5-10% gradient for 45-90 seconds at a threshold effort. Turn immediately at the top and run down the hill at the same effort, then turn at the bottom and repeat without any recovery until the rep time ends. Like a tempo/threshold run you should look to build up blocks such as 4 x 6 minutes, 3 x 8 minutes, 3 x 10 minutes in the early weeks of your marathon training. These sessions are phased out in the final 5 weeks or so of most plans.
Interval Training – For more experience runners interval training at a fast pace helps to boost speed and involve running timed efforts with a controlled recovery. The effort level is around 9/10, depending on the length and volume of intervals used. A typical example might be 6 x 3 minutes @ 5km race pace with a 90 second jog recovery. These sessions improve your VO2 max. One hard interval session for more experienced runners every 7-10 days can take you marathon pace forwards.
Cross Training & Core Conditioning – It is important that your training is balanced with some non-impact activities such as swimming, cycling, rowing, aerobics, etc, otherwise you are more likely to pick up an annoying injury that will set back your training. But more experienced runners should also add cross training to their regime. Endurance running, especially the marathon, requires whole body-conditioning. To achieve this you should aim to work a variety of muscle groups and not just your legs.