The two vital training sessions for marathon training are Threshold Running and the Long Run. Get these two elements right over the next few months and you’ll have a fantastic race day.
To train effectively and efficiently, you need to run at the effort levels required by the training session. As coaches, we don’t ask runners to run at particular paces for their training. The reason we do this is that if we did, the chances are that you will be working too hard and overtraining. When you take into consideration things like: the weather might be terrible with a strong head wind, you might be running over a hilly or undulating route, feeling stressed through work or you may not be well fueled, all these things and more will affect the pace you are running at.
By running to an effort level, we take these variables out of the equation, and you will always be working at the right effort for the training session required. The pace you run will come as your training progresses.
The Long Run
Marathon training is not all about the Long Run, don’t become obsessed by it, but it’s still a key element.
For now, the long run should be at totally conversational effort level (after 90 minutes of running, you might not feel like talking, but you should still be able to!). If this means you need to take regular walk breaks, then take regular walk breaks. There is nothing wrong with that and it can really help keep control of the effort level and also reduces the impact going through your legs to allow you to run further for longer.
As we progress during the marathon cycle, the long run will also progress. Once you get over two hours, the effort level is more of easy and steady, because after two hours of running, running doesn’t feel particularly easy!
Be wary of running too far in your long runs, there is no scientific evidence that you need to run 20 miles in training, don’t go sign up for your local 20 mile race unless you think you’ll be ready to run it. After 3hrs of running (or close to it) we enter a period of negative returns. Yes you’ll get fitter from running that sort of time but the recovery required afterwards will take so much out of you that you won’t get a good week (or longer) of training in. Remember, endurance training is about consistency week on week, and not one good long run.
Threshold running is the holy grail of endurance running, it is the one session that will speed you up over all distances, from 5k to the marathon. Getting the effort level right for Threshold running can take a few sessions, but when you get it and it starts to click it is an amazing thing!
When running Threshold, the aim is that you should be able to say four to five words, if you were talking to someone. Your breathing will be laboured and you know you’re working, but it’s not a sprint. We like to think of this as ‘controlled discomfort’, it hurts and you want it to stop, but you are in control!
Your legs will get heavier as the session progresses, but you should finish feeling like you could do a bit more if forced to (but don’t worry, you won’t have to!) If you are on the floor in a heap afterwards, you’ve gone too hard. Be patient with yourself and give it a few session to get right.
People avoid Threshold running because it is hard work, it isn’t easy like a long run but it also isn’t flat out sprints that last for a minute or so. It requires patience and commitment to put into your training.
This session will develop your speed endurance, your ability to run fast for a long period of time. By consistently doing the Threshold work, you’ll begin to notice that you are running faster in your long runs for the same effort level as before.