Avoid the temptation to do your medium-long runs too hard on days when you feel fresh, because this will prolong your recovery time and reduce the quality of your other key workouts. As with long runs, design your courses for medium-long runs to simulate your marathon.
Marathon-pace runs are medium-long or long runs during which you run most of the miles at your goal marathon pace. These runs provide the precise physiological benefit of allowing you to practice the pace, form, and so on of race day. They’re also a great confidence booster.
Fastest Marathon: 2:06:17
2008 U.S. Olympic Trials;
fastest American debut marathon.
It’s said that marathoners are made, not born. If so, then Ryan Hall is the proverbial exception that proves the rule.
After all, how many other marathoners ran a 15-miler at altitude as the first run of their life? That was Hall’s initiation. After pleading with his father to let him join him on a run, Hall was told he could go along, but only if he made it the whole way. Oh, and no whining. When Hall made it through the run at 9,000 feet in Big Bear Lake, California, it was obvious to his father that his son was meant to run, and run long.
It took the younger Hall a little longer to figure that out. Even though in high school he regularly did 10-mile runs at a bit slower than 5:00 per mile (again, at altitude), he considered himself a miler. As a collegiate runner at Stanford, his longest serious race on the track was 5,000 meters, and when he made the U.S. team in that event for the 2005 World Championships, his belief that his destiny was in middle-distance running was reinforced. Yet over the next two summers, Hall came nowhere near meeting his expectations in world-class track races.
After a disappointing 2006 outdoor track season, Hall ran the New Haven 20K on Labor Day, winning what was at the time the longest race of his life. The following month, he set an American record of 57:54 for the distance while placing eleventh in the world championships. When he emerged from another three months of altitude training in January 2007, Hall ran a solo 59:43 to win the Houston Half Marathon, becoming the only American to break an hour for the distance and completing his transformation to an elite road racer.
That status has been more than sealed by the first four marathons of his life: an American-debut record of 2:08:24 at London in April 2007; a dominating win at the Olympic Marathon Trials in November 2007, where he ran the second half solo in 1:02:45 in hilly Central Park; a 2:06:16 at London in 2008; and a tenth-place finish at the Olympics in Beijing.
One key to Hall’s success is that he has found the event that best suits his physical and mental make-up. He enjoys and thrives on long runs with solid stretches at marathon race pace. Psychologically, he’s more suited to focusing on one race for a long time and then producing a supreme effort than to alternating between training and racing several times a season, as a track racer would do. If you find that, like Hall, you simply like marathon training more than preparing for other events, then that’s probably a good sign that the marathon and you are a good match.
Another factor that contributes to Hall’s success is the confidence he gains from his training. He runs few, sometimes no tune-up races before a marathon, and instead gauges his fitness from the patterns in his training. As his coach, Terrence Mahon says, “We know more about his marathon preparation from our training runs than from any single race that he could do. Watching how he progresses as a whole in the marathon training buildup allows us to throw out the ebbs and flows, and to see where the average is. If he raced on a day that when he was on a high or a low, then we could get some false data as to how he is really doing, and that could prove confusing.” While we advocate a few tune-up races before a marathon, we wholeheartedly agree that the overall quality of your training – especially your marathon-pace runs and tempo runs – is the best way to determine your progress toward your marathon goal.
Related to this focus on the overall pattern is Hall’s composure. He says, “One day I will be doing a 13-mile tempo run feeling strong and filled with energy. The very next day I will be doing close to two hours of running (split between two runs) and feel like I couldn’t take on a recreational jogger.” Rather than despair that the fatigue he felt on the second day meant that he was overtrained or out of shape, Hall recognizes that there will be ebbs and flows during a marathon buildup, both from day to day and week to week. What matters most is accurately assessing the big picture.
Over the past few years, the benefits of marathon-pace runs have become more fully recognized, and we have included more of these sessions in this edition of Advanced Marathoning.
Start these runs comfortably, as you would other medium-long or long runs, and then run the last portion at marathon race pace. For example, if the schedule calls for 16 miles (26 km) with 12 miles (19 km) at marathon race pace, gradually pick up the pace during the first 4 miles (6 km), and then run the last 12 miles (19 km) at marathon goal pace. The objective of these runs is to prepare your body as specifically as possible for your upcoming marathon, so design your course to simulate your marathon as closely as possible. For most marathoners, marathon pace coincides with about 79 to 88 percent of maximal heart rate or 73 to 84 percent of heart rate reserve.
General Aerobic Runs
General aerobic runs include your standard, moderate-effort runs of up to 10 miles (16 km). They are slower than lactate-threshold runs, shorter than medium-long runs, and faster than recovery runs. The intention of general aerobic runs is to enhance your overall aerobic conditioning through boosting your training volume; these runs improve your marathon readiness because many of the beneficial adaptations that improve endurance are related to the total volume of your training.
For most runners, the optimal intensity range for these runs is about 15 to 25 percent slower than marathon race pace. Usually, this pace range coincides with about 70 to 81 percent of maximal heart rate or 62 to 75 percent of heart rate reserve. Because the primary purpose of these runs is to increase your training volume, if you’re too tired to do a hard training session the next day, then you’re doing your general aerobic runs too hard.
Lactate-threshold runs are tempo runs in which you run for at least 20 minutes at your lactate-threshold pace. This coincides closely with your current 15K to half marathon race pace. For most marathoners, this pace range corresponds with about 82 to 91 percent of maximal heart rate or 77 to 88 percent of heart rate reserve. Tempo runs provide a strong stimulus to improve your lactate-threshold pace, which leads to similar improvements in your marathon race pace. The lactate-threshold sessions are done after a 2- to 3-mile (3 to 5 km) warm-up and should be followed by a 10- to 15-minute cool-down. The tempo runs in the schedules range from 4 to 7 miles (6 to 11 km) long. As an example, if the schedule calls for 10 miles (16 km) for the day and a 5-mile (8 km) threshold run, warm up for 3 miles (5 km), do the tempo run, then cool down for 2 miles (3 km). Slower runners should run closer to their 15K race pace on tempo runs, whereas faster runners should run closer to their half marathon race pace during these workouts.