This article, by Nate Jenkins, originally appeared in our May/June 2015 issue.
In preparing to race a fast marathon no workout is more important than marathon paced intervals. These workouts target the exact pace you wish to run and by targeting it with interval style workouts you have far more variables to adjust to address your specific weaknesses. Doing so will assure your success in the marathon.
What are marathon specific intervals? Simply put marathon specific intervals are any workout where repeats are run at marathon pace with some sort of rest taken in between. If your focus race is a marathon, then start doing some form of these early in your base and build the total volume and length of the repeats as you approach your marathon.
How should you use them? Your approach to these intervals depends some on personal preference and some on your particular weaknesses that need to be addressed. If you have muscular difficulty in finishing strong in the marathon (be that in the form of late race cramps, tightening up, or muscular fatigue), then you should focus on doing a greater total volume of repeats, as much as 18 to 22 miles of work at marathon pace. This may mean that you have to take longer or slower rests or do shorter repeats, but the resulting extra muscular stress of the workout will give you the specific muscular endurance to overcome your issues. If your problem has been ‘the wall,’ which is to say running out of glycogen, then you want to focus on taking faster recovery jog breaks between your repeats and doing longer stretches at marathon pace. In this case, your goal would be to build toward sessions like 3 to 4 x 4 miles at marathon pace with 1 mile recoveries at only 5 or 10% slower than marathon pace. Finally if you are a lower mileage runner, you may find that doing more than one session that is in excess of 12 or 13 miles with this much marathon pace running is very difficult. Also if you are going to be racing for a win in a marathon and know you will need to be making and covering surges, running repeats slightly faster than marathon pace, say 102%, with shorter recoveries at 90 to 95% marathon pace (so that your overall average pace is around marathon pace) can be a bread and butter workout for you. The staple example of this workout is 4 x 4k at 102% with 1k “rests” at around 90% marathon pace so that for the whole workout, 20 kilometers, you average right around your marathon pace.
What is the best way to build a progression of intervals? In using marathon paced intervals as part of your training, building up these workouts sensibly and steadily over your full cycle of training is important. In the early stages of your base training you may do something as easy as 6 x 6 minutes at marathon pace with 3 minutes at 80 to 85% of marathon pace. Over the course of the base phase and into your specific training, you can increase either the distance of the repeats (by a minute or two every week or two) or you can increase the number of repetitions. Personally I like to build up to repeats that are between 4 kilometers and 4 miles. Some even prefer to go as far as 2-3 x 6-7 miles with 1 mile recoveries at about 90% of marathon pace and that’s perfectly fine. However, I know many successful marathoners, Carlos Lopes comes to mind, who prefer a great volume of shorter repetitions, for example workouts such as 30 x 1k or 20 x 1 mile. On these shorter repeats the rest can be either a short jog or even thirty seconds to a minute of stationary rest. This is acceptable because the training effect of this workout comes from the muscular fatigue caused by the total volume of work; the short rests just make the efforts more aerobically difficult.
In building for your next marathon try using these intervals as a way of ‘building your race’ and I assure you that you will be rewarded with a better sense of your pacing in the middle of the race and greater strength and power in the later stages of it.
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