So, you’ve run a marathon or half marathon (or maybe two or three) with the goal of “just finishing”. Congratulations! Finishing one of these runs is a tremendous accomplishment! But you may now be at the point in your running and racing career when you want to run faster, set a new personal record (PR) or meet a specific time goal. If that’s the case, you’ll need to modify your training program.
Your previous training has probably been completed at conversational pace, which is an easy pace in the lower part of your aerobic range. You may have incorporated some hill training and a bit of tempo running, but for the most part, your running has been at your steady conversational pace. In order to achieve a time goal, incorporate more running at a faster pace. Here’s how:
* Interval Training: This type of training improves your aerobic capacity and running efficiency and teaches your body to run faster while in an aerobic mode. For the marathon, intervals will be somewhere between ½-mile and 1½-miles. These intervals will be run at, or slightly faster than, your 5K race pace and each interval will be followed by a one- to two-minute slow recovery jog. (Run as slow as needed to allow full recovery between each interval.) Start incorporating this workout about three months before your marathon. Do this one to two times per week, replacing existing runs on your training plan that occur during the week. Start with just one or two intervals per session. Add one additional interval each week or two, until you are at six to 12 intervals (six for the 1½-mile intervals, 12 for the ½-mile intervals) per session. Taper these runs down during the final three weeks, as you will do with the rest of your running. For the half marathon, build up to four to 10 intervals (four for 1½-mile intervals, 10 for ½-mile intervals) rather than six to 12.
* Tempo work: During long runs, incorporate some tempo running. These workouts increase your aerobic capacity and improve your aerobic/anaerobic threshold. In addition, this type of workout teaches your body and mind to push its limits when you are tired. Here again, start incorporating this about three months before your race by including about 30 minutes at tempo pace in the second half of your long run. (Tempo pace is somewhere between your 10K and 10 mile race pace.) As your long runs increase in time and distance over the next weeks, build the tempo portion to 45 minutes for your final long run of 20-22 miles. Once again, you will not do this work in the last two to three weeks before the race, since you won’t be doing long runs during the taper period. For the half marathon, start with 20 minutes at tempo pace and build up to 30-35 minutes during your final long run of 12 miles.
Be sure to pay attention to your body and how it reacts to these workouts, as everyone is different in their response. A bit of soreness is normal, but if you find you’re having persistent soreness, unusual aches and pains or extreme fatigue, back off on the progressions described above. If you want a more personalized program, consider working with a running coach on a specific workout for you.
These two additions to your workouts will really improve your aerobic capacity and your mental and physical toughness. They also allow you to really push your limits and accomplish a new personal record or time goal. Best of luck!