What to include in your training for marathon success

This week I’d like to get one thing straight about the blog title. ‘Success’ in marathon running means different things to different people. A successful 26.2 miles in London at the end of April will mean crossing the finish line on the Mall for sure, preferably with a smile [or a grimace] on your face. Don’t think for a moment that ‘success’ has to mean a fast time, a goal hit or a target reached. Success is personal. Most of all it’s about you achieving what you’ve set out to accomplish (or a version of it!).

If you’re following one of the training plans available on the Virgin Money London Marathon website then at the end of January you should have noticed;

  1. That you’ve established a rock solid training routine and have been doing the running.
  2. That the time spent running each week has gradually increased.
  3. That you’re starting to feel the first promising signs that things are getting easier and you’re getting fitter! (Don’t worry that will come if hasn’t yet!).

26.2 miles is a long way to run. The running you’re doing at the moment is building your mental confidence and your physical foundation, strength and stamina. You’ll need this in bucket loads on April the 24th. Your stamina improves with the miles covered, the frequency of your running and also the type of running that you do. Although you’d certainly make it round a marathon doing all your training at one pace, having an understanding of a spectrum of different running paces can make the training you do more varied and effective.

Just what are different running paces?

Easy runs. Effort 5/10

Yes, it’s true, even you can run easy! The trick with easy running is to bring the intensity right down. You should feel relaxed and breathing comfortably. Ideally you’ll be capable of holding a conversation throughout the run. This is the kind of running you’ve been doing already and should be getting easier to manage! You’ll do plenty of your marathon training at an easy pace and as your run distance builds and you ‘go long’ this will be at an easy pace to begin with.

Steady runs. Effort 6/10

These are the mainstay of your marathon miles. Your breathing should be controlled and regulated. As you get fitter and stronger you’ll find you can keep this pace up for longer (and feel happier about it!). This is the kind of you run you pop out for at work over your lunch break and get 40 steady minutes in the bank.

Tempo runs. Effort 7/10

Running at tempo pace is great for improving your running economy. It’s a sustained cruise pace that requires concentration but you can hold on to for perhaps 30 to 60minutes the fitter you get. You will find tempo runs require concentration but they are well worth the effort.

Threshold running. Effort 8/10

This is a little harder than tempo running. You’ll only be capable of uttering a four or five words as you run before needing to take another breath. As you get fitter and more experienced you’ll learn how to find your own threshold pace and this will change the fitter, stronger and faster you get. These runs are all about ‘controlled discomfort” for perhaps five to 15minutues but give you a real return on your training.

Fast running – Effort 9/10.

Ok, so here’s the scoop. This type of running hurts. You can’t do it for long. Just a few minutes tops. You’ll get out of puff quickly, your muscles will beg you to stop, and it’ll be a proper effort. You can stop panicking though, not much marathon training needs to be done at this intensity!

Most of your marathon training will be completed at an easy or steady pace as this is likely to be the pace you’ll be running at on race day. If it doesn’t feel easy at the start of your marathon you’ve definitely started too fast! Remember of course, what feels easy at the start of a 26.2mile run may not feel quite so special after ticking off 19 big ones! But, whilst this is excellent training learning to run at faster paces not only gives your fitness and training a boost but actually makes those ‘easier/slower’ paces feel more manageable and achievable.

In simple terms, the longer the duration of the run the lower the relative intensity (or speed) needs to be to do it. If you’re only running for one minute you can run fast right? (yes, you can!), but try and run that speed for 30minutes and you’ll soon experience a whole heap of discomfort! Whereas, slow your pace, control your effort, control your breathing and slot into into a smooth rhythm and you can tick off the miles. This is exactly the recipe for your marathon success.

Your training priority over the next few months is to make your marathon feel as easy as possible for as long as possible and to minimize the rate at which you slow down as the miles pass by on race day. You’ll achieve this with regular running, building your strength and stamina with easy, steady, tempo runs and dabbling with a little threshold and faster effort to put the icing on the cake!