Marathon Training: 3 Workouts to Try

As we start to feel the crisp spring air and runners prepare for spring half and full marathons, I'm often asked what comprises a good marathon training plan. I'm a believer in custom programs that I can tailor to my athletes, since everyone has different abilities, goals, and opportunities to improve, from endurance and speed to strength and flexibility.

A typical week of marathon training includes an easy run, interval workout, long runs, strength and cross training days. 

Easy runs help achieve weekly mileage while letting your body regain strength, especially after a hard interval workout or long run. Interval workouts improve your aerobic capacity by making you quickly adapt to different speeds and become a more efficient runner. Long runs enhance your entire physiological system - blood flow, energy production, bone and muscle strength - while giving you mental confidence needed for the marathon.

To complement the running, strength training corrects muscle imbalances and reduces the risk of injuries, enabling you to maintain good form when you run. And cross-training improves your cardio-respiratory system without as much weight-bearing as running.

Three running workouts you can incorporate into marathon training include a 16 mile long run with a tempo progression, a pyramid workout, and 8 - 10x 800m repeats. I will describe them below and also share WHY they matter.

1. Long run with a tempo progression
Instead of running long runs only at a pace slower than your goal pace, incorporate a long run that gets progressively faster to develop discipline and simulate pushing through fatigue. For example, a 16 mile progression long run progression has 6 miles at an easy warm-up pace, 8 miles at your tempo pace, and 2 miles at a recovery pace.

  • 6 miles warm up @ easier than marathon pace or 65-70% effort

  • 8 miles tempo @ progressing from half marathon to 10k pace or 80-85% effort

  • 2 miles cool down @ easier than marathon pace

This workout will make your marathon goal pace feel easier, by running at faster than goal pace during a long run. You learn how to control your pace early, so you can push hard late in a race. As you accelerate during the tempo portion of the run, you practice opening up your stride length with a higher knee drive and increasing your stride rate with faster arms.

2. Pyramid workout
Pyramid workouts are ones that increase in length and then decrease. They help you master your pacing since the interval paces on the way "down" mirror the intervals on the way. 

  • 1 mile warmup

  • 400m @ 1 mile pace, 2:00 active rest

  • 800m @ 5k pace, 3:00 active rest

  • 1600m @ 10k pace, 4:00 active rest

  • 1600m @ 10k pace, 4:00 active rest

  • 800m @ 5k pace, 3:00 active rest

  • 400m @ 1 mile pace, 2:00 active rest

  • 1 mile cool down

I like to say one of the best ways to become a faster runner is to train faster. This pyramid workout forces you to change gears and get used to running outside your comfort zone at the beginning AND the end. Work on controlling your breathing since deeper breaths from the diaphragm get more oxygen in your bloodstream and muscles, giving you more energy and endurance.

3. 800m repeats
Yasso 800s is a classic marathon workout that involves half mile repeats at roughly your 5k pace or 90% effort. For marathoners, the magic of the Yasso 800s is that the time it takes for 800m intervals can be a good benchmark for your predicted marathon finish time in hours. So if you can do 8 - 10x 800m repeats in 4 minutes, you should be able to run a 4 hour marathon, provided other factors such as your mileage and running economy are on par. This workout is a good one to repeat every 3 weeks in a training plan to measure and see improvement.

  • 1 mile warmup

  • 8 - 10 x 800m @ 5k pace, 400m active recovery

  • 1 mile cool down

The focus of 800 repeats should be on consistency with form and pace. Run tall, arms driving straight up and down from the waist, legs landing underneath the hips. Controlled breathing. Find a pace you can hold for all 8 - 10 repeats. By training at your 5k pace or faster, you increase your VO2 max, or the maximum amount of oxygen that you can use during running. The more oxygen you can deliver to your muscles, the longer you can sustain running at a certain pace.

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