By Michael Gauvin
There is no one factor or program that guarantees success when training for the marathon. Consistency over many years is probably the key to success at all distances but if we assume that our runners are doing what it takes to stay healthy and keep their sessions regular, how do we structure a program that can get them to the line as prepared and confident as possible?
and place far too much emphasis on particular aspects of a fully constructed program. I am not claiming to be the expert on what it takes to optimize training for any distance as I think there are too many variables based on each individual. I have tried to stick to a simple philosophy that can be adjusted accordingly depending on your desired outcome, ability level, and injury profile.
Whether I am coaching high school athletes or experienced marathon runners, I follow a simple formula for how I structure each program:
Depending on the event the athlete is training for the “hard” days will be set up in a periodized fashion to ensure the runner is ready for the big day. We also attempt to set up the hard sessions to focus on multiple paces to create a well rounded runner.
So what does this have to do with the Long Run?
As I mentioned earlier there are many programs out there that prescribe long runs at “easy, just survive” paces of varying distances throughout the 12-18 week program.
There is a time and place for easy long runs as part of a comprehensive approach but…
So we treat the many long runs as “hard” days in our cycle. This allows the runner to treat the long run as a quality session because she will have 2 easier days pre and post session. Let’s now look at the what, when, why, and how of these runs.
What: The Progression Long Run
12-20 miles total miles dropping down pace through the run.
When: Depending on what cycle you are in and your total weekly mileage, progression runs can be incorporated after you have a couple of easy cycles under your belt. Longer more intense progression runs are used primarily during the middle to late portion of the training period.
Why: Specificity of training and focusing on your goal pace is the optimal method to achieve results. Gradually exposing the runner to paces that she will be attempting to run for 2 ½ to 3 hours not only builds confidence but also helps the runner become efficient at that pace over time. Treating some long runs as “hard” days and allowing for ample recovery pre and post is a great way to reach your goals.
- Select a marathon race and desired time for that distance (calculate your goal pace too)
- Work backwards from the goal race and create cycles that follow the hard-easy-easy approach
- If you don’t want to do this, just try to treat every 2nd or 3rd Sunday long run as a workout
- Gradually extend the time spent at goal marathon pace (MP)
- Do not force a drastic increase in pace; listen to your body and start easy
- Feel free to finish the progression long run at a fast pace (5k pace or faster) for the last 2 minutes or so
- Make sure to follow this session with a nice easy recovery day (or 2)
- Keep in mind this type of session is just one of the focus areas of a well designed marathon training program. You need to also make sure you spend time at paces much faster than marathon pace and also much slower.
Michael Gauvin has a Masters Degree in Exercise Physiology and coaches cross country and track and field at Ludlow High School and works with members of the Western Mass Distance Project. This article originally appeared in Sep/Oct 2013 issue of Level Renner. Get your free subscription today (box in upper right portion of screen). Feature image courtesy of Krissy Kozlosky.