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'26.2' - The Marathon Training Website:  

Vary Your Training and Improve Your Marathon

Vary Your Training and Improve Your Marathon

Quite often when we train for a marathon we tend to do a lot of our runs at the same pace. This is usually close to the intended marathon pace. Contrary to what you might think - this is not the best way to train!

Why is this? Well, the marathon race itself puts a lot of stress on your muscles. Now throw in some hills, windy weather and other adverse conditions and it gets worse. the answer is to build up your strength as well as your endurance. If you vary the intensity of your training runs you end up stronger overall, and will be much more capable of completing the marathon without running into trouble or hitting the wall.

Let's say for example you plan to average 9 minutes per mile during your marathon, for a finish time around 3hrs 56 mins. Your training should include the kinds of workouts below.



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Tempo Run

A Tempo run  consists of a warm-up of about one mile at an easy pace, then run the next few miles at a faster than marathon pace. Finally slow down and run the last mile at an easy pace.

In our example from above you would warm up at a 9:30 pace, run say 3 miles at an 8:15 to 8:30 pace and then finish up at the final mile at a 9:30 pace.


Hard Run

This is normally a 5 - 6 mile workout, but can be more depending on your training level. Try and do your hard run on relatively flat terrain. The workout should consist of: 

 1. Warm-up (approximately 20% of the total) 

 2. Fast run (60% of total) at your 10K race pace

 3. Cool down (20% of the total).  

Example, for a 6 mile hard run,

1 mile at 9:00 minutes/mile pace (Warm-up)

4 miles at 7:45 pace (Faster Pace)

1 miles at 9:00 pace (cool down)

Hill Work

For this type of run you can either do hill repeats or just run a hilly course that will give you a good workout. Either way run the last mile at an easy pace to cool down.  

For the hill repeats find an appropriate hill, anywhere from 1/4 to 1/2 mile is good.

 - run the hill using moderate effort

-  jog back at a slow pace

- repeat several times until you have reached your target distance

A five to 6 mile workout will help build stamina and strengthen your quadriceps. 


Speed Work

I don't recommend speedwork for beginner marathoners, but if you have completed several marathons, have no injuries, and want to improve your finish time then this can be a good weekly or bi-weekly workout for you.

Speed (Interval) training should be done on a track or a flat section of trail. It consists of a warm-up of about 2 miles, fast intervals interspaced with recovery jogs, and a cool down of about 1.5 miles at the end.

Here is a typical interval workout:

  • Run 200 yards at a pace 60 - 90 seconds faster than your marathon pace; then do a recovery jog back to the start

  • Repeat 2 more times

  • Increase run to 400 and jog back

  • Increase run to 800 and jog back

  • Decrease run to 400 and jog back

  • Decrease run to 200 and jog back

  • Run final 200 and jog back

This will give you a total workout of just under 5 miles. Some marathoners don't do the shorter distances and instead do mile repeats, which consists of one mile at a fast pace followed by one mile recovery repeated until you have achieved your total workout mileage.

If you include the above workouts in moderation into your training you should feel the difference on race day.

Warning! Don’t try and do all of the above in the same week as a 20 mile long run!  You will certainly increase the risk of an injury.



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