"There's only one hard and fast rule in running: sometimes you have to run one hard and fast."

Friday, August 20, 2010

Marathoning Reimagined #4

On the weekend of a marathon, the race is the only hard workout for a week; the Thursday before and Tuesday after are removed. this is the only concession to tapering and recovery I make in this plan.

One should strive to average 90 minutes per week at marathon pace or faster (75-105 acceptable). Below 75 and one is unlikely to reach one's goal and over 105 one has probably underestimated one's ability. Note that if training pace is faster than marathon pace, there's no point in doing speedwork at this pace. For these slower marathoners, the one speed workout will be the Thursday hill run.

The standard Saturday run is a marathon-paced run, covering as many miles (up to two hours) as one can manage at marathon pace. An alternative is a time trial of 75-105 minutes with a brief warm-up and cool-down. A very challenging alternative is to combine the Saturday and Sunday runs by running 165 minutes on Saturday with as many miles as possible at marathon pace at the end, then making up the difference on Sunday between 120 minutes at marathon pace and what one did the day before.

The Sunday run is meant to be done slowly and the Saturday run should ensure that it is. I prefer that this be done on trails, which will decrease the overall pace and decrease the number of miles, while challenging muscles differently from roads. The terrain should be chosen so that the increased difficulty makes the distance of the two weekend runs the same; this helps explain why a 2:00 marathoner would be expected to run more than 2 hours in a training run.

The Thursday run is a hill workout and there are a variety of workouts this might be. One should choose the longest and steepest hill one can, one that takes at least 2 minutes to go up at top speed, preferably 4-6 minutes or even more. One workout would be to to go up the hill very hard repeatedly, to get the heart rate up to maximum and hold it there as long as one can tolerate (This is training at the "M" and "L" levels discussed earlier, done at a slower pace than possible on flat ground.) For those new to hill running, just going up and down hill for 90-120 minutes at any pace will be difficult; until proper technique is learned (see index for "hills"), one should avoid impact shock injuries by going downhill at a slow pace. Learning to run hills at an even effort rather than an even pace will help with hilly marathon courses. An "extensive" workout (one where the training effect comes from the number of repetitions rather than the intensity of repetitions) is to run the hills with a short burst of speed at the top of the hill (going up) and again at the bottom (going down); running hard downhill is quite difficult and is done at the bottom of the hill so that one ends on a flat surface where one can recover without risk of falling - these sprints/strides will force one's legs through a greater range of motion than on flat ground, increasing flexibility and decreasing injury risk. Sprinting downhill allows one to run faster than possible on flat ground, which should improve one's top speed on flat ground and one's ability to "kick" the final yards of a race ("P" level), Though I've written much here about this workout, it is the least important of the week for faster runners; they should plan the Saturday and Tuesday runs to be very hard, using the Thursday run as a "catch-up" day if those didn't go according to plan. Running too hard on Thursday will make the following Saturday run difficult to do well.

The Thursday interval workout is the most difficult to explain and justify. One will attempt to fill the weekly 75-105 minutes at marathon pace that was not done on Saturday. To make the length of the workout 90-120 minutes, there will probably be a long cool-down.

I've stressed before the need to run at marathon pace in training and pointed out that one could conceivably run 1.75 miles fifteen times with a 2 minute recovery, but that that goes beyond what anyone would do (in the Galloway post in "schedules"). A good specific workout would be to do 4-5 times 1.75 miles with a 0.25 mile jogged recovery or 4-5 times two miles with a 2-3 minute standing recovery. This need not be done on a track; many runners will not attempt an interval workout because of a dislike for running on a track, but any accurately measured course will do. These repeats at marathon pace may not be sufficiently stressful, especially if one has not run particularly well on the previous weekend and one could then attempt to run them at half-marathon pace (very roughly: about 30 seconds faster) and stop when one can no longer run at least marathon pace.

If one ran a lot of miles on Saturday at marathon pace, this interval workout gets shortened and, to keep the stress level up, becomes quicker. A common workout is to run 3 repeat miles at 5K pace or 4-6 x 1 mile at 10k pace with recoveries of 3-5 minutes. The actual pace is not critical, the goal is to "run to failure," that is, to run until one is forced to slow. For this reason, it's not necessary to have an accurately measured course for this and a workout I prefer is "timed interval (aka Polish) fartlek," where on runs hard for a set amount of time and then easy for a set amount of time, say 6 minutes on and 3 minutes off. To measure progress in such a workout, one measures the total time and distance run; one picks a course which will include warm-up and cool-down the length of which one knows and one can compare one week's time to another's.

Because I'm proposing doing away with tapering and recovery, there is no planned progression in the workouts. Rather, progress is measured by how close one comes to idealized workouts and by the marathon races themselves.

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