“So, what exactly should marathon pace feel like?”
This was recently a question that my athlete, Lisa, posed to me. I sat there and thought about it, but ultimately I only came to the conclusion that this was a great question. My answer is, (insert drum roll) that it depends. Unfortunately, a question like this has a ton of different answers with caveats. However, I do think it deserves a look into because one of the items I always stress is to learn how paces feel.
While thinking about it, I think there’s four major areas we need to look at.
- Your strengths as a runner
- The timing and length of the workout
- How big of a jump you are trying to make
- What your goal pace is
Strengths as a runner:
Your strengths as a runner will initially play a role in how marathon pace should feel. We have done a few blogs about finding these strengths and how to “score” yourself. We actually start the Hansons First Marathon book on these premises. I won’t dive into those here, but the bottom line is, the makeup you possess as a runner will dictate how marathon pace feels. If you are a speed demon who loves ripping up the track every Tuesday evening with the local run club, then there’s a chance you dread the Thursday tempo. It seems to be harder to run 6 miles at a pace that’s significantly slower than what you were whipping around the track at a couple days earlier. On the other hand, if you are a person who loves going out and putting in miles, marathon pace is probably your place of refuge.
Timing and length of the workout.
This could mean the timing of the segment, but also the time of year. For instance, people training for an October marathon will begin their training in early to mid June. If they took some down time and then jump into training, they aren’t very acclimated. This certainly isn’t going to make marathon pace feel very easy. Luckily, you aren’t running very long tempos at that point, but it can certainly be a dream killer.
On that note, the first marathon workouts may be tough because it’s pace and duration . We’ll talk about those making big jumps in a second, but for now we are just talking about the distance at that new pace. Initially, that workout might feel like a lung burner because it’s currently out of the realm of possibility to run that pace for an entire marathon. In some cases, it might actually be more like half marathon pace. However, as time goes on, your fitness will improve. Ideally that pace feels more an more comfortable. Your effort is harder because of the increasing distance of the workout and the pace isn’t your primary issue anymore.
How big of a jump are you trying to make?
Along the lines we have already talked about, the amount of improvement you are trying to make will play a big part in how pace feels. If you have someone whose running their 15th marathon, they probably aren’t swinging for the 30 min PR fences. They are just trying to eek out that 0.5% to 2% improvement or maintain that BQ status. On the other hand, if you have a relative newbie whose just now learning about structured training, they might be trying to hit that walk off homer. For these folks, they are talking about doing tempo runs at what they might have been doing speed workouts at last year. This is going to be a major effort, especially early on for them. Mind you, I am not saying they should or shouldn’t be going for it, rather just pointing out that they might be in the “what have I gotten myself into” camp for a while.
What is your goal pace?
Before I get any emails about being elitist, let me be clear, I am not downplaying anyone’s ability. I am simply talking about training. With that disclaimer out of the way, slower runners will have a harder time differentiating tempo runs from easy days, especially early on. What I have noticed is that the grey area for prescribing paces occurs about that 4 hour goal mark. This is where things get a little blurry. At this point, runners will sometimes be running their easy runs faster than what their goal marathon pace is. Why? For most folks, their general endurance is going to be their limiting factor. In essence, can they just cover the 26.2 miles and keep it together? So, I don’t necessarily worry about these folks as much because if I can just keep them healthy and putting consistent miles in, then they will run pretty well. THEN, we can start really laying out some goals for them.
But Luke, you never really answered the question- how does MP feel?
You’re right, but what I wanted you to think about was all the factors involved and how you personally react to these variables I discussed. This whole layout was for you to think about what you go through on the tempo days. However, I’ve training with the Hanson philosophy since 2004 and I will tell you this. When I was at my highest fitness levels, the 10 mile tempo was always a big workout, but when I ran it, I always finished feeling that I could have went farther. Not 16 miles, but I felt like I could have gone another 3-4 miles at that pace. I could talk to my teammates in short sentences. I was breathing hard, but I wasn’t labored. When I got to that point, I knew I was ready to go. If I could do that in the middle of a 120-140 mile week, I knew I could run that on fresh legs for a really long time. For you, that might mean feeling like you could go another 2-3 miles after a 10 mile tempo in the middle of your peak weeks. If you get to those 8-10 mile tempos and they are essentially races, then you are probably in over your head a little bit and need to evaluate goal pace, recovery, overall volume, etc.
Bottom line is that if you struggle early, don’t panic. But if by the time you’ve reached 6-8 weeks to go and you just can’t find your rhythm, then don’t be scared to re evaluate. I think this is especially true for the folks trying to make the big jumps.
If you aren’t aware, we have a very active Facebook group. There are lots of posts or sharing of workouts- usually of when they are crushed. On one the other day, I was mentioned in one of the comments, so I started thumbing through and was caught by one comment on particular. The gentleman wants to run a 3:20 and his comments centered around creating a buffer and not expecting to see a certain pace at any point (or that certain paces have no place in a 3:20 plan).
In another life, I would have been like, “whoah, hold on brotato chip!” Eh, who am I kidding, I still am a little bit. I was definitely taken aback a little bit, because I immediately thought, “what’s going to happen to this guy the first split he sees at that pace that shouldn’t be anywhere in his splits?”
There are two main points I want to discuss in this post. The first is in regards to what I interpret when a person is trying to create a “buffer.” The second is how the runner is going to react when they see splits during the race when they “had no room” for them in training.
What trying to create a “buffer” tells me
You don’t believe in your plan or coach.
I see this a lot in people when they post about their training in our group. The biggest example of this is the 16 mile long runs in most of our marathon plans. For a lot of people they can’t get past the 16 mile long run being enough because it has been instilled in them that everything in marathon training revolves around the 20 mile long run. Unfortunately, these folks will keep running in circles (literally) for years trying to do things the same unsuccessful ways they’ve been doing them.
You don’t believe in yourself.
The best example of this is a person who is trying to run a BQ or break a time barrier. Everything about what they are doing or have done in the past indicates that they should be able to run the time they are seeking. However, their own self doubt creeps in and they push the pace faster than necessary because they feel like it will mean they can fade back to their goal pace and even slower, but have enough time in the bank to stagger in under their goal. However, it usually just sets them up for failure during training or the race.
You aren’t putting enough time on the other stuff.
This is a position I have really changed my thinking on over the last few years. This is thanks to all the interaction with our online run club and the athletes in there. I have always been a high mileage guy and I still am. I truly think that if you want to reach your highest potential, you need to be able to handle mileage. However, now that is with a caveat. Now I would say, train at the highest amount of volume you can that still allows you to incorporate the other aspects of well rounded training- strength and flexibility/mobility. Too many times I see athletes who don’t reach a goal, but instead of reflecting back to what their true training needs are, they just assume that they need to up the mileage the next time. I sometimes seeing runners trying to break four hours in the marathon and putting in 70 miles a week! What I am saying is back that down to 50 miles a week and use the time they would have spent on that other 20 miles per week and address the issues I mentioned. Hint: all runners have something strength related that needs help!
If you aren’t sure where to begin, I suggest reading up on our self tests or getting a gait analysis from an expert.
What makes me worry when someone is preparing for no split to be faster or slower than a certain pace. The thing is, no race goes perfect. Even our best races have moments where we say “if I just woulda.” You really do have to ask yourself the question, “how am I going to handle x or y situation?” When a person is setting themselves up to run the perfect race by trying to force everything in training, I tend to assume that their race is going to end in disappointment. Why? Because most of the time these runners panic when the inevitable split that’s way too slow shows up. This may be due to an improperly placed mile marker, a hilly mile, a turn into a headwind, a drop in concentration, an off Garmin split, or whatever. Instead of assessing the situation mentally, or rolling with the punches, they panic. By panic, I mean they usually either throw in the towel prematurely or they try to push even harder and only fall further behind.
I’m not saying that you should have a “whatever it is is meant to be” type of attitude, but splits will be off. See what the next mile or two brings before getting drastic. The next mile might be fast and you’re right back on average pace. Go through your mental queues- is my jaw relaxed? How’s my arm carriage? Am I on track with my nutrition? Is there a group I can tuck in with to block some of this wind?
Don’t panic- assess, observe, and adjust if necessary.
The best way to do that is to experience these things in training. Be cognitive of how you handle adverse situations during training and apply a system that works for you for race day.
You hear me say often that your training has to resemble how you want to race. If you train in a matter where you push the envelope in training (on a daily or regular basis) that chances are that’s how you’ll race. Training is so much more than running a workout. It’s learning how to deal with a variety of situations. Learning how certain conditions affect you and how to adjust for those conditions. Give yourself a little bit of flexibility on splits with the goal of learning the pace and narrowing the standard of deviation.
Races rarely go perfect and it’s the person who can handle the deviations form those plans best that will be the most successful.
Recently, I received an interesting question from one our coached athletes in the Online Run Club. Essentially, they were following one of our plans for a shorter distance- a 5/10k plan, I believe.
What they asked was:
“Why is there a marathon pace workout during a speed segment?”
Ah! So, think waaay back to reading the Hansons Marathon Method, or our blog on training philosophy. I will respond to your question with my own question: “what is one of the pillars of hansons training?” Insert Final Jeopardy music. That’s right, it’s balance! We never stray too far from any one aspect of training.
So, during a marathon segment, one can ask why we are doing repeats at 10k pace when we are training. In this case, why are we doing marathon pace work during a segment for a much shorter race? As I mentioned, it’s all about maintaining balance, but why? How?
The Mental Part:
The physiological reasons we give a runner marathon pace work is simple. These are a great way to improve overall stamina, or ability to cover distance at a given pace. It also helps improve general endurance, which is simply being able to cover a set amount of distance. This might not seem like a big deal, but while a marathon is 97% aerobic, even going down to a 1 mile run all out, 80% of your energy contribution is coming via aerobic sources. Simply, regardless of distance, having a high revving aerobic cardiovascular engine is going to be vital for your success. Now, that doesn’t mean that we need do 10 mile tempos every week, it does mean we can’t completely abandon that source of training stimulus simply because we aren’t racing that distance- much like we don’t with speedwork during a marathon segment.
Now, as to the “how,” there a number of places that a marathon pace workout can be inserted into your training that’s not a marathon segment. The first is during a general fitness, base building, or a regeneration phase of running. In any of these situations, marathon pace work, mainly in form of repeats, tend to be a great way to add more structure into a program. It can help subside the urge to get into faster work too fast and avoid burnout before you are ready to race.
The second area is actually during a tough stretch of really fast work. We always talk about speed being the top of the roof. Referring to the percentages above, even at 5k racing, only 20% of your fueling needs come from anaerobic sources. However, when we are in a race specific stage, we are doing a lot of workouts in a row that are focusing on the top end (Faster than 10k pace) of our capacities. If you are like me, you struggle after doing a bunch of these fast workouts in a row. So, what I will do is swing back around with a marathon pace repeat workout that hits on the aerobic component, but gives us a break from the constant barrage of lung burning “get down” speed.
Now, as I mentioned, the marathon work I am talking about isn’t necessarily a 10 mile tempo run every few weeks. In fact, I rarely even go further than six miles total of marathon work.
Most of the time I prescribe something like 6-8 x 800 meters or 4-6x 1 mile at MP. Rest will be pretty short. 1 minute to 800 meters depending on where it’s placed in the segment. Early segment will have longer recovery because the purpose is more about getting back into routine, than anything. Later in a segment, you should be more fit, so the rest should be shorter.
Long Run Options:
Another favorite is mixing up a long run in place of a workout. For instance, if someone has been doing a bit of speed and has had some extra days off during the week, I might take that long run and mix it up on a person. One thing I like to do is a cutdown of 6-10 miles. The runner would warm up 1-2 miles, then do a progressively faster run over a set distance. I might start at a minute per mile slower than current marathon pace and work down to marathon pace or slightly faster. Then cool down another 1-2 miles.
It’s a good way to get a quality long run in without finding a day to add another workout.
Another one of my favorites is a moderate distance long run of 12-14 miles, but in the middle I will add 4-8x 2-3 minutes at marathon effort with the same time recovery jog. Again, it’s a great way to not miss a long run, but really stress some of the aerobic components we sometimes miss out on during a speed segment.
So there you have it! The why and the how of putting marathon pace work in your non marathon segments. It’s a way to offer up the balance in training that we stress, provide an opportunity to see how marathon pace feels after some progression, and even offer up non marathon runners a way to practice patience. It may even be a nice transition for those who are on the fence about a marathon to help build confidence in moving forward with that goal. The main reason though is that it does provide a great physiological stimulus, builds specific endurance, and helps break up a string of really tough 10k and faster workouts to help bring us back from burnout. Like most workouts, to make this work, you have to use restraint. Faster is not better here or we defeat the purpose of the workout. Hopefully, this helps answer some questions or gives you some ideas for your own training!
For my friends who don’t really train through a long stretch of snow, wind, cold, and poor footing for more than a few days, then you may not find much use of this blog. For the rest of you, you are probably like me and wonder if you are literally just spinning your wheels. The end result can be an unwarranted lack of confidence as you head into a winter or early spring marathon. Today, I want to discuss what common concerns I get and then provide you a case study as to why we don’t need to throw our original goals out the window.
There’s a few questions and concerns I get this time of year, but the biggest reflect around a sudden loss of fitness (or apparent) because of familiar loops being slower than they were in the fall. For instance, this morning we ran a loop that we run throughout the year. On a normal easy run, I will run 6:30-7:00 minute miles. Last night we got a little dusting of snow which made the sidewalks and side roads a mess. The pace of today’s run was about 7:30 per mile, but it felt like I worked harder than my 18 mile long run yesterday (that was 6:30/mile average). What gives? Over one day, I assume that most people chalk it up to the previous day’s long run and the fact that there is snow. However, it’s like this all winter and it gets in our heads. I am averaging 30 seconds per mile slower all the time. There’s no way I am going to be ready! I get it, especially in this age of social media where we all see our friends just crushing life.
The truth is, even though the paces may not line up, the effort is still there. I know what many of you are thinking- but you hate using heart rate, power meters, and all that, so aren’t you contradicting yourself? Well, maybe, but I say the same things about those tools as I do GPS. That is that they are tools and they all have a place. Here, I don’t mind any of those, as long as you look at those numbers afterwards to really analyse. In a perfect world, and some of my Boston runners got a little lecture about this with hills, is that I certainly want you to know your paces. However, along with that, I don’t want your workouts to be GPS only. Along with keeping track of that data, one should also internally note how they feel at those paces. How do they feel when not pushing hard enough? Too hard? If we note these things and ACT ON THEM, then we can be pretty close at our desired paces because we know what the effort feels like. Further, when we get in a situation where we aren’t in ideal weather, or doing a workout on a hilly route, we know what the effort feels like. Later on we can correlate what paces lineup so that we know that even though we were 15 seconds slow per mile for that tempo, the right effort was there due to a -10 degree windchill (or whatever factors involved). The key here is to recognize effort to paces in better conditions so we can utilize effort in far less than ideal conditions later.
Ok, so how is performance actually affected by the cold?
For some of us it is that extra Holiday weight we found lying around the cookie plate. However, think about how many layers you are putting on! I would bet there are times I am wearing 5-8 pounds of extra clothing during the winter. We have all heard the adage of every 1 pound of non energy producing weight (usually referring to fat) costs us 2 seconds per mile at race pace! (Insert Ric Flair: WHOOOOO!) That’s a good 15 seconds plus per mile on an easy run! Just think about how that will affect you on that marathon tempo!
Decreased range of motion:
Along those lines, with all those extra layers, especially on the legs, we don’t get the same range of motion which means strides are probably a little shorter and we just aren’t as efficient as we are in shorts.
This one is a given. Poor traction, dodging ice patches, and doing pirouettes along the sidewalk all take their toll on us.
Reduced force of muscle contraction:
Cold weather will reduce the force of our muscle contraction which means it takes a little more work to run at any given pace.
Decrease in lactate threshold:
Because we are physically working harder to run, our lactate threshold will be lower. So, say in normal weather your LT occurs at 75% of your VO2max (which would correlate at say half marathon pace) now occurs at say 65%, which might be slower than marathon pace.
Increase in use of carbohydrate:
Because your LT is lower, you’ll have a higher reliance on carbohydrate. Lactate is a by product carb breakdown, so workouts that normally don’t cause carbohydrate depletion can now put you in the danger zone.
Increased intensity at same pace:
Because of everything we mentioned, all paces become inherently harder. Then when we see we aren’t hitting paces, we tend to try harder. This tends to only set us back further over the coming days and weeks.
I don’t have any scientific stats on this, but winter seems to be a primetime for chronic dehydration. Just look at our skin in the winter. Whether it’s because we don’t think we need fluids in the winter, harder to take in during winter, or what, but chronic dehydration and electrolyte loss seems like it would eventually take its toll on us, as well.
How much do these factors all add up to?
It is hard to put exact numbers. If you want ballpark numbers, you can certainly use our calculator that lets you factor in cold and windchill. This isn’t exact by any means, as you can’t put numbers on some of the factors listed, but it let’s you see how much time really can be affected. When we put it together, we also factored in what you were doing, so easy run paces will be affected less than speed work. You can check out the calculator HERE.
Now, some of you are reading this and thinking that ole coach is blowing smoke, so I wanted to use a case study from this past weekend. HCS Coach Mo Hrezi and I have been running together most of the winter here in Rochester. This winter has been brutal, especially the end of December and into January. December was Michigan’s fourth snowiest in history and we had a couple week stretch where we never got above 10 degrees F for the high. That’s air temperature, not including the wind chill. We have been doing a lot of workouts at Stony Creek Metropark where footing wasn’t the greatest and the temps were tough. The long of the short of it is this- say we were doing 3 miles- 2 Miles- 1 Mile at Stony. Under normal circumstances, we’d do these at about half marathon pace. Mo really wanted to break 1:03 at the Houston Half Marathon, so that would be about 4:48 per mile (ballpark). Mo came close to that for 1 mile, where he had good footing and a wind at his back. All the workouts we did in December and early January amounted to one lousy mile run at his actual goal pace.
Needless to say, Mo ran Houston this past Sunday (1/14/18) and ran… 1:02:11!!!
This was a personal best by nearly two minutes and is the fastest ever run by a Hanson’s ODP member.
The moral of the story is don’t focus only on what the watch is telling you during the winter months. If you keep the faith that you are working hard and putting in the training, that you don’t need to adjust goals (as long as you are racing where weather won’t really be the issue). Take the time throughout the year to know how paces feel and what effort you are putting in to hit those paces. That way, you can have confidence that your fitness is still there and you’ll be ready to fly on race day!
Many times a runner is already running the weekly volume that the training plans start out at. This prompts the question, “do I need to lower my mileage at the start of the training plan, or can I keep going at my current mileage?” Anyone who knows me at this point, knows what my immediate response will be, “it depends.” There really are cases to be made for keeping on with current mileage, as well as, reducing down to match what the plan is asking you to start at.
When you should reduce back:
- If you have looked at the plan in entirety and realize it’s going to be the hardest training plan you’ve ever followed. This can be a combination of weekly mileage, workouts, and workout volume.
- You are already doing workouts. By this I mean, speed, strength, tempo, anything of intensity.
- You have been running for more than 2-3 weeks already and are at 85% of your weekly mileage.
- You never took significant down time after your last major race.
- You have a nick, a trouble spot, or are actually injured.
The reason these are important factors boils down to two things. The first is the length of time you will then make the training plan. With the two main Hansons Marathon Method plans, you are looking at 18 weeks of structure. This is already a long time. If you now turn it into a 22-26 week training plan, then you are asking for trouble late into the training plan and will turn cumulative fatigue into plain old overtraining. The second is that not only are you making the training segment loner, you are making it longer at a higher level. This is a combination that more often, than not, leads to injury, staleness, and overcooking. It’s by design that the plans start out a little easier, especially the beginner.
Consider reducing the mileage as hitting a refresh button to the plan. I know many of you are worried about losing fitness, but I can assure you that you won’t lose much at all. With two weeks completely off, you’d lose about 5% in performance. All I’m asking is to reduce your mileage. It’s all about getting you to peak fitness for race day, not the 4 weeks prior to your peak race. If you haven’t already, check out my blog post on Getting too fit too fast.
I would take a step back if you have any one of the above scenarios that apply to you.
When you should keep on keeping on
Despite what I just said, I do see a couple scenarios where it might be best to just keep on with what you are doing until the training plan keeps up with you.
- You are currently injury free, but have come off a long layoff (4+ weeks of no running). The biggest issue here is that you have already had a lot of time off and you really want to make sure that you are ready to get into a long training plan. So, where before you might be starting a plan with an already fitness that’s high enough, you might be trying to get your to a decent starting point. It wouldn’t do you any good to cut back when you already cut back for several weeks.
- You are currently NOT doing any SOS days. To me, the mileage is secondary to intensity. What I mean is that usually the mileage is fine as long as the intensity is low. It’s usually the higher intensity for extended periods of time that will overcook the runner. So, if you are running, but just keeping it easy, then I don’t usually see problems later on.
- Your weekly mileage is 40-60% of what your peak mileage will be. While intensity might be the bigger factor in overtraining, if your mileage is continually near peak, you go back to making that segment too long. If you’ve been running at say 30 miles per week, with no SOS, and the training plan starts at 20 miles a week, then I don’t see a need to scale back to reach the prescribed early mileage.
At the end of the day, you just don’t want to put yourself in a position where you’ll be regretting your decision six weeks out from your marathon. With beginners and first time Hansons Marathon Method users I tend to be more cautious. With these runners, I know the training is going to be hard for them, but they might think it’s too easy at the start. If they have never been through cumulative fatigue before, it’s my job to make sure they don’t overdo it too early in the program and then go straight through CF and into injury, illness, and overtraining. Hopefully, these scenarios can help guide you in making the decision that best meets you where you are at! If you take anything away, I want you to recognize that you should start a plan fresh, recharged, and not already too close to peak fitness. You want to reach that peak fitness in the last 4 weeks, not the last 8 weeks!
The last 4-6 weeks of your marathon training means a lot is going on. You are tired, you are hungry, and the training is at its most grueling. So many times one of two things happen. One, the training gets scaled back because that always seems to be the easiest to blame. The truth is that is the source of your dilemma, but also necessary. The second thing that can happen is a runner can push through or neglect certain things and become overlooked or injured. You can see our dilemma here. There is a delicate balance between following the plan versus crossing the fine line of cumulative fatigue and overtraining. The truth is, that we focus all our success and our failure on the numbers of the calendar when there’s so much more to this jigsaw puzzle of marathon success. So, what I have done is compiled my top 5 list of things that need to be done during these last weeks of training to make your marathon as successful as possible.
Check your shoes.
Anyone who follows the Hansons Marathon Method (HMM) knows, you put in a lot of mileage. Let’s say you averaged 35 miles per week for the first 12 weeks of the program. That means you’ve put in 410 miles by the time you reach the hardest part of the training! Given that info, you’ll easy put on another 300 miles over the remaining 6 weeks, plus the marathon itself. Many of the athletes in our groups get to the meat and potatoes and start feeling their body beginning to break down. New shoes will help in a big way!
Practice your fuel plan!
I cannot stress this enough. By now you should have decided what you are using, especially if you are just going with what the race is offering. You should be practicing fueling on tempo runs and long runs. You should be trying at the intervals you are going to be taking in nourishment during the race. So, if you are taking gels at 45 minute intervals, practice at those intervals. If you are taking cups every two miles, maybe invest in a handheld and practice at those intervals. Missed our talk on GI distress? View Here
Make your day to day recovery a top priority.
I’m not talking about dropping $1500 on compression boots or $90 on a cryotherapy three pack. I am talking about the simplest forms of recovery that are most often overlooked.
- Adequate protein intake. What is training? It is the purposeful breakdown of tissue in order for that tissue to adapt to higher workloads. If you don’t provide the muscles with the ingredients you need, you just continually break down tissue. Then you are broken down. 20 grams of high quality protein for every meal, after exercise, and before bed.
- Replenishing glycogen: You don’t have to carboload every day, but if you did a workout, you need to replenish those glycogen stores. SOS days and Long runs at this point of the schedule? You should aim for 5-7 gram of quality carbohydrate per kilogram (weight in pounds and divide by 2.2) of bodyweight.
- Rehydrating: Know your sweat rate. Weigh yoursell (butt naked) before and after your runs. Know how much you are sweating and replace that fluid throughout the day. Don’t be surprised if you are drinking 2-3 liters of fluid a day. Set an alarm at 15 minute intervals to remind yourself if you forget to drink.
- Rest: High quality sleep. That protein before bed will help. Lay off the tablets, smart phones, and tv in bed. Make it cool and dark. If you can’t get 8-10 hours a night, make sure the 5-8 hours you get are quality!
Race strategy finalized.
This means goal pace settled on for the most part. It also means how you are going to break the race up. How are you going to approach the hilly sections? How are you going to approach the flats? Where are you going to try and make a move? How long are you going to hold back for? Finalize and visualize the rest of the way in. Look for course videos on the race website or YouTube to help you picture the race as it is unfolding.
Understand the difference between cumulative fatigue/aches and pains versus a developing injury.
This is number 5, but it should probably be number one. Cumulative fatigue is when you are tired, something is sore, but not sure if it is one thing or everything. You step out the door and wonder if you’ll make it through the run. You finish the run and you are surprised that you were actually on the faster end of your easy pace range. Huh, how did that happen? On the other hand, over training is when you feel all those things, but you are slower. In fact every run gets slower and slower. If that’s the case, you’ve crossed over and need to talk to a coach about what to do. Third, an approaching injury is when one specific thing hurts. Or maybe it takes it longer and longer to warm up on a run. It continually worsens over a few days. If that’s where you are at- see a physician who runs and let them treat you. Don’t just accept the idea of taking time off as that only heals symptoms, not the cause.
If you can abide by these five items, you can survive your last 4-6 weeks of marathon preparation. Don’t fall into the trap of blaming training runs on lack of attention to detail. Finally, take these last few weeks on a day to day basis. It is hard, that I fully understand, but it will all be worth it in the end!
In our open Facebook group we have about 3,000 members (at the time of this) and so thanks to them I have a nearly unlimited source of blog topics. A right now, a frequent question we are getting is in regards to modifying the training plan in order to fit a race in. I always chuckle at responses people give. Some are so hardcore that they feel like the schedule is the Written Word and will “scold” a person for even thinking about racing during the marathon segment! Others live for racing and would race every weekend if budget and relationships were not an issue. Their responses are the complete opposite. The truth is, well, it depends on the situation. Like anything in life there is a time and a place for everything. So let’s take a look at what our options.
My General Feelings on racing during the marathon segment
There are a lot of people who become discouraged with me when I discourage them from racing very much during a marathon training segment. For me, every race (during the marathon segment) should serve a purpose. If a person is just running the local 5k to beat a rival, but then still want to have lofty goals for the marathon, then I always have to ask them what their big picture goals are. For one, racing a 5k in the middle of a marathon segment won’t do too much for your confidence. You’re not 5k sharp, you shouldn’t have the ability to run your best 5k while training for 26 miles. If you do, then I would be concerned. If you are a new runner who’s never raced any distance very much, then you’ll see improvement, but for any seasoned runner that shouldn’t be the case.
I see two, maybe three cases, for running a race during the marathon segment. Even in these scenarios, it should be at specific times during the segment. This we will discuss later on, but for now let’s discuss the three scenarios. One is if you are trying to establish a baseline for training. Let’s say you haven’t raced anything in the last few months, and aren’t really sure what kind of marathon time you should be training for. At specific times during the segment, a race can be beneficial to get a baseline for your marathon training goals. The second scenario is performing a dress rehearsal for the marathon. The purpose here is not trying to test fitness, but rather to go through every detail that you will on your big race day. If done right, the race is not set up for the person to race all out, so they have to go in not expecting a personal best. The last scenario is if the race falls into a time when a long tempo can be replaced. Every segment runners will complain that they struggle doing the tempo’s by themselves, and there’s a race that would be a perfect substitution. While I understand the desire to have a little extra motivation to perform well on a long tempo run, I also know human tendencies. I know that more times, than not, that runners will not heed speed limits and then dig themselves a hole that takes away from other training and sets us back. I am always a lot less likely to give full on green lights for this option.
So now that we know how I feel about racing during a marathon segment, let’s discuss what to do with that training plan of yours once the rage registration is paid for.
For short races (5k or 10k)
Since the speed is done in the beginning part of the training segment, the urge is to run these short races during this block of training. Honestly, the logic here is sound, if you can race responsibility. These are races I typically see as beginners using to establish their baselines for marathon training, rather than setting personal bests. Advanced runners may have races they run every year and they fit in fairly well with being able to do their speed workouts and substitute for shorter tempo runs.
For those with no race experience:
Below shows Weeks 5 and 6 of the classic marathon plan. This is a great time to establish a baseline for not only your goal marathon effort, but also the workouts leading up to it.
|Week 5||Off||5 Easy||Off||4 Easy||5 Easy||4 Easy||6 Easy|
|Week 6||4 Easy||12×400||Off||5 Tempo||4 Easy||8 Easy||8 Easy|
Here’s how I’d adjust with a race on week 5:
|Week 5||Off||5 Easy||Off||5 Easy||4 Easy||5k Race||4 Easy|
|Week 6||4 Easy||12×400||Off||5 Tempo||4 Easy||8 Easy||8 Easy|
If you can’t find a race specifically on week 5 of your plan, then you set up a time trial for 3.1 miles and use that data, but even being in Michigan, I feel like I can find a 5k race almost any weekend. This way, you can take your race time, establish a marathon goal time and now put all the correct paces into the plan.
For Advanced Marathon Plans:
Here is what weeks 5 and 6 look like in the Advanced Plan.
|Week 5||6 Easy||5x1k||Off||6 Tempo||7 Easy||8 Easy||12 Long|
|Week 6||6 Easy||4×1200||Off||7 Tempo||6 Easy||8 Easy||10 Easy|
When and how I would adjust
|Week 5||6 Easy||5x1k||Off||6 Tempo||7 Easy||8 Easy||12 Long|
|Week 6||6 Easy||4×1200||Off||8 Easy||6 Easy||5k/10k||8 Easy|
|Week 7||6 Easy||3x1M||Off||7 Tempo||7 Easy||8 Easy||14 Long|
When you race on Saturday of week 6, make sure your warm up is at least 2 miles. Then make your cool down long enough to get the 10 miles in that were scheduled for Saturday. Essentially, this will still give you an extra recovery day with Sunday being a shorter easy day. This should allow you to pick right back up with the schedule on Tuesday. Make sure you focus on recovery as soon as race is over (3R’s Rehydrate, Refuel, Rest).
Overall, your best bet to race short is early in the segment. Nothing longer than a 5k for beginners and 10k for advanced. With the right timing, you won’t miss much training- one Tempo that’s sandwiched between two similar distances and no long runs will be missed. After Week 7, the Tempo runs become 8 miles and doesn’t make sense to compromise these with a shorter race.
For Longer Races (15k to 25k):
Once we get past the speed workouts and into the strength, I always feel like it’s time to be all in for marathon training. This is when our training is solely focused on running a good marathon. So, if you do have to race, it has to be something that makes sense from a marathon performance standpoint. In all honesty I am talking about an opportunity to replace a long tempo run with a long race, but with speed limits.
What the Beginner plan looks like
|Week 11||5 Easy||Strength||Off||Tempo 8||6 Easy||8 Easy||16 Long|
|Week 12||5 Easy||Strength||Off||Tempo 9||5 Easy||8 Easy||10 E/L|
|Week 13||7 Easy||Strength||Off||Tempo 10||6 Easy||6 Easy||16 Long|
Weeks 11-13 are common times people get the urge to race and it’s probably when it makes the most sense for longer races as you’ve no progressed from speed to strength workouts. The structure of the Advanced plan will look the same, just different easy day mileage.
How to adjust under different scenarios.
Saturday race on non long run weekend (16 miler):
In our example, let’s stick with weeks 11 through 13 of the Beginner schedule. Week 11 would require no adjustments.Week 12 would be the race week and will be your week of adjustments. First, scratch the 9 mile tempo on Thursday and replace it with Saturday’s 8 Easy. Friday would stay the same. Saturday would be your race and would take place of your tempo. Sunday should be a day to focus on recovery, but still get in 6-8 easy miles. With this, overall mileage for race week will actually be pretty close to what was scheduled. The few extra easy days between the strength on Tuesday and the race on Saturday can be a nice respite without taking time off or cutting mileage, too. The following week shouldn’t need adjustment as long as you really put your emphasis in recovering after the race through Monday.
Saturday race on a long run weekend:
First off, try to avoid this. I recognize that race dates will not care when your 16 mile long runs are, but if you can, avoid this. With that said, I attempt to live in reality. With that said, you have a couple options. Let’s say there’s a 10 mile race on week 13 of your training plan. Your best option would be to take Sunday’s long run to Thursday and shorten the distance up to 10-12 miles, depending on your experience level. Then keep Friday the same and “race” on Saturday. If you make the warmup and cool down longer your total mileage for the day will be close to what the long run would be. Just make sure that Sunday and Monday you run very easy and put a recovering high on your priority list.
Sunday “dress rehearsal” race:
Your best opportunity for this is 3 weeks out, or week 16 of the schedules. All your long runs are completed by now and you will have amassed about all the fitness you can by then. You’ll have only 2 SOS days left after this week is completed. Let’s look at weeks 16 and 17 of the Advanced plan to see how this shakes out.
|16||6 Easy||Strength||Off||10 Tempo||6 Easy||10 Easy||10 Easy|
|17||8 Easy||Strength||Off||10 Tempo||7 Easy||8 Easy||8 Easy|
An adjusted plan:
|16||6 Easy||Strength||Off||10 Easy||10 Easy||6 Easy||Race|
|17||8 Easy||Off||Strength||7 Easy||10 Tempo||8 Easy||8 Easy|
The biggest thing people will point out to me is that the tempo on week 17 has been moved to Friday, which would give you 9 days out. My first response would be that if you were that concerned about doing things by the schedule then I wouldn’t even be writing this! More seriously though, I would say that this is your last SOS day and still have 9 days to be recovered. Also, the two days is important after a big effort on the Sunday of week 16. I feel that if you did a half marathon and then came back and did a strength workout after one day recovery then you’d put yourself at a bigger risk for injury. Staying healthy that last two weeks is top priority.
I didn’t cover every scenario, but this gives you an idea of what you should be looking to do as a far as a race distance, when to do it, and how to approach. If done correctly, you can scratch that itch to race, but not hurt the big picture goal of the marathon for the current training segment.
I recently received an inquiry from someone using a plan of ours. His question was in regards to when he should do the infamous “Simulator” workout. For those who aren’t familiar with this workout, it’s essentially a 26.2 kilometer effort at race pace. With warmup and cool down, it would total about 22 miles for the morning. Over the last few years it’s become our big test effort to see if we were ready for our actual attempt in a few weeks. In any case, his question got me to asking my own questions. One, how many people read about a monster workout they read about in a blog or magazine article and just decided to rock it without truly knowing the ins and outs of the workout? Second, is it ok (I mean in a non segment sabotaging way) for the average to competitive runner to attempt these monster workouts?
It’s only fair to speak to the big Hanson workouts and I realize that many of you have no idea what I am talking about. With that, let me start with explaining these workouts.
This is the OG of Hanson’s workouts. When I came to the program in August of 2004, the 2×6 was the one I was warned about, the one everybody had marked on their calendars! Here’s a quick breakdown of what we would do:
3 mile warm up
6 miles @ goal MP minus 5-10 seconds
10 minutes (most of us jogged or prayed)
6 miles faster than the first attempt
3 miles cool down
Spend the rest of the day crying to your mama.
Total of 19 miles
This is a very tough workout, but it would certainly tell you if you were fit.
Now for the specifics. We would do this workout about 3 weeks out from the race. If you weren’t sure, this is a marathon segment workout. This would be our primary litmus test in a marathon segment. Going into this workout, there wouldn’t be a bunch of extra rest- maybe an extra day of recovery. We would typically only have an extra day of recovery afterwards, too. I have lost track, but I have done this workout close to 20 times since the fall of 2004. It never has gotten easier and as the Miles rack up, it seems to get harder every time.
So, should you do it? Well… it depends. For most people it does not make sense and I’ll explain why. The main reason is that essentially the 2×6 mile is an extended version of a workout that we give everyone in our classic programs- the 2×3 miles. This workout is the toughest of the strength workouts and is placed late in the training plan. In perspective, they are the same workout for different groups. The elites are running 120-140 miles, while the plans are about 50-60 miles at peak. So, percentage wise, the work is about the same. Personally, I don’t prescribe the 2×3 for most people more than twice and that’s only if they are really fit and a seasoned vet. Now, if a person is running more mileage, it’s a fair to adjust the 2×3 mile up a tick. Let’s say if you run 70-85 miles per week, that you are just fine to try a 2×4 mile. If at 85-100 a 2×5 mile workout and then anything over 100 miles per week you can give the 2×6 mile a shot.
2-3 mile warm up
26.2 kilometers at goal pace. Hopefully on a course you can simulate the race course on.
2-3 mile cool down
22-23 miles total.
A little history as to why we even do The Simulator. I know this because I took part in the first one. We did it before we sent a big crew of guys out to Boston in 2006. In northern Oakland County we have lots of hills and dirt roads. We had a stable full of fast runners, so we certainly didn’t need to look very far to find competition. So, Kevin and Keith designed a course that gave us a great look at how the course would feel and was 26.2 kilometers so that we could visualize each mile (except it was a K). It really was a situation where we could get a race feel and go through our routine without big travel or looking for a competition. We had 10 of the fastest guys in the country right there. Aso, it probably kept us under control. We all have a itch to dial the pace up a notch when actually in a race. This was a way to pull the reigns in a bit.
So, should you do it? To be honest, this is why I do say to run a half marathon 3-4 weeks out from your goal race BUT to not race it all out. I tell athletes to warm up, start the race at marathon pace and only pick it up after 10k. We also don’t have the athlete taper much. Maybe only a few miles because the day f the race will be more mileage than usual. We’ll also do an extra day easy before and after the race, but mileage will stay constant.
The pros of traveling to a race include allowing you to go through the entire routine of traveling and getting into an actual race situation. However, if you know you won’t be able to execute your race plan, it might be best to stay home. The other consideration is this, with our plans you are doing regular long tempo runs anyway. In the ODP we do a ton of marathon pace workouts, but aren’t doing 10 mile tempo runs every week. Throughout the course of the year we do, which allows us to spread them out more than we would for recreational runners. My point being, you get tons of practice at running 8, 9, 10 straight miles at your goal pace. You might not need to throw in an even longer one just to say you did it.
When doing these big workouts, there are two big factors that dictate if you should take into play when considering these big marquee workouts. The first is that you have to be able to do these workouts without taking a big dip in training. Adding an extra easy day, or two, at the same mileage you always run is fine. However, if you essentially have to have a mini taper to even attempt, I don’t think it makes sense. At the end of the day, a string of consistent workouts is going to yield much better results than crushing one workout. The second is how you can recover from this big workout. Some of this might just be experimenting because you might just not know until you try. However, if you try it and it completely wipes you out for the next three days, it might not be a good idea to try to keep doing that. My advice when doing these big workouts are to focus on the basics- rehydrate and refuel. After that, if you have to go right into work, wear good compression garments. Full tights would be best, half tights and socks would be fine. Here’s where an ice bath or a cryotherapy session might do wonders. At this point of the program, the majority of your fitness is there and we created a lot of extra damage that may warrant desperate measures. Another simple measure might be a big dose of antioxidants or tart cherry juice, BUT NOT anti inflammatories. You don’t want to be popping Advil to get through the next 3-5 days of discomfort. I am also ok with giving yourself an extra easy day, but at the same mileage your typically run.
At the end of the day, I think most people believe our schedules are hard enough. The need to do an elite level workout might be tempting, but consider the big picture. If it jeopardizes your ultimate goal then workout bragging rights isn’t worth it. Besides, in our case it’s the workouts that are in your programs that inspired the elite level workouts.
While I write this specific for the Boston Marathon, what I write here is really applicable to any marathon where you have a starting line that is not anywhere near your finish line. In October of 2016, I wrote the post Marathon Race Strategy: A few thoughts which gave race strategies for all pace ranges. The post also included a few thoughts on what I felt were important for warming up before a marathon. I recommend all of you reading that for what you should consider in a general marathon warm up.
However, Boston is different, because the starting line is 26 miles away from the finish line. Here’s a few unique challenges thrown into an already tough day
- Getting bussed out
- Leaving our gear at the finish line
- Waiting in an athlete village
- Waiting in our corrals
- Running from inland to coast
Getting to Start:
I think we are all mostly familiar with the idea of getting bussed out, so I won’t spend too much time on this. The main idea I’d like to express here is to leave as late as you can. You want to spend the least amount of time in Hopkinton as possible. If you know you are one of the last corrals in your wave, get on the bus that makes the most sense. Again, limit the time you spend in Hopkinton.
Leaving your gear at finish line:
This one was a surprise to me, as I am used to taking a bag with me and digging for it at the finish line. So, as you leave your nicer stuff at the finish line, make sure what you wear to Hopkinton are things you are willing to part with. The only problem with this, is that what we will discuss below. Waiting, more waiting, and waiting in the weather…
Waiting, more waiting, and waiting in the weather:
Since you’ll have time on your hands, what you wear to the start line can be significant. As I said, you want it too be clothing that you are willing to part with, but you also don’t want to be skimpy on the clothes. So dress in layers and adjust to what the weather is in hopkinton. In 2016, it was a perfect example of how different weather can be 26 miles from where you started. In Hopkinton, the temps were in the high 60’s to low 70’s, while the announcers at the finish line wore light winter jackets. Check what that weather is in Hopkinton and dress for the starting line before heading out.
As I mentioned, you want to be at the village for the least amount of time. Being there longer just gives you more time to be antsy, pace around, and let your nerves get the best of you. Get there only when you need to, try to find a place to stay dry and comfortable, and get off your feet. Stay on whatever nutrition and hydration schedule you’ve set up for yourself.
My Boston Warm Up Protocol
- Use the bathroom right before leaving athlete village
- Take whatever you need to the starting line
- Water bottle
- A gel/calories
- Clothes you are going to leave/toss
- It seems like the faster you are in your wave, the longer you have to be in the corral. Make use of this time accordingly
- Sub 3:30 runners use the 0.7 miles from the Athlete Village as your warm up jog.
- Over 3:30 runners, walk the distance. This will be fine to loosen your legs up.
- Once in your corral
- Focus on yourself, visualize your first four miles and how that will set the tone for the race
- You will be limited on space, but want to stay loose. Consider doing simple movements that don’t take up a lot of room. Maybe 5-10 minutes before the gun goes off, do something like 10-15 squats, march in place, and shake your arms up. This won’t be perfect, but it will start priming the pump and tell the body that it’s about time to go to work.
- Have your first gel in that 5-15 minutes before the start.
- Once you cross that line, just stay calm. You’ll have a lot of people thinking that they are going to catch the race leaders. Keep to your plan and enjoy the moment, but don’t get caught up in the nonsense. Even with the first few miles downhill, you might not feel super great. We weren’t able to do a perfect warm up and you might feel sluggish. Stay calm and let the race come to you.
Boston has many unique challenges, but that’s part of what makes it Boston! Keep things simple and you can conquer the pre race warm up. It might not be perfect, but it will get the job done! Good luck to everyone running Boston!
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