5 marathon workouts I LOVE

This is part of a series of posts I’m doing this spring focused on marathon training. To get these “Marathon Monday” posts in your inbox, sign-up here!

 

A couple weeks ago, I talked about why it’s important that your training is specific to the race you’re training for. This week, I want to get down to the nitty-gritty and give you 5 marathon workouts that I love to assign to the runners I coach. Use these in your marathon training program and you’ll be sure your training is on track to prepare you for race day!

 

1) Marathon finish long run

 

Example:
12 miles w/ last 6 miles at goal marathon pace
14 miles w/ last 10 miles at goal marathon pace
18 miles w/ last 14 at goal marathon pace

 

The practice that you get running goal pace while you’re already tired is good physical and mental prep.

 

Doing several of these long runs throughout a training cycle is one of the best ways to prepare for the demands of the final miles of a marathon — the practice that you get running goal pace while you’re already tired is good physical and mental prep. Key things to know as you incorporate this workout:

 

  • Start with a small marathon pace segment and build up both the total distance and the marathon pace portion (see examples) gradually over time
  • Plan this as a hard long run, not as a “down” week in your training. Even though it may be as short as your recovery long runs, the extra intensity keeps it from being a true recovery run
  • Use this workout sparingly — I will only schedule this every 3-4 weeks

 

2) Bookend long run

 

Example:
1 mile easy
3 miles faster than marathon pace (between marathon pace and half-marathon pace)
6 miles easy
3 miles faster than marathon pace (between marathon pace and half-marathon pace)
1 mile easy
14 miles total

 

There is a rule that “maintaining pace takes increasing effort,” and this long run is a great opportunity to train for that.

 

Another variation on a long run with some quality built into it. This one is not as concerned with specific goal race pace, but rather is keyed into the idea of increasing effort late in the race when you’re tired. There is a rule that “maintaining pace takes increasing effort,” and this long run is a great opportunity to train for that before the marathon. The fact that the harder segments are faster than goal race pace is an added bonus that helps race pace feel easy when you get into the race. Key things to know with this workout:

 

  • Only plan a bookend long run 1-2 times during a training cycle
  • Use this to replace one speed workout during your training week — if you normally only do one speed workout, do all easy running leading up to this workout
  • Make sure you have a recovery long run either the week before or after this workout

 

3) Cut-down run

 

Example:
2 miles easy
2 miles at goal marathon pace
2 miles at goal marathon pace -10 sec/mile
2 miles at goal marathon pace -20 sec/mile
1-2 miles easy
9-10 miles total

 

This is a perfect workout to do as part of a medium-long run in the middle of a week.

 

This is a tough, sustained workout with no rest that drills home the idea of increasing intensity as you get tired. Here you are starting at marathon pace and dropping the pace every 2 miles. That gives you a long segment at each pace but also ratchets up the intensity throughout the run. This is a perfect workout to do as part of a medium-long run in the middle of a week. Key things to keep in mind with this workout:

 

  • Don’t turn it into a race. Find each pace and then work on holding steady
  • Be careful not to increase the pace each mile. The tendency will be try to and speed up throughout the run. Doing 2 miles at each pace will force you to practice “holding back” a bit to hit the pace — an important skill to have in the first half of a marathon

 

4) Cruise repeats

 

Example:
Warm-up
4-6x mile @ 5-10 seconds faster than current half-marathon pace w/ 60-90 sec rest
Warm-down
(note: if 5-10 seconds faster than current half-marathon pace is slower than 9 minute pace, do repeat 1200’s or 800’s instead of mile repeats — select a distance that allows you to run the correct pace and keeps the duration of each repeat at 4-9 minutes) 

 

The short breaks keep it from being as mentally or physically taxing as a traditional tempo run would be

 

This is a staple Jack Daniels workout and I love it as a high-level aerobic workout. This workout will give a great boost to your lactate threshold, much like a traditional tempo run. However, the short breaks (60 seconds if you’re running 4-6 minutes, up to 90 seconds if you’re running 8-9 minutes) keep it from being as mentally or physically taxing as a traditional tempo run would be. That means that you can do more total volume than you could in a tempo run, and it means that you can fit it into your training more easily. Key things to keep in mind:

 

  • The goal is NOT to see how fast you can run these. Instead, I tell my runners to focus on how relaxed they can be at the assigned paces
  • After trying this workout you can incorporate a slight “cut-down” element where you start at half-marathon pace for the first rep and go 5 seconds faster per mile each rep. If you do this, make sure to keep the rest the same and don’t turn it into a race

 

5) Fartlek / hill repeats

 

Example:
2 miles easy, 3 miles of: 60 seconds at 5k race effort, 2 min easy, 2 miles easy
2 miles easy, 3×45 sec hill w/ jog down, 2×60 sec hill w/ jog down, 1×90 sec hill w/ jog down, run easy till 6 miles total for the workout.

 

A nice break from the monotonous workouts that make up the bulk of marathon workouts.

 

I’m lumping these two workout types together because they share three elements that I love about both:

 

1) I don’t assign set paces — they’re run entirely by feel. That makes them a great workout to use after a really long or hard long run so that you’re not worried about hitting a specific pace. That (and the lengthy rest) also makes them a great workout when you’re not sure what your current fitness is, or you’re getting back into things after a lay-off

 

2) These workouts are totally different than the workouts I listed above. That means they challenge the runner from a muscular and fitness standpoint differently from most of the workouts you do. That also makes them a nice break from the monotonous workouts that make up the bulk of marathon workouts

 

3) They can easily be modified to a “mini-workout” that can be inserted mid-week into training to take some boredom away and get a little quality work in without sacrificing recovery

 

Since these workouts are so different, make sure to keep these things in mind:

 

  • During the hard segment, you need to be running relatively quickly. It’s ok that it feels “fast” (as long as you’re not straining to hit a certain pace), since you’ll have a generous rest period after each hard segment
  • Unlike cruise repeats, your rest here can really be as long as you like. You want to feel almost fully recovered before you start each hard segment, so take as much easy running as you like

 

So those are 5 marathon workouts I love — let everyone know your favorite “go-to” workout in the comments section below!

 

About Coach Carl
Coach Carl is a USA Track & Field Level 2 endurance coach who works with runners of all ability levels to reach their goals. He has been featured in Runner’s World, Women’s Health, and Competitor and is a regular contributor to Running Times.

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