Speaker: Mick Woods (UKA Endurance Performance Coach to )
Throughout Mick emphasised the importance of preparation for the marathon event, from the beginning of training, to the day itself. Having competed in over 70 marathons himself, including the first ever London Marathon in 1981, he had experience as both a coach and as a runner.
Mick emphasised the need for Marathon runners to have an endurance base from which to build. In an ideal situation, you will have a good 6 months of running before the day of your marathon. The building of a base level occurs by running increasing distances over 3 months prior to starting marathon training. Ideally this then leads straight into the beginning of the 16 week Marathon training cycle. At the beginning of the 16 week build up to the Marathon event, you should add in more speedwork than you have been doing already.
If you have run a marathon in the previous year, your body will have adapted so that you won't have to go back to the same training plan and level of mileage/effort that you did previously. At the 3 month point (16 weeks before race day) you should begin your full plan, the likes of which can be found online and in Runners World.
We were then shown a chart devised by Jeff Galloway (1981) which Mick deemed the most accurate guide to the amount of weekly miles an athlete should be completing to reach a desired target time in the 16 week cycle:
3 hours - 45 to 55 miles/week
3 hours 10 - 40 to 50 miles/week
3 hours 20 - 38 to 48 miles/week
3 hours 30 - 35 to 45 miles/week
4 hours - 30 to 40 miles/week
So: In the case of a runner aiming for 3 hours 30, they should start their first of 16 weeks at around the 30 miles per week total mileage, and then build up to covering just over 45 in their biggest week. For all, the longest run should be about 25% of your total mileage. Before anyone says anything, I know this means that if our 3 hour 30 runner did 22 miles as their longest run, in theory this would mean they would cover 88 miles in total! Obviously this shouldn't be attempted. Instead, the role of quality running was emphasised, and so (in this case) the other 27 miles should be made up of speed/tempo work, maybe a hill run, and a steady run. Certainly by the time of taper core work should be much more prominent than at week 1 of the cycle. See my blog post for Alberto Salazar's views of using weights during marathon training.
Mick then gave us the golden answer to a question I'm often asked as a coach.
"At what speed should I run my long runs?!'
Answer: You should maintain a steady pace throughout and run 30 to 60 seconds SLOWER than your target time marathon pace.
e.g. If you want 3 hours 30, you need to run 8 minute miles in the race. In your long runs you should keep your speed between 8.5 and 9 minute mileing.
I'll put my hand up and say that for the last year I have been running my long runs at the same speed I race. This year I will follow this advice. However, in the last half hour, see if you can up your speed on a regular basis. I am also ignoring my new coaches advice to only run for 2 hours maximum prior to race day. I think it a foolish approach in retrospect.
"How long should your longest run (of the whole 16 weeks) be?"
Answer: About as long as your intended time (with a margin taken off).
e.g. If you are aiming for 3.20, you should run for about 3 hours on your longest run. Use this as a guide for your longest training runs. The importance of the time on your feet is that you should fully experience the physical and mental conditions of what it feels like for that length of time near to the race (however experienced you may be). Once you've done your longest run, then really really rest in your taper!
Many examples were given of good runners who couldn't resist the urge, with all their training under their belts, and with their engines 'revving', going out and either doing too long a run in the 3 week taper, or too fast in a speed session during this rest time.
A few extra tips:
1) Monitor your weight. If you lose a lot, then you may be depleting your glycogen levels which you will need to ease past to 'the wall' in the race.
2) Make sure you take iron, vitamins C and D supplements - particularly in the taper as your immune system will be recovering from your max milling the week before and thus susceptible to sniffles/illness.
3) Within your 20 mile runs, include at least 1 race.
If you are over 3 hours in your projected time, aim to run your 20 mile race at just under marathon pace but faster than your normal long run. If you feel comfortable and able to in a 20 mile race, go at marathon pace in the last 20 to 30 minutes to build in speed as well as stamina.
If you are sub 3 hours, aim to run it just a bit faster than marathon pace.