As we get to within two months of the Boston Marathon, our focus begins to shift to the “meat” of marathon-specific training. Coming off your recovery week in the previous installment, you now return to your regular training load in Week 5.
To kick start Week 5, you’ll perform a longer mid-week run (I suggest early in the week) before doing your first marathon predictor workout—Yasso 800s—mid-to-late week. And, you’ll get in an easy long run over a hilly route to further boost your endurance and leg durability for the marathon.
Workout No. 1: Medium Long Run. 1:30-1:45 over hilly route
Workout No. 2: Yasso 800s. 6-8 x 800 meters (or .5 miles). Your goal time for each 800 meters is the minutes and seconds that correspond to the hours and minutes of your goal marathon. For example, if your goal is to run 3:45:00 for the marathon, then you try to hit 3 minutes, 45 seconds for your 800s. Take an equal amount of recovery (in this case, a 3:45 recovery jog) between repetitions.
My experience has been that the Yasso 800s workout is not just a great test of your mental and physical toughness but it begins to provide a predictor of your marathon time. If by the end of the training cycle you can run 10 x 800m around 3-5 seconds faster than your marathon hours and minutes (ex. 3:40 800s for a runner with a goal marathon time of 3:45:00), then you have a great chance at hitting your race goal.
Warning: This is a tough workout. Get mentally ready and be prepared to increase your recovery for the day or two afterward.
Long Run: 2:10-2:45 for sub-3 hour marathoners; 2:45-3:15 for 3+ hour marathoners. Note: Run this over a hilly course and surge slightly on the downhills to practice your downhill running.
Get ready for Week 6 because it’s an important one. You’ll perform two of my staple workouts for marathoners: the Tempo Run and the Fast Finish Long Run.
Workout No. 1: Tempo Run. Warm up 10-20 minutes followed by 30-40 minutes at tempo run pace. Ideally, you’d find a course where you can run the last 5-10 minutes downhill. Cool down with 10-20 minutes of easy running.
The tempo run is a run with the goal of running right at the lactate threshold, or the point where lactate begins to rapidly increase in the bloodstream, for 20-40 minutes. This “fine line” workout challenges you to really listen to and feel your body as you try to run right on the edge between fast enough but not too fast. For most runners, the lactate threshold is around one-hour race pace but you can get your exact tempo run pace range from the McMillan Running Calculator.
As with the steady state run you did a couple weeks ago, resist the temptation to run too fast on this tempo run. While it’s not an easy workout, keep the effort medium for the bulk of the run, progressing to medium-hard toward the end. Your breath will be a good guide. A fast, controlled breathing pattern indicates you are in the correct zone, but if you run too fast, you’ll get out of breath, which indicates you’re running too fast and need to back off a bit. You should feel pleasantly fatigued at the end of the tempo run, not totally spent like at the end of a race.
Workout No. 2 (advanced runners): Progression Run (early in week). Easy run for 80-90 minutes with the last 10-20 minutes at a slightly faster pace (around tempo effort)
Long Run: Fast Finish Long Run. 14-16 miles (intermediate runners) or 16-20 miles (advanced runners) with the middle 6-8 miles at your goal marathon pace and the last 1-2 miles as fast as you can go.
The fast finish long run is completely different than the long, steady runs you’ve been doing. I find they are the absolute best way to prepare for the marathon. You start the workout at your normal easy run pace, get slightly faster in the middle of the run so you are hitting your goal marathon pace, then try to run a very fast pace for the last 1-2 miles of the run. I say “very fast” because you will gradually increase to a faster and faster pace so that you finish running as hard as you can—i.e., sprinting at the finish. When you’re done, jog very slowly for 5-10 minutes to cool down. This is a very grueling workout but very race-specific training.
After 1-2 fast finish long runs, you will see just how effective these are at producing marathoners who can finish strong in the marathon!
Physiologically, you train the body to work more efficiently at marathon pace and mentally, you undergo the extreme fatigue that racers inevitably face during the final few miles of a marathon. The catch is that you don’t have to run the marathon distance to get it!
The fast finish long run provides an opportunity to practice your race routine as well. Have the same dinner the night before as you plan to have the night before your race. Get hydrated like before the race. Wake up like it’s race day. Do exactly what you plan to do on race day even to the extent of wearing your race gear—shorts, singlet, socks, racing shoes. This is a true “test run” for the marathon. I also recommend that you have someone help you with this workout. Have someone on a bike with you so that you can drink at the same intervals that you will in the race. In fact, you want to mimic the exact nutrition plan that you will do during the marathon. You’ll be amazed at what you will learn about your planned pre-race routine. Figure out the things that work and the things that don’t, so that when race day arrives, you’ll be cool and calm because the routine will be second nature to you.
My general rule is that if you can finish 1-2 fast finish long runs with the last few miles at a fast pace, then you will have no problem accomplishing your goal in the race.
Assignment 1: Schedule Therapy
Call your physical or massage therapist and schedule appointments now. Don’t wait until something hurts so that you’re scrambling to try and get an appointment. It is far better to pre-schedule appointments from now till the race and start getting bodywork to prevent injuries. Invest in yourself as you chase your Boston goals.
Assignment 2: Develop Your Mantra
The training is going to get tough, but it needs to be because the race will be tough. One thing I’ve noticed over the years is that successful runners all have a mantra or mental thought that they come back to when the going gets tough. Their mantras allow them to refocus and concentrate on the task at hand instead of giving in to the suffering and slowing down. It doesn’t matter what your mantra is (though something short and rhythmical like “I can. I will.” is recommended), but the sooner you can get one and start using it, the better things will be on race day.
I mentioned last time that one of my key indicators of marathon success is consistent mileage. As we head into the last two months before the race, I also begin to look at two other indicators of marathon preparedness: how you respond to and recover from long runs and how you handle the fast-finish long runs.
For the regular type of long run, I’m hoping that you begin to find that even though you may be running longer, you aren’t as fatigued at the end. And afterward, it doesn’t take as long to recover. These are very good signs that your muscles and mind are calloused to long duration running.
While you are just doing your first fast finish long run in Week 6, I’ll be looking at how you handle those race-specific runs as well. Are you able to increase your pace in the last 1-2 miles? Can you cruise along at marathon pace with little effort? And, does the overall pace of the total run get faster because you naturally start faster and finish faster? If I see this after a few fast finish long runs, I’ll feel very confident you are ready for Boston.
About The Author:
Greg McMillan, M.S. provides training plans and online coaching for runners of all abilities through his website www.mcmillanrunning.com. Outside Magazine calls his McMillan Running Calculator the “Best Running Calculator” and his latest book, YOU (Only Faster), continues to receive rave reviews from runners and coaches.