Marathon Speedwork – Controlled Faster Running Not Flat-Out Sprinting [10]

marathon speedwork

Marathon Speedwork

Learn how to do marathon speedwork the right way.

It can help you run faster marathons, rather than just complete them…

But, done badly it can quickly lead to show-stopping injury or burnout.

Good technique is a critical component of faster running…

So, grab this FREE Running Technique Checklist and correct any flaws in your own action!

Read Full Transcript

Mark: You sort of floored me a few programmes ago when you started talking about camels and ostriches and pack dogs and that sort of thing.

When we were chatting afterwards, you said, “A lot of people are really camels, but they want to be ostriches.”

Dave:  Yeah.

Mark: How do you become an ostrich?

How do you get that extra speed when you’re training for a marathon?

Dave:  What I’ve broken down are a number of points here, particularly for the camels out there, to overcome the fear and specifically get on with running some excellent sessions.

Improving Running Technique

First and foremost, technique.

You’ve got to get your running technique sorted.

It’s really a waste of time trying to improve your speed if you haven’t got the technique to do so.

It’s a double whammy in terms of firstly and most importantly, you’re more liable to get injured

Because speed work is where you do get problems with torn hamstrings and all kinds of things, even stress fractures etc.

Secondly, you’re missing out on the benefit.

The benefit of speed work is being able to run comfortably at a faster pace.

We talked a while back about limiting marathon performance barriers.

This is going to be an obvious performance barrier if your technique isn’t up to the job.

Mark: Oh right. Yeah. That makes complete sense actually.

Dave: The answer is to get a decent head-to-toe technique makeover.

Once you’ve done that, there are some very useful technique drills you can go through…

Because it’s one thing mastering it terms of understanding and quite another to actually reinforce it in your muscle memories.

Running Strides Workout

Then what I do advocate, and anybody can easily do this, is regularly, after your Steady Runs, doing what are called Form Repeats (more commonly known as strides).

You’re not straining and hurting yourself, but you’re running fast in a very fluid, powerful way.

That’s a good way to reinforce the speed you need for the Faster Repeats sessions.

Mark: Excellent. Okay, so technique is obviously important.

What’s next on the list?

Injury-Proof your Body

Dave: Yeah. What is also very important before you get into any serious speed work, is to marathon-proof your body in earlier phases of your marathon campaign…

So that you can take on what are very marathon-specific sessions, when we start talking about Faster Repeats, often on a track.

These are quite advanced sessions really.

You will want to take the opportunity to strengthen your body.

Maybe do some, what we call speed play, fartlek sessions, on park land…

Where you’re just literally playing with these different speeds in a less formal environment and building up that physiology and that adaptation.

That will stand you in good stead to make you better able to cope with the speed work.

Mark: Excellent. We’ve got technique, we’ve had marathon-proofing your body.

What about beforehand? Is there any sort of preparation you need to do?

Warm Up Before Speed Training

Dave: Prepare your body by having a very thorough warm-up.

What I advocate is what are called dynamic warm-up, motion exercises because stretching when you’re relatively cold isn’t a good idea.

You’re more likely to do more harm than good.

Take your body through the various ranges of movement you’re going to need for your session in a controlled, dynamic way.

Even before that, if you are doing a Faster Repeat session, more so than if you’re just doing a Steady Run…

It’s important to get a good night’s sleep because this is a more challenging session.

It’s one of my key marathon-specific sessions and it’s one that can’t be taken too lightly on four hours of sleep!

Also, dehydration…

You want to make sure that you’re properly fuelled and hydrated to be able to cope with the rigours of that kind of session.

Mark: Excellent. Obviously, preparation is good.

How about starting the race itself?

Speed Workouts for Marathon

Dave: Not only mustn’t you start a race too fast…

But it equally applies to these Faster Repeats.

Because if you are starting the session too quickly, you are unlikely to stay within the target pace range for the entire workout.

Each of these types of session have a number of different ranges that you need to meet…

It’s a specific pace that hits the sweet spot.

Then you’ve got a fairly narrow range around them.

If you’re banging on the first rep and you’re really pleased with yourself because you’ve exceeded it by say seven seconds or so…

Then you’re struggling to maintain that pace throughout.

Ultimately, it’s a failed session.

I’d probably rather you started the session at the lower end of the pace range…

And you actually worked through that pace range for the session…

And got faster and faster…

Until you got to the average and then maybe finished off stronger.

To me, that’s the ideal session.

Maybe the absolute ideal is just hitting bang on the target pace.

Bang, bang, bang, if you’re a kind of robot!

If you’re not, if you’re human being, working up through is quite a good tactic.

Mark: Okay. Obviously starting is important.

Dave: Yeah.

Mark: How about as you go through the session?

Dave: It’s important to stay relaxed and to not be too concerned with one particular time.

As long as you’re in the range, who cares whether it fluctuates up and down frankly.

Mark: Yeah.

Dave: Just concentrate on the range.

One of the problems of technology is people are too preoccupied with absolute numbers, and less mindful of relative success.

I would concentrate on being somewhere within that range, but still using Rate of Perceived Effort (RPE) on how you feel to get the pacing right.

As long as you’ve got those things dialled in, the numbers will take care of themselves.

Mark: Excellent.

We’ve looked at preparation.

We looked at starting.

We looked at going through the session.

What’s next?

Recovery After Speed Training

Dave: Not overcooking the recovery days.

You’ve got to respect that you’ve just done…

If it’s Faster Repeats, you’ve just done a very advanced marathon-specific session.

That needs recovery.

The session is only part of the fitness gain story.

If you’re not able to give yourself sufficient recovery, you’re denying yourself the fitness benefit you deserve from all that hard work.

Mark: Yeah, that’s very true.

We’ve looked quite thoroughly there right through the session.

What other mistakes do people commonly make?

Dave: What if that recovery day coincides with a club night?

What I often find is people go down to the club with very good intentions…

And what should have been a club steady, a club recovery run, or a club social…

Turns into what I call, ‘club status’!

Mark: I’m faster than you are!

Dave: I’ve even invented a cartoon character called Clubbed Clive…

Which has him racing towards the club hut well ahead of the opposition, and to be fair, that is his glory day.

But he goes on to run a terrible marathon because he’s over-cooked his recovery day.

Mark: We’ve got Clubbed Clive, who’s really abusing his club session.

Dave: Yeah.

Racing Before a Marathon

Mark: There’s also the possibility that people race too much isn’t there?

Dave: Absolutely.

I’m glad you hit on that because as well as Clubbed Clive, yet another one of my 26 cartoon characters all committing marathon sins is Keen Kevin.

He enters the Trivial Ten, when he shouldn’t, or he should be not over-racing anyway, in the Trivial Ten.

This is where you’ve got to be smart with your racing.

Because if you’re doing a lot of Faster Repeat sessions and a fair amount of speed work, then you need to choose your battles carefully…

And far too many people go all-out in their practice races and they lose the sense of meaning of the work practice.

Yes, there are great opportunities to do a half marathon and a 10K, and get a time that is good on a personal basis…

But they can also be used as a predictor for your marathon success.

There are also great opportunities to say, enter a half and specifically work on marathon-pace

Just run that deliberately at your goal marathon pace, and test out a few fuelling strategies and how you pick up water at the water stations and all that kind of stuff.

Thereby, protect yourself for the upcoming Faster Repeats session without over-racing.

Mark: Okay. Over racing is obviously a no-no.

Dave: Yeah.

Adjusting Marathon Training Schedule

Mark: What else needs to be looked at?

Dave: Prescriptive scheduling.

What I call setting a schedule, however well-meaning it is and however well-targeted it is to your marathon, and then sticking to it, come what may.

The problem with that is there will be days when you will be better off switching that Faster Repeats session over to even a Recovery Run, possibly even a Rest Day, but definitely not doing a Faster Repeats session.

In fact, in my Smart Scheduler, I give the people that use it the opportunity to switch from some of these harder sessions to say a Fartlek Run…

Where they just play with the speed, just to cover that eventuality.

Mark: Built in flexibility.

Dave: There’s in-built flexibility, absolutely.

That brings me on to my last point.

Which is we have to respect that we’ve all got super-busy lifestyles.

Sometimes, the logistics would favour doing something easier.

If you’ve got a week where you’re travelling away for work for example…

You don’t know where the local course is for doing a harder session.

Then you’re better off switching the schedule for that reason.

You’ve got to be very mindful of your lifestyle.

To summarise, speed work is beneficial…

But like eating protein, it has to be done in moderation…

And you have to be very careful not to overcook it…

And put yourself in a situation of excessive fatigue or even injury.

Dave: You can grab your own free checklist covering 26 fast and easy ways to marathon-proof your running technique.

I want you to have this because without good technique, you’ll find it difficult to improve your speed by implementing the strategies we’ve been talking about.

Please leave any comments you have on marathon speedwork below. 

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