Fall Training: Week 1

I’m going to count this most recent week as week 1, since the real week 1 turned out to be a weak one. Ha ha. Isn’t that clever? It’s no wonder I get paid the big bucks as a freelance copywriter.

Recap of recovery — plus a race!
Here’s a high-level view of what I’ve been doing to lead up to rebuilding (and adding to) my mileage base:

April 6: Ran the More Marathon

Next, I spent a few weeks doing lots of very slow running to recover. But I did a tempo run during the second and third of these weeks in order to prepare for a half marathon in early May.
Week of April 7: 21 miles
Week of April 14: 42 miles
Week of April 21: 56 miles

Cut down the mileage a bit and capped the week with a fast (for me) half marathon on May 4.
Week of April 28: 47 miles

Lots of recovery again, to bounce back from the half.
Week of May 5: 59 miles

Then some travel, but a week with lots of quality miles jammed into just six sessions.
Week of May 12: 49 miles

Finally, the week of May 19, I’m ready to start basebuilding in earnest. I will be training for the Steamtown Marathon on October 12.

How to get faster
It’s always struck me as odd that no matter how many books or articles you read about training, no one ever tells you how to actually get faster. They’ll tell you how fast to run today based on your last race time. But they don’t tell you how to get faster, say, from one year to the next.

Since getting steadily faster is one of my goals, I’ve been left to my own devices to figure out how. The strategy I’ve used (and which seems to work), is this:

1. First, get a clear idea of what your fitness level is today, based on one or two very recent races (assuming the races went well and there was nothing artificially influencing the outcome for better or worse, such as headwinds, crowding, lots of hills, or — on the positive side — a big tailwind or miniature jetpacks attached to your ankles.)

2. Using something like the Macmillan calculator, map out a series of paces that are slightly faster than what you’re running today.

For example, my last half marathon time was deemed equivalent to a 3:20 marathon. I mapped out paces for a 3:18 marathon, so I’m pushing myself from the start. Here’s what they look like (along with the heart rate ranges I use for each):

Recovery* 9:00-10:30 60-68%
Long 8:05-9:05 72-83%
Easy 8:05-8:35 75-85%
Hills 8:05-8:35 75-90%
Mpace 7:34 82-86%
Tempo 6:50-7:10 86-88%
Speed TBD** 94-98%***

*Recovery times may be slower than this if I’m very tired. I go by heart rate always, so it’s not unusual to find me running 11:00+ minute miles some days.
**Since I run different interval lengths over different sessions, I figure out the speedwork paces before I head to the track by looking them up in a table in the back of the book “Advanced Marathoning” by Pete Pfitzinger and Scott Douglas.
***When doing shorter intervals, my heart rate may not get anywhere near this range; it will get up there doing 1000+ meter intervals, though. I stick to the paces recommended so I’m not running the shorter ones too fast.

3. Now spend a week or two running your workouts at those paces. Can you hit them within the target heart rates? Do they feel too easy? Too hard? Make adjustments downward or upward if so.

4. Next, pick your goal marathon pace (Mpace). This is the pace that you’d like to be able to run in the race that you’re training for and which is ideally about 4-5 months in the future. The pace you choose should be something that’s both aggressive and achievable (with hard work and consistency, natch). Set up a series of paces for that. Those are the paces you’re targeting to work your way down to as you get closer to the race.

5. If your first set of paces is “just right” in the Goldilocksian sense, then train at those paces until they start getting too easy (meaning you’re hitting the faster end of the pace spectrum at the lower end of the heart rate spectrum). When that happens, it’s time to adjust your time goal downward and start training at faster paces.

6. Monitor how you’re doing during the entire training cycle. You should be steadily working your way down to your second set of paces. If you’re having trouble getting there, you may need to adjust them to something less dramatic. And, perhaps more importantly, revisit your training to see what’s not working.

One good aspect to using this approach, which is really more art than science (since it’s all based on trial and error), is that you become very familiar with what your capabilities are. So much so that you can probably toe the line of your goal race with the knowledge of how fast you can run over 26.2 miles within a range of about 5-10 seconds per mile. This fact alone will give you an advantage that the vast majority of the runners around you will not have.

I’m neither a coach nor an exercise physiologist. But this method has worked for me.

The week that was
This week I reacquainted myself with the sensation of always either going out for or coming back from a run. Most weeks from here on out I’ll be running 11-13 times per week. I should also note that I’m building my base up to around 95 miles a week, and I’ll average 90 during the actual training phase, which starts in early July.

A look back at the week:

  • Monday: 6.2 miles recovery pace (AM); 4.9 miles recovery pace (PM)
  • Tuesday: 6.9 miles recovery pace (AM); 4 miles recovery pace (PM)
  • Wednesday: 9 miles easy with speedwork: 5 x 600m
  • Thursday: 6.1 miles recovery pace (AM); 3.7 miles recovery pace (PM)
  • Friday: 9 miles easy pace
  • Saturday: 5.0 miles recovery pace (AM); 5.2 miles recovery pace (PM)
  • Sunday: 20.2 mile long run (steady pace)

Total mileage: 82 miles

Paces this week:

  • Recovery: 9:20 – 11:00
  • Speed: 2:24 per 600m
  • Easy: 8:24
  • Long: 8:15

Something to note is that my long run pace is pretty fast; it’s only 10 seconds slower than the bottom of the pace range. Some training philosophies call for doing your long run 1:00 to 1:30 per mile slower than your goal marathon pace. I don’t agree with this.

Here’s why: The long run is the foundation of marathon training, and as such needs to be exploited for its potential to facilitate real improvements in running fast over a long distance. Doing faster long runs introduces a particular kind of stress and forces adaptation to that stress week after week. A runner doing high mileage will already be doing a ton of slower miles during easy and recovery runs every week. It doesn’t make sense to me that you’d add in yet more slower miles on long run days.

The caveat to this is that, for a runner who is new to long distances, the weekend long run should probably be on the slower side, since the goal is to build endurance and prepare the body for harder training later on. But for someone who’s done that foundational work already, continuing to run long, slow distance seems like a lost opportunity.

Anyway, I’ve found the most success by doing all my long runs at a relatively fast clip (either as progression runs, long runs with lots of marathon pace miles at the end, or steady pace runs done at a quicker pace like yesterday’s).

Coming up in Fall Training Week 2: A jump to 88 miles.

4 Responses

  1. I think you train to much!!.(sorry).
    And a marathon is not the same like a half marathon..
    You can train a lot for the marathon, but you must learn to run the marathon and thats not the same thing…
    Better to take rest en slow training and a beer the day before the marathon!.
    And not go for a time, but let feel your body and than you run a good time..
    But you can run fast and i like to run a marathon whit you ;-).
    Groet Rinus.

  2. Great post! Have you been to Runner’s Lounge? You should submit this to their advice section – it’s very helpful!

  3. Sorry RLAG… I have to disagree with your training philosophy… Just finished reading your Steamtown RR and have to say that your 3:10 goal was pretty lofty- that is not to say that you cannot achieve such time, but I posit that you will have to follow a different program. I suggest:

    Sunday-LR (15-20, start easy and end the last 3-5 miles at GMP)
    Monday- 5-7 Recovery
    Tuesday- Easy+Speedwork (7-9), PM-4-5 Recovery
    Wednesday- 5-7 Easy
    Thursday- Easy+3-6 tempo (7-10), PM-4-5 Recovery
    Friday- Easy 5-7
    Saturday- Rest/X-Train or easy 5-7

    Apologies in advance for the unsolicited advice

  4. You’re welcome to disagree, Alejandro. Yes, my 3:10 goal was lofty, and I believe that was due to not enough race-specific training (and not enough recovery). I’m now taking an approach similar to what you’ve laid out — a mix of speedwork, mpace, tempo and recovery running, under the guidance of a coach.

    But I stand by my basic approach to getting faster — insofar as that philosophy involves picking a reasonable goal pace and working down toward it — which has worked for me for all of the previous marathons for which I’ve trained. I see people who never get faster (but who certainly could) because they always do all of their runs at the same paces, season after season.

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