I am training for my first marathon. My question is how, when, or even if, to include speed workouts in my training plan. I am accustomed to running 5Ks and 10Ks, but have not run longer than 10 miles at this point. Should I focus more on building my mileage and forget about doing speedwork or can I incorporate both mileage and speed into my training? - Scott
The marathon is a very challenging blend of endurance, strength and speed. Marathon training should incorporate all three of these components into a training plan. It's to your advantage that you have already done some running because it means you have established conditioning that will help as the mileage increases.
My short answer is yes, you can include some speedwork with your distance training. However, that said, begin your training by focusing on building your mileage first.
For the first two to three months, increase your weekly mileage and lengthen your long runs to expand your aerobic endurance base. Weekly mileage increases are done in small increments - most commonly a 10 to 20 per cent increase in total weekly volume. Staying within this recommended range minimises your risk of injury while building mileage. Often this increment can be accomplished by increasing your weekly long run by a couple of miles.
Increase weekly mileage for three to four weeks, then plan a "cut back" week. Cutting back means dropping your mileage volume by about 30 per cent for recovery purposes. This build and recovery cycle should help provide adequate recovery throughout your training. During this phase of your training, you can include some speedwork once a week by incorporating some tempo runs on one of your shorter weekday runs. Tempo runs refer to runs that are slightly faster than your goal marathon race pace, and this should comprise no more than 20 per cent of your total weekly mileage.
After 12 weeks of training, you can begin to include more formal speedwork if you choose. But remember, speedwork, especially for your first marathon, should be done at a controlled speed. Set a pre-designated pace or interval time for your workouts. This time can be based on recent 5K/10K times or your predicted goal marathon time.
The intention is to develop some speed along with your endurance, so you want speed workouts to be run at a pace you can maintain for the entire duration of the workout, not an all out sprint that you cannot maintain. For example, run mile repeats at about 30 to 45 seconds per mile faster than your goal race pace are a good option for speedwork. Or, you can get on the track for some sharpening workouts at a controlled pace for the remainder of your training until you begin to taper.
Suggested speed workouts:
1) Run two sets of 6 x 400 at 5K pace; jog a 200 for recovery. Take 4 minutes recovery between sets.
2) Run 6-8 x 800 at 10K pace; jog a 200 for recovery.
3) Mile repeats: 4 x 1 mile at 30 to 45 seconds faster than your goal race pace. Take 3 minutes recovery between mile repeats. Do these on the road, not the track.
Suggested guidelines for speed work:
1) For mile repeats, use 30 to 45 seconds per mile faster than your goal marathon race pace. For track intervals less than one mile, try a pace of 60 to 75 seconds per mile faster than your goal marathon race pace.
2) Use a consistent pace. No more than a 5-second variance in mile repeats or intervals.
3) Track workouts should be no longer than 5 total miles. For longer workouts, use the road.
4) Do mile repeats or 800s during or after higher mileage weeks.
5) Do the 400s workout following shorter or cut back mileage weeks.