I’m no stranger to marathon running, I ran my first one in 1998, caught the bug and have been running one nearly every year since. I’ve been a fully paid-up member to the principle of high mileage in training runs, with varying distances in my long runs and insisting on running 3 20 mile runs during the course of my build up to the big day. Until now.
Don’t get me wrong, this has served me pretty well so far. Following these principles, I set a personal best of 3hrs 19mins in 1999 and been pretty consistent with 3hrs 25mins in each my last 3 marathons. The downside is, I feel I have plateaued with that and the mileage hasn’t helped me get any closer to 3:20, let alone beat 3:19.
2012, I believe, is the year where all that is about to change. I read a few articles over the winter about approaches to training and since starting training on 2nd January, I have listened to my body and gone with what it feels ready to do. This includes running on both Saturday and Sunday, going for accumulative mileage and running no further than 18 miles in one go rather than the 20-22 miles I would previously insist on.
The reason for this is that recent research has shown that there are no physiological benefits on the body whatsoever running beyond 2.5 hours. In fact, the risk of injury on the body increase beyond that point while the aerobic benefits start to decrease. To make matters worse, the body will need longer to recover from a 3hr+ run so the training in the following days will be severely impaired. 20 mile runs in training are a form of mental hurdle in that once you reach that point then you know you’ve only another 10k to go.
The problem is that most training programs available were written in the 1970’s where the average finishing time for a marathon was 3hrs compared to 4.5hrs today. This means that the average runner back then ran at 6min/mile pace so they would complete a 20mile run in 2.5 hrs.
My solution now is to do mostly speed training. Treadmill drills of running at a much faster pace will make it easier for my body to cope with my target marathon pace and incorporating bursts of running at 85% of my top pace, with periods of recovery during my long run allows my body to run at a faster pace over a longer distance. So far, this feels very comfortable.
The question is, can I keep this up and run at this pace in London? My brain is switched on to the pace I want to run at, and what it’s going to take to get there, so after just 2 weeks I would say an overwhelming yes! While there will likely be challenges ahead, my body feels good in responding to the challenge already and so the more my brain stays focussed on the goal, the easier it’ll be to achieve.
The key is to understand the goal and if you can switch your brain onto it, you will achieve it if you want it enough 🙂