Why is there marathon work in my speed segment?

Why is there marathon work in my speed segment?

Why is there marathon work in my speed segment?

Recently, I received an interesting question from one our coached athletes in the Online Run Club. Essentially, they were following one of our plans for a shorter distance- a 5/10k plan, I believe.

What they asked was:

“Why is there a marathon pace workout during a speed segment?”

Ah! So, think waaay back to reading the Hansons Marathon Method, or our blog on training philosophy. I will respond to your question with my own question: “what is one of the pillars of hansons training?” Insert Final Jeopardy music. That’s right, it’s balance! We never stray too far from any one aspect of training.

So, during a marathon segment, one can ask why we are doing repeats at 10k pace when we are training. In this case, why are we doing marathon pace work during a segment for a much shorter race? As I mentioned, it’s all about maintaining balance, but why? How?

The Mental Part:

The physiological reasons we give a runner marathon pace work is simple. These are a great way to improve overall stamina, or ability to cover distance at a given pace. It also helps improve general endurance, which is simply being able to cover a set amount of distance. This might not seem like a big deal, but while a marathon is 97% aerobic, even going down to a 1 mile run all out, 80% of your energy contribution is coming via aerobic sources. Simply, regardless of distance, having a high revving aerobic cardiovascular engine is going to be vital for your success. Now, that doesn’t mean that we need do 10 mile tempos every week, it does mean we can’t completely abandon that source of training stimulus simply because we aren’t racing that distance- much like we don’t with speedwork during a marathon segment.

The How:

Now, as to the “how,” there a number of places that a marathon pace workout can be inserted into your training that’s not a marathon segment. The first is during a general fitness, base building, or a regeneration phase of running. In any of these situations, marathon pace work, mainly in form of repeats, tend to be a great way to add more structure into a program. It can help subside the urge to get into faster work too fast and avoid burnout before you are ready to race.

The second area is actually during a tough stretch of really fast work. We always talk about speed being the top of the roof. Referring to the percentages above, even at 5k racing, only 20% of your fueling needs come from anaerobic sources. However, when we are in a race specific stage, we are doing a lot of workouts in a row that are focusing on the top end (Faster than 10k pace) of our capacities. If you are like me, you struggle after doing a bunch of these fast workouts in a row. So, what I will do is swing back around with a marathon pace repeat workout that hits on the aerobic component, but gives us a break from the constant barrage of lung burning “get down” speed.

Now, as I mentioned, the marathon work I am talking about isn’t necessarily a 10 mile tempo run every few weeks. In fact, I rarely even go further than six miles total of marathon work.

Most of the time I prescribe something like 6-8 x 800 meters or 4-6x 1 mile at MP. Rest will be pretty short. 1 minute to 800 meters depending on where it’s placed in the segment. Early segment will have longer recovery because the purpose is more about getting back into routine, than anything. Later in a segment, you should be more fit, so the rest should be shorter.

Long Run Options:

Another favorite is mixing up a long run in place of a workout. For instance, if someone has been doing a bit of speed and has had some extra days off during the week, I might take that long run and mix it up on a person. One thing I like to do is a cutdown of 6-10 miles. The runner would warm up 1-2 miles, then do a progressively faster run over a set distance. I might start at a minute per mile slower than current marathon pace and work down to marathon pace or slightly faster. Then cool down another 1-2 miles.

It’s a good way to get a quality long run in without finding a day to add another workout.

Another one of my favorites is a moderate distance long run of 12-14 miles, but in the middle I will add 4-8x 2-3 minutes at marathon effort with the same time recovery jog. Again, it’s a great way to not miss a long run, but really stress some of the aerobic components we sometimes miss out on during a speed segment.

The Wrap:

So there you have it! The why and the how of putting marathon pace work in your non marathon segments. It’s a way to offer up the balance  in training that we stress, provide an opportunity to see how marathon pace feels after some progression, and even offer up non marathon runners a way to practice patience. It may even be a nice transition for those who are on the fence about a marathon to help build confidence in moving forward with that goal. The main reason though is that it does provide a great physiological stimulus, builds specific endurance, and helps break up a string of really tough 10k and faster workouts to help bring us back from burnout. Like most workouts, to make this work, you have to use restraint. Faster is not better here or we defeat the purpose of the workout. Hopefully, this helps answer some questions or gives you some ideas for your own training!

Easy Days

When we talk about developing distance runners, we talk about long runs, speed work, tempos and the sort. We talk about the difficult things , but rarely do we really emphasize development through easy running. Easy running has different levels and meanings, all of which are important. However, instead of describing these things positively, we end up referring to it as junk mileage as if it were detrimental to developing your running ability. So runners are told that all they need to do is the difficult things and they will improve. They may, I’m sure many will for a while and that’s what makes it popular. Admittedly this theory has always confused me. Maybe because I see us as a society trending towards doing the least but gaining the most. Perhaps it’s because getting better can’t possibly be as easy as running at a comfortable pace every couple days, right? Or, maybe it’s simply because the majority of runners out there don’t even think about long term development. Whatever the situation is, easy running has, undeservedly so, gotten a bad wrap. In the wake of this, we complain that we can’t run mileage or we plateau but the answer is right here- the easy run.

Easy Running: A lot of bang for your buck

Easy running is the foundation in which all other training can be built from. By itself, easy running will directly contribute to:

  • tendon development
  • specific muscle fiber adaptation
  • bone development
  • mitochondrial growth/distribution
  • glycogen storage/fat utilization
  • general endurance
  • improved running economy
  • improved VO2max
  • Capillary density

For full breakdown on the physiology of easy running: HMM

Think about when people get hurt with running, especially newer runners or those running low mileage but emphasize hard workouts. It’s some sort of tissue breakdown. Maybe it’s in the bone (stress fracture) or tendon (tendonitis- achilles, tibial). These are all pretty common, right? Why do these occur? Without getting into debate about shoes or biomechanics, let’s break this down to the simplest mechanism. Our cardiovascular system will adapt to exercise very quickly, much faster than the skeletalmuscular system. So many times, we feel much more fit after a couple weeks, so we keep increasing our paces. However, the bones and tendons haven’t had enough time to catch up to the cardiovascular system. So, bone and tendon break down faster than it can be repaired and injury occurs. This frustrates runners and they believe that they simply can’t run very far or they’ll end up injured. This a big reason people shy away from running more. To be honest, a lot of this is our fault as coaches because we don’t show these folks how to do it, or to emphasize patience. When a person tells me they can’t run mileage, the first thing I look at is their easy days compared to their racing ability.

It was hard to choose a place to start with these discussions, since it seems intertwined and dependent on each other. Of course, the first thing I tell you is to run easy and slow down to get better. So, it’s only natural that I tell you that this is not always the case! Ok, this is definitely going to require more explanation! I guess the best way to define “easy” is easier than your SOS days (Something of Substance), but not necessarily slow. Remember that I said easy running has different levels and meanings? This is another area where we as runners tend to do it, but not because they run different paces, but rather they run the same pace (often too hard) for all of their easy runs. Let me put it this way, when I prescribe a runner a range of 7 to 8 minutes per mile for their easy days, what do you think they are going to try to run? Exactly, they are going to think that is 8 minute pace is good, then 7 minute pace is even better. So, every run is to try and run their fast end of the range. Yes, technically is appropriate, but what if they are tired? What if they are getting sick? Let’s take a closer look at some “easy” running levels.

Types of easy runs

  • Recovery Running: The slowest end of the range. This is 2.5+ minutes slower than marathon pace. For a lot of runners, they have to work to run this slow. I don’t prescribe a ton, but rather like to show that if you are feeling really rough, you can still gain benefit from this running. Where you would probably see it is during a cool down after a tough workout, or a run the day following a tough workout.

  • Easy Running: This and the next range of running is the bread and butter of easy running. It’s a comfortable pace. Let’s say this range is roughly 1.5-2.5 minutes slower than marathon pace. It’s a pace range that allows you to run theoretically as far as you want and uninterrupted time is probably the greatest factor in easy running adaptations. The key here is to not force it and just let yourself fall in this range. If you struggle in this range, it may be wise to look at what the race goal time is. Most scheduled easy runs will be in this pace.

  • Moderate Running: This may be 30 seconds to a minute per mile slower than your marathon goal pace. I’ll prescribe this to my more fit runners, or runners who are already running higher mileage. While easy, it does start creeping up on the scale of energy usage. The faster you run, the more glycogen, or stored carbohydrate, is used. The goal with endurance training is to become more efficient at burning fat at higher intensities. Moderate paced easy running puts you a little closer to a threshold and while you burn a little bit more carbohydrate, aren’t in danger of running out of fuel (unless you run for hours on end). However, you do start to tell the body that it should begin to adapt. I like putting longer runs at the moderate pace to really put the body in the position to run the glycogen stores low enough to the point where the body says “Hey, let’s start storing more glycogen” And, you become pretty darn efficient at burning fat.

  • High Aerobic: This is getting really close to goal marathon pace and I don’t prescribe as much overall. Again, I’ll use this for some long runs or for some early season hard runs for some runners. These shouldn’t be added much though until the runner is at a mileage level that isn’t going to change drastically. What you might see is a long run with a section run at this pace with the amount of time spent increases every few weeks. Your better marathoners can do this up to a couple hours, or most of their long run, when nearing peak fitness.

Now we have a lot of info here and I discussed two of the main ways we tend to mess it up. Let’s talk about how we can use easy runs to build our training volumes higher than we ever thought possible.

Using easy running to build volume

  1. Focus on completing the duration, not running hard. Even if you are on a run/walk program. The fastest way to actually decrease the time needed to run for 30 minutes straight is to slow down and increase the time jogging between walks. This applies to beginners, those starting back up after an extended break, and those attempting to reach new training volumes.
  2. Break up your days/runs. Basically, don’t run every run faster than need be. If you feel tired, you still get benefit from a slower run. If you can trust that faster isn’t always better you can save yourself a lot if frustration in the long term. Use recovery pace for those days that you just aren’t feeling the best. Use easy pace as your average run. Moderate is fine for long runs and days you feel really good.
  3. Allow your body time to adapt. What may take your heart two weeks to adapt to, may take your tibia four weeks. Just be careful in ramping the training up. Maybe it’s very small increments weekly or a larger increase every six weeks. Old veterans may be able to jump much quicker. It’s individual but the newer you are to the sport, the longer I would give yourself.

I try to be open minded with different methods of training, but one thing I cannot stand is the term junk mileage. I think it’s a way to get around telling people that they are doing it wrong. This may be harsh, but as a coach, it’s our responsibility to be honest. Otherwise, you jeopardize the athletes potential and that is not fair to anyone. Easy mileage is the foundation of training and the gateway to faster training and better training. We simply need to get over the idea that their are shortcuts to long term success.

-My 2 Cents, Luke