Marathon Speed: Part I

I’ve been meaning to do a write up on marathon speed for some time now. Now, as I actually begin writing, I realize that there is a lot to cover here and will require a few parts to it. Otherwise, I might as well add another chapter to the book! The trick here is to figure out the best starting point!

Lydiard and Periodization

The best place to begin is with some thoughts on Lydiard and periodization in general. People describe Lydiard as a linear periodization, best represented by the pyramid we’ve shown before.

The foundation is slower, easy running. Over time you add faster and faster work until you are able to incorporate very fast repeats (faster than mile pace). Supplemental running like hills and strides are done nearly all the time. But where does all of this fit for the marathon? Even Lydiard put in his writings that his marathon runners wouldn’t go past the 5k/10k type of intervals during marathon training. To me, this points out a very important aspect of speed work or speed development. Speed training is relative to what you are training for. However, it also raises another question, if this is the case, and we are should be training our most race specific aspects the last several weeks, is the Lydiard pyramid the best way to go about. So this brings about a few things that I wanted us to think about with Lydiard and periodization.

  1. What type of periodization is best for the marathon, Lydiard’s linear where systems are stressed systematically? OR, do we take a non linear approach, where all systems are stressed to some degree over the course of the training block?
  2. Many coaches take Lydiard’s pyramid very literal and do step beyond the 5k or 10k “threshold” for their marathoners and put very high lactic workouts near the end of the training block, when we are “supposed” to be focusing race specific work.
  3. Some coaches criticize our program because the speed is in the beginning of the program because of the idea that the lactic work puts too much stress on the development of the aerobic system.
  4. With all of this, how would I classify the Hanons Marathon Method? Linear, non-linear, something else?

Ok, great stuff to think about! Let’s jump in. I don’t know if these will be answered in order, but I’ll see what happens. As far as how Lydiard’s linear style periodiztion goes, I truly do believe it will work for everything 10k and under, 100%. I would say I am at about 95% of being completely sold on it being the best marathon style periodization. My major hang up for the linear style progression is the practicality of it for the recreational and even competitive athlete. Why? Because it would force people who aren’t training for a national meet or a world championship type race to sacrifice a lot of time with sub-par and under-trained races in order to reach their peak racing fitness. In short, their optimal racing window would be a very short window of a few weeks over a couple periods a year. That’s a very tough sell to many runners.

With that said, how can we still promote long term development, but not force ourselves into a situation with a very limited window of opportunity? That’s where the non-linear approach comes in. My basic understanding of how this works is that you have your training block of a few months and within that block, all training stresses are appropriately stressed. However, it’s not like you do this through the entire training segment. For instance, your last six weeks would truly be dedicated to marathon specific work, but you may have 2 or 3 “speed” type workouts sprinkled in there. I’ve seen a lot more of this type of periodiztion come up in discussions. To me, it makes sense for pretty much every level of runner. This type of training model allows runners to be but a few weeks away from being able to run well at many different distances. Long term development is stressed by :

  1. racing different distances and
  2. trying to improve at primary distance from year to year.

With all of this said, where would I say that the Hansons Marathon Methods fit in?

That is a two part answer.

First, with the schedules you’ve seen in the book, I think it’s a hybrid of the linear and non-linear styles. This is because there is a dedicated block of “speed” in the beginning, without much emphasis on speed late in the training block. You have to look at this way: These schedules are designed to work for a high percentage of people, so we have to put things in a way that will make most people successful. So in this case, we don’t want people to sacrifice speed throughout the segment, but we don’t want them to be doing speed all through the training, either. For many people, that would put them in that “acidosis” state and hamper their development. So, it’s really trying to make one style work for a large number of people.

On the other hand, coaching an individual, then we can tailor the schedule specific to you. Here, we would be a more non-linear approach to the marathon training. Personally, I probably wouldn’t make you do six straight weeks of speed intervals without a break in there. Would the majority be in the beginning of the schedule? Yes, the focus’ would still be the same, but we’d insert occasional workouts that would make sure all systems are stressed.

So to answer a couple of the numbers above. There isn’t a right or wrong answer. Lydiard works, non-linear works. It truly does depend on the runner’s situation and what we are trying to accomplish. Hansons philosophy? Definitely leans towards a non-linear approach with our coaching clients, while the beginner and advanced programs that many people are familiar with, lie somewhere in the middle. Is there a reverse-linear model?

We are really left with why the speed is in the beginning of the block for the marathon training and why I don’t feel that the runner goes into “acidosis” by doing this. However, this post is now over a thousand words, so we’ll leave that for part II.

As always, thanks for reading. Hopefully, this begins to shed a little more light on why we do things just a touch differently for the marathon.

-Luke

 

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