Running a sub 4 hour marathon or a sub 2 hour half marathon is an aspiration of thousands of people, yet many will never achieve it because they fail to train smartly. This sort of time should be very achievable for most healthy, and healthy-weight, young to middle-aged people but it’s elusive because they don’t give the task proper attention.
Let’s look at these two race hopefuls:
- Knows the specific purpose of each run and cross training session.
- Trains for time rather than distance.
- Does not aim for a certain mileage each week, but focuses on quality.
- Repeatedly practises their race pace.
- Knows their race pace!
- Pushes up their lactate threshold through threshold training so that their race pace then feels more comfortable.
- Runs intervals appropriate to their race distance.
- Practises functional speed work, such as hill training.
- Runs their longest run at the appropriate pace to build aerobic and muscular endurance.
- Adds some appropriate cross-training to take away some of the repetitive stress.
- Takes rest days.
- Builds in cutback weeks for recovery.
- Works on mental toughness, doing runs when they don’t want to, pushing through hard runs, not missing sessions.
- Runs for themselves, not others. Is not fussed by running with a friend.
- Plans to race alone, rather than with a friend.
- Is not swayed by gimmicks such as particular footwear or technique styles.
- Gets regular sports massage.
- Does a couple of key build-up races to practise pacing and strategy and to test progress.
- Has a race plan.
- Just goes for a run without knowing exactly how that run contributes to their race goal.
- Trains to achieve a certain weekly mileage, tells people how many miles they’ve just run, not about the quality or purpose.
- Runs each run at the same pace.
- Does not know, or practice, their race pace.
- Never runs beyond their physical comfort zone.
- Does little, sporadic or no speed or specific strength work.
- Does no other activity but running.
- Runs day after day with little rest.
- Does virtually the same each week apart from building the distance of the long run.
- Except sometimes they might bang out a few 400s or 800s at the track.
- Skips sessions because they’re not in the mood, cuts sessions short for no physical reason.
- Misses a session if their friend can’t make it.
- Will not miss club night in favour of a more appropriate session.
- Plans to race with a friend.
- Tries new trends in footwear and running style during their critical training period.
- Has no massage.
- Over-races during training or tries to ‘collect’ a certain number of races.
- Does not have a race plan.
It’s not difficult to see which one will achieve their target. Sadly, Person B is a common stereotype; they plod out the miles year after year, never really getting any faster.So they put hours into training over several years then get discouraged and give it all up, there’s no joy or reward in it. Person A, (around 10% of runners) quickly achieves their goal and goes on to set realistic targets for their next PB, so they end up smashing their original target in subsequent races. Their training stays vibrant and they maintain a real love of, and enthusiasm for, the sport.
Taking a positive, planned approach to training is so important. After all you are likely to spend many hours out running and training, so that time should reap the desired rewards. Of course you can choose to plod out the miles with no variation but you must accept that you are unlikely to improve your times.
If you are striving to be person A then perhaps choose a few things to focus on to start with, such as having a plan, doing pace work, running for time not distance and planning appropriate rest and cutback weeks. Over time introduce some of the other approaches so that you transform yourself into a smart runner rather than a sloppy, potentially injured, burnt out and depressed runner.