After the long runs, I believe that the most important details of the marathon training cycle come in the specific marathon sessions. So, what do I mean by specific marathon sessions?
These are workouts where you are looking to get in a good amount of volume (mileage) at goal marathon pace and for me, these are usually done in coordination with my long runs.
For example, the segment long runs and steady state long runs, and fast finish long runs that I included in the long run segment of this series are all specific marathon sessions to me. In fact, these are the most important sessions that you can do in training for a marathon.
So, what does that look like? For me, it’s having at least one of these sessions in your training every 10-14 days. I like to progress these sessions in the following order:
- Fast finish long run. Example, 22 miles w/ miles 16-20 at marathon pace, or just faster. This is one of the long runs we mentioned in the long run segment.
- 3 x 3-4 miles at marathon place w/ 1-mile float recovery. The key in this session is the 1-mile float recovery – typically this ‘float’ is done at 15-25 seconds per mile slower than marathon pace…so not jogging. All in all you are getting in 11-14 miles at what ends up averaging pretty close to marathon pace.
- Segment long run. Example, 22 miles including 4 miles at faster than marathon pace, followed by 10 miles ‘steady’ which is similar to the float mile above, and then finished with 4 miles at faster than marathon pace. You’ll run a 2 mile warm up and cool down to make it 22 miles on the day. But here, you are getting nearly 18 miles at pretty close to marathon pace.
- Fast finish long run. Similar to #1, but hopefully easier to handle the pace and overall distance of the run.
- Steady state long run. This is probably the hardest and closest session to simulating what you’ll feel during the marathon. We typically will do 22 miles total with a 2 mile warm up and cool down, leaving the middle 18 miles to be run at 15-25 seconds slower per mile than your marathon pace. It’s a long, grueling practice run at the marathon without going the full distance or completely emptying all energy and fuel reserves.
- 2 x 5-6 miles at marathon pace w/ 1-mile float recovery. This is very similar to the session we did at #2; but a longer continuous effort at marathon pace. Again, the float mile is what makes this session difficult. This is typically the 2nd to last specific session we’ll do before the marathon.
- 4-6 miles at marathon pace. This is the last session we’ll do before the marathon and typically 9-10 days before. It’s just a dress rehearsal at a much shorter distance. The goal for this session is to go through race-morning routine with eating, warming up, etc. This way you’ve prepared for exactly what you hope to do on race morning; and the distance is so short that you have plenty of time to recover before race day.
Now, what if you can’t fit all of those sessions in? That’s okay. But, always give preference to the long runs and the marathon specific sessions before speed work, etc. while training for a marathon.
As usual, if you have any questions, please email at firstname.lastname@example.org.