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Posted: June 9, 2009
If you're like most people, when you first set your sights on the marathon you had only one goal in mind: finishing. As time went on, however, both your fitness level and your confidence increased, leading to thoughts of numbers. Numbers of miles, numbers of minutes and wondering how to complete more of the former in less of the latter. In short, you’re no longer interested in merely finishing – you want to finish before that time clock hits x-amount of time! But how to make it happen?
There are three key workouts that will help make you the strongest runner you can be when you approach that starting line: marathon goal pace (MGP) running, steady state running and tempo running. Though the defining line can sometimes seem blurry, each workout has it’s own nuances and objectives which will be become clear with experience.
MARATHON GOAL PACE:
An MGP workout just makes sense. Once you have a time goal and have figured out the pace that you will have to run to achieve it, shouldn’t you spend training time practicing that pace? It allows you to get accustomed to the feel, to establish a rhythm that, with enough repetition, will be familiar and comfortable on race day. An MPG workout should, of course, be run at your goal pace, give or take a few seconds. It is best to do this at the tail end of a long run, during the last 4-6 miles of an 18-miler, for example, as it will teach you to establish and hold this effort at the most crucial point – when you’re tired!
A steady state run is a stamina workout, which means that it’s all about maintaining a specific level of effort for a specific amount of time. Stamina workouts are essential for increasing your lactate-threshold pace, which leads directly into faster racing, but you want to avoid running too fast – the difficulty in a steady state run should come from duration, not from oxygen shortages! Try to focus more on effort than on time, and aim to run at 70-80% of your maximum heart rate. Begin with a warm up and keep your first steady state fairly short – perhaps 25-30 minutes – and eventually try to progress to an hour of sustained, “comfortably hard” effort.
A tempo run is similar to a steady state – it is also a stamina workout – but is run with a harder effort for a shorter amount of time. You should also warm up before beginning a tempo run, then aim to run your tempo at 80-90% of your maximum heart rate. A tempo will feel difficult and possibly uncomfortable, but the intensity should be sustainable for 2-4 miles, or 15-30 minutes.
Even more important than improving your finishing time, the physical and mental strength that you’ll gain from incorporating these workouts will help you approach the starting line with more confidence than you’d thought possible. Your goal pace will be familiar, your effort will be steady and you will have no doubt that you are fully prepared not just to finish, but to finish strong!
To help determine your goal pace for the marathon, or any other distance, check out the McMillan Running Calculator at http://www.mcmillanrunning.com/mcmillanrunningcalculator.htm