The marathon is an attractive goal for hundreds of thousands of runners every year. The sheer length of the race requires months (sometimes years) of preparation and smart training.
But too many runners focus on a weekly tempo and long run as their only tough workouts before their marathon. These types of workouts can provide a good backbone to your training, but they don't provide the race specificity that's crucial to you doing well in the marathon.
So what do you need to improve your training and make it more specific to the demands of a 26.2-mile race? There are two important principles to understand as you plan your marathon workouts.
All marathoners need to run a good portion of their overall mileage at their goal marathon pace to dial in this effort so it's second nature. The benefit of running many MP miles—aside from the aerobic- or endurance-building component of this pace—is that it's slower than tempo pace and therefore is less damaging to your muscles. Because of this, you can do more mileage at marathon pace than you can at faster speeds.
Let's take a hypothetical runner whose goal is to run a 3:45 marathon—or 8:35 per-mile pace. If this runner is running 40 miles per week at the peak of her training, she could do up to 20 to 25 percent of her total volume at marathon pace—or 8 to 10 miles of marathon-pace running. Alternatively, if she was doing intervals at 5K pace and a tempo run, she should not do more than about 15 percent of her volume at these increased intensities.
A workout staple that this hypothetical marathoner could run is a marathon simulation run of 10 miles at marathon pace, with 2 to 3 easy miles to warm up. This workout is super specific to the demands of 26.2 miles and will help improve her marathon recovery after the race.
Pre-Fatigued Race Pace
Another important consideration that runners should remember and try to implement in their training is running race pace in a "pre-fatigued" state. A pre-fatigued workout simply means that you run a longer warm-up than usual, so you start the workout tired.
Experienced marathoners know that the marathon really starts at mile 20, the point where runners hope they don't hit the wall and run out of fuel. Any marathoner who's bonked knows how difficult those last few miles can be!