Marathoners run their best when they run within one to two percent of their goal pace per mile. For a three-hour marathoner, that means never varying more than four to eight seconds per mile on a flat course. For a four-hour marathoner, that means not varying more than six to 12 seconds per mile.
Enter shorter races. Running fast in shorter races and running repeats faster than race pace help raise your anaerobic threshold to the point at which your muscles fatigue at a rapid rate. Fast repeats also allow you to build up a psychological tolerance to discomfort and make your slower race pace seem relatively comfortable in longer distances.
Taper. Before you race, give your body a chance to recover from hard training. A recent study showed that seven days of tapered running improved running economy by six percent, which led to improved performance. Do a session of repeats at race pace (or slightly faster) early in the week prior to the race. Just reduce the total number of repeats in the workout. And replace long runs with easy recovery runs.
Pick your races carefully. A flat course can help your race times. Course profiles can give you an idea of relative difficulty at a glance. A profile resembling the Dow Jones average, while challenging, means your time will be slower. Check the average temperature for races you're considering. Your performance will suffer whenever the temperature rises above the mid-60s.
Be realistic. No amount of training will make you an Olympic medalist if you lack the genetic gifts. Studies show, however, that with effort, everyone can improve what he or she has been given genetically, regardless of age, gender or race. Olympic champions and world record holders may have better shoe contracts than you do, but you can enjoy the same personal satisfaction that comes with knowing you did your best.
Ed Keystone is a member of the U.S. Olympic Marathon team in 1988 and 1992