One of the most challenging aspects of marathon training has to do with what makes it so effective: a repetitive weekly schedule. Balancing the competing demands of training with your regularly scheduled life means making some difficult choices regarding social activities, work, sleep and even eating. After all, long runs must integrate with tempo training, track work, hills, and other activities such as strength training. Tired yet?
All of this means creating a fixed schedule or you’d simply never get it all in. But repetition is as draining as it is effective — learning to balance the basic structure of your program with some fun and challenging workouts will ensure that your fitness continues to build while you stay sane and in the marathon training game.
Here are three great tips you can use to spice up your run training and avoid a dreaded fitness plateau or mental breakdown.
The Ladder (Long Run Alternative)
Without a doubt getting psyched up to log another….long….run is a tough part of your weekly marathon training ritual. Trade in that steady long run for a shorter, harder alternative.
Summary: Instead of running 16 miles at your steady long run pace, mix things up by including marathon race-pace specific efforts. Done in a ladder format where you alternate equal time at marathon pace with equal time of recovery, your long run will be a great workout and will be over before you know it.
- Warm up at your usual long run pace for a 1/3 of the total run distance (16 miles = about 5 miles warm up).
- Start the ladder with a 1/2 mile increment at marathon pace, followed by a 1/2 mile at your typical long run pace.
- Continue the ladder as: 1 mile / 1 mile, 1.5 miles / 1.5 miles, 1 mile / 1 mile, 1/2 mile / 1/2 mile. This puts you at 14 miles total.
- You can totally stop here or cool down for a bit longer if you’d like to. Nice work!
- Note: You can do the intervals by time or distance, depending on how you train.
The Social Butterfly (Tempo Run Alternative)
I enjoy this workout because it really forces me to be aware of both my body and the other runners around me. Like the ladder workout above, this takes the pressure off me to manage my own workout and also distracts me by placing emphasis on my environment.
Summary: Instead of your usual tempo run with intervals, do a fartlek workout. After a good warm up, you will run varying paces based on the runners around you. You go to the next step in the cycle whether you pass someone or you are passed. Repeat until you need a rest or you are done.
- Warm up for about 15 minutes, be sure to include a few 30-second pickups at a good pace so you are ready. Then begin.
- Step One: Run at 10K pace/effort until your first runner, then return to easy jog until your next runner.
- Step Two: Run at 5K pace/effort until the next runner, then return to easy jog until your next runner.
- Step Three: Run at half marathon pace/effort until the next runner, then return to easy jog until your next runner.
- Repeat as necessary; feel free to mix up the paces too.
- Note: It’s best to do this workout in a pretty populated area; if you can't use runners you can use cars (really remote), trucks (semi-remote), or stationary objects like mailboxes or trees, etc.
The Explorer (Fun Run)
This is a great workout because it really gets you out of your routine and encourages some forethought and planning. Besides, you cancome up with a really great workout on your own.
Summary: Trade in any of your runs for this fun session. This requires some planning and memory. Get online and do a search for a franchise of stores; any will do although something like Starbucks (or Dunkin Donuts here in New England) works really well. Then map out a loop run where you can check off as many locations as possible for your goal duration. Don’t pay attention to terrain or if you know the route already, just map and go.
Note: If you pick a popular chain, someone will be able to point you to the next one pretty easily. If you have a smart phone you can have location map there as a reference too, but remember the whole point is the adventure!