The minute you cross the marathon finish line, you are most likely consumed with a mixture of emotion and relief. You did it! After months of training, you put together a solid race and made it all the way to the finish line. As you struggle to get your chip off, pick up your medal, get changed and find your family, there's one consistent and nagging thought that hits almost every finisher.
It's the one thing that keeps us coming back to the 26.2-mile challenge. It's the knowledge that we can always be faster. It's not just competitive runners; it's part of the human condition. The good news is, you're right -- you can be faster. In this article, we'll cover the Principle of Specificity and give you insider tips on how to lay the foundation for a faster future marathon.
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There are essentially two ways to improve your marathon time: get faster or race faster.
Racing faster, or race execution, is a critical part of anyone's marathon toolkit. In fact, it's really a topic unto itself. We've already talked about execution a little bit over here in terms of how it relates to the PRO System, but know the right plan can help any runner -- regardless of fitness or ability level -- run to their potential on race day. Just because you are a beginner doesn't mean you have to race like one.
So how does one actually get faster? It's a lot simpler than you might think... but nobody said it was easy.
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The Fuzzy Math Problem
Most runners plan for a faster marathon by reverse engineering their desired race day performance into a long run training pace. Someone looking to go from a 3:45 to a 3:30 marathon will do the math to figure that they need to run about an 8 min/mile pace on race day. Suddenly 8-minute miles becomes an internal benchmark for every run: How was my 5-mile loop today? Can I do the hilly Thursday run at 8:00 pace? What about my recovery runs?
As these folks move into more race specific training, they begin to pay closer attention to the overall pace of their longer runs. How close is it to 8-minute miles? Should I run a bit faster than in training? Is a long run at 8:15 just as good?
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This simple approach overlooks the significant difference between a 5-miler and a 20-miler both done at 8:00 pace. And let's not forget the lack of a strategic build up of effort and duration could lead to some misplaced race-day expectations.
Run Faster to Get Faster
There are lots of articles and opinions around critical workouts that make people faster. Some are good; others are purely science fiction. At the end of the day, we know one thing for certain: you have to run faster to get faster. No amount of running 10-minute miles will make you better at running 9-minute miles on race day.
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Of course, easier training runs done at a 10 minute/mile pace might be a part of your regimen, but they don't constitute the bulk of the work you do to prepare for race day. But not just any old fast will do. Left to their own devices, most runners will overachieve in the fast department and dig holes that could impact subsequent runs and even potentially result in injury.
More: Speed Without Injury - The ChiRunning Method