One of the four critical pillars of marathon training is a skill run. Try adding this workout to your training routine:
Strides: The Skill Solution
You might already be in a training program, or maybe you are just looking for a little help. Regardless, don't let all of the above get you down -- all is not lost. You can maintain great run form even during the onslaught of miles of the typical marathon build up cycle by placing emphasis on proper running form by adding Strides both to your weekly routine but also at the end of your longer, slower runs.
The Stride Workout: Once or twice each week go to a grassy park or other soft-surface area. Find a straight area that is flat to slightly downhill. Run at faster than 5K race pace for 30 right-foot steps. Your time for 30 steps should be 18 to 20 seconds. Walk back to the start point after each one. Do five to eight stride repeats in a single session.
What Do Strides Do For You?
1. Strides Improve Your Cadence (aka Turnover): One of the first casualties to marathon training is our stride. A longer, inefficient stride means more heel striking and less speed. Strides force you to focus your foot speed at the end of long run (or just when tired), helping you to stimulate those run-faster muscles.
2. Strides Let You Run Faster More Frequently: So many times we look to intervals or track work as the means of attaining speed. But within a marathon program you are typically working hard enough already. Instead of adding more work, doing strides will allow you to do some fast twitch muscle training without deepening the fatigue you are experiencing.
How to Add Strides to Your Program
There are a few easy ways to make sure you get the maximum benefit from strides, regardless of your training program. As with any advice, start slowly and see what works for you. Only you will know the difference; that said give strides about a four-week try to see if the benefits really show up for you.
First, be sure to wrap up any long run with at least five stride repeats. Yes, this means even that two hour, 45 minute slog fest. In fact that's when it's most critical to end the run with a fast and light feeling.
Second, make one of your lighter runs focused entirely on strides. Run to warm up for about 15 minutes, do your strides, then run mindfully home for a high-quality run of about 45 minutes.
Third, consider making strides part of your warm up routine for your interval or track session.
Summary: Not All Runs Are Created Equal
Most marathoners simply run. They lace up their shoes, pick a distance and go there and back. They focus on mileage and count all time spent training as one lump sum. Regardless of your race day goals, staying healthy and running well are two critical components of any successful marathon training campaign. Best of luck to you in your training and share your "strides" experience!