The marathon is one of the most grueling endurance events; it's a 42-kilometer test of a runner's ability to suffer in a way that's largely unparalleled in the world of sport. Aerobic-based strength is the key to proper marathon preparation.
The marathon is an event that is more than 95 percent aerobic, and most runners—including some of the very best—spend the overwhelming majority of their training in that critical under-88-percent-of-max-heart-rate zone by piling on healthy relaxed-to-moderate mileage in the weeks and months leading up to race day.
Despite the marathon's demand for a powerful aerobic engine, races that accentuate VO2 max stimulus and anaerobic threshold development, namely 5K and 10K races, will not only spice up some of the monotonous nature of your marathon build-up, but they will also make you a better marathoner.
What the 10K Teaches You About Racing
There is a distinct difference between running a race and racing a race. The former is about completing, the latter about engagement. 5K and 10K races allow runners, particularly ones who are focused primarily on longer distances such as the half and full marathons, to practice different strategic approaches to racing over a distance that won't tear your body up. Including 10K races as part of your marathon preparation will give you competitive tools that most toe the 26.2-mile start line without.
The marathon can be viewed by some competitors as a 20-mile sustained effort followed by a 10K death march. This Darwinian view is a reflection of the ill-conceived notion that actually racing the final 10K of a marathon is less than likely for all but an elite handful. Entering the final quarter of a marathon ready to execute your quickest portion is possible, but it involves a subtle yet uncomplicated combination of training and race planning.