One of the most common and critical marathon-training mistakes is not including hard, marathon-specific long runs in your training schedule.
When examining the training plans of most marathoners who have plateaued, I have almost universally found a reliance on easy, time-on-your-feet long runs rather than aggressive, energy-specific efforts that challenge the physiological systems you'll rely on for race day.
Over the course of the final 12 weeks of training, some schedules have as many as six or seven easy 16- to 20-mile long runs. Not only do these runs provide limited aerobic benefits, but they don't target the specific demands of the marathon race—learning to run fast when tired and teaching your body to burn fat as a fuel source at marathon pace.
In this article, we'll cover why these two elements of marathon training are so critical and provide some specific long-run workouts you can implement to help you break through your marathon plateau.
Learn to Run Fast While Tired
It should come as no surprise that in the latter miles of a marathon, your legs and body are going to feel very tired. As such, maintaining marathon pace is going to become exponentially harder with each passing mile. This means you need to learn how to maintain marathon pace and push yourself when the fatigue sets in.
Easy long runs never prepare you for this specific point in the race. You run easy and when you get tired, you simply keep it easy or even slow down. Doing this is fine for overall aerobic development, but if you haven't trained yourself to push through this fatigue in training, both physically and mentally, I can virtually guarantee you're not going to be able to push past it on race day.
As such, you need to put yourself in the situation where your legs are tired, you're low on glycogen, and you just want to quit. Once you've reached this point in training you can start to learn how to push through it.
Here's how to train your body to push past fatigue:
Beginner Fast-Finish Long Run
A fast-finish long run requires you to run an easy pace up until about three-quarters of your intended distance. At three-quarters, you pick up the pace to slightly faster than marathon pace for 3 to 4 miles, and then slow back down for the remaining distance.
An 18-mile fast-finish long run might look something like this on your training schedule: 18-mile long run with miles 13 to 16 (4 miles) at marathon pace.
The execution of the workout would look like this:
- Run miles 1 to 13 at your normal, easy run pace. Don't push too hard, too early—this is a tough run.
- Starting at mile 13, pick up the effort until you're running at marathon pace. In this example, you would be running miles 13, 14, 15 and 16 at your marathon pace.
- The final 2 miles, miles 17 and 18 in this example, are run at your normal, easy pace. It's sort of like a cool down, but you're still maintaining a good pace and you don't stop unless you absolutely need to.