How to Run a Faster Marathon

Focus Your Fast with Benchmarking

The PRO System approach uses a 5k test to eliminate the fuzzy math problem. No more "I think I can" seasons or dreamlining your next marathon by magically subtracting 15 minutes from your last finishing time. And just chasing faster people around a track every Tuesday is also less than ideal. Anyone can fake some really good intervals when the pressure is on, but just because you can do something doesn't mean that you should. 

By plugging your run time into the PRO System, you can benchmark your current fitness. You are generating an approximation of your marathon potential. Your time from this test yields a vDOT score as based on Daniels' Running Formula (2nd Edition) . A legendary running coach in his own right, Daniels created his running formula to generate approximate training paces for different distances as based off of single testing value.

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The critical value we want to know is your threshold pace. This is the given pace you can sustain for about a 10K (6.2 miles) up to an hour. Threshold pace is an effort you can hold for a substantial time, building fitness without triggering the need for significant recovery or impacting future workouts. Use this free calculator to generate your own vDOT score and threshold pace.

Build Your Fast, Then Add The Far

Now that we know what your threshold pace is, we can begin to add more work to your training plan. Just how much threshold work you can do depends on your current training cycle and the proximity of your next race. As a runner looking to get faster, you need to rethink your season, creating two main phases: Get Fast Phase and Go Far Phase.

More: 16 Tips for Building Speed on the Track

Getting faster happens first, as this is the truly hard work of your season. This focus can happen any time up until the last 12 weeks of your marathon training cycle. During this phase, you will do three threshold workouts during the week. Two will be done as interval runs. The third session will be your long run, which includes some threshold running at the start before you dial the pace back to a more moderate effort. The remainder of your workouts will be skill or recovery oriented.

Adding far means more stress on your body, but it's not a difficult phase. After all, countless runners simply add 10 percent more miles each week to build up their endurance. The critical difference here is that you want to hold onto your "fast" for as long as possible. You should make the switch to "add far" training when you hit the last 12 weeks of your marathon training program.

More: 13 Rules for Marathon Training

Since the primary focus of this phase is to extend your new fast pace to the full distance of the marathon, we cut your threshold intervals down to two limited workouts.

There's the regular weekday interval session (which remains basically the same as before) and the long run. During the long run, we now start with a more appropriate long run or race specific pace, then add the threshold intervals at the end to test your mental and physical strength as race day approaches.

More: Interval Training Tips for Runners

Sample Threshold Workouts:

  1. 8 x 1/2 mile repeats at Threshold Pace, each with 2' of rest after.
  2. 2 x 1 mile repeats at Threshold Pace, each with 2' of rest after.
  3. 2 x 1 mile repeats at Threshold Pace, each with 4' of rest after; then 2 x 1/2 mile repeats at Threshold Pace, each with 2' of rest after.

Sample Long Run Workouts:

  1. 6+ mile run as: 4 miles @ z1/LRP, 1 mile @ Z4 / TPace, 1 mile @ z1/LRP.
  2. 12+ mile run as: 10miles @ z1/LRP, last 2 miles at z4 / TPace.
  3. 14+ mile run as: 8 miles @ z1/LRP, then 3 x 1 miles @ Z4 / TPace. Each rep followed by 1 mile @ z1 / LRP.

Remember, being faster on race day is the result of quality training and good execution. Just going harder isn't enough; test your fitness to ensure you are doing the right training and targeting the right race day goal. Once the gun goes off it's all up to you.

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