Slow and steady may get you across the finish line, but if you’re looking to shave time off your next marathon or build up your aerobic capacity and endurance, speed work can be a smart addition to your marathon training plan. Speed training can help improve your use of oxygen, improve your running economy and can even make your regular marathon pace feel easier by comparison. Here are some easy speed training techniques to try:
- Run a few 5Ks and find your pace: Before you start any speed or sprint training, it’s a good idea to run a few shorter races so you know your typical, quicker pace. Use this as a benchmark in other parts of your speed training (read on).
- Try a tempo run: Your tempo is the pace you can comfortably run for about an hour. Try a warm-up run for 10 minutes, then increase your speed for 20 minutes (maybe try hitting your 5K pace here), then cool down at a slower pace again for 10 minutes.
- Sprint and repeat: Probably the most traditional recommendation for speed training is to do multiple short distances at quick paces, in a series. Again, use your benchmark 5K (or even a 3K) pace. Experts recommend:
- You may also want to mix in 1 x 800m, at a pace faster than your marathon run (but short of a sprint). This method may more closely mimic the conditions of your actual marathon.
- Turn a distance run into interval training: On one of your regular, but shorter training runs, find opportunities to do a few sprints. Pick an object in the (near) distance, like a stop sign or a tree, and sprint to it as fast as you can. Walk or jog for a minute, then repeat.
- Try hill sprints: Sprint to the top of a hill, then walk or jog down to recover. Repeat.
If you are a regular marathon runner, just remember:
Speed train sparingly: Incorporate speed work just 1-2 times a week. Running at a faster pace uses muscles differently, so after speed training, marathon runners may experience increased fatigue, requiring more days for recovery, or worse, overuse injuries.
Watch your form: If you’re not used to sprinting, it can be easy to lose your form, again, increasing your risk of injury. Make sure you maintain your form at every pace.
Many marathoners report that adding speed training has indeed helped them improve their marathon time, showing that when it comes to going 26.2, it’s a good idea to channel the tortoise and the hare.