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Rethinking speedwork

February 7, 2011

Towards the end of 2010, I was running substantially less than I would have liked. A combination of social and work commitments limited the evening running opportunities, which was topped off with a short spell with a niggling foot injury. Coming back to running over the Christmas holidays – despite having crammed in a few maintenance runs – I’d lost quite a lot of speed and my legs felt sluggish.

Knowing that the Virgin London Marathon was three and a half months away at the time, I started to pick things back up, but was determined not to over-cook the training in the same way as I had for Paris. (Essentially, in training for Paris I’d been running five or six times a week, which rapidly takes its toll on the rest of your life. In the battle for weekly training volume, I’d quickly replaced speedwork with tempo runs, and come race day I’d had good results.)

However, this time around I’ve been rethinking my approach to speedwork. My problem with including speedwork in marathon training is that it’s often based around shorter distances, such as raising your lactate threshold for 5km races or giving you an extra kick in the final leg of a 10km. Instead of opting for shorter distances, I’ve been setting myself a pacing target over a hilly mile in Finsbury Park, followed by a jogging break. So far, this seems to be paying off:

  • On 22 January I ran three target miles at between 5:55 and 6:04
  • On 29 January I ran four target miles at between 5:49 and 6:13
  • On 5 February I ran five target miles at between 5:46 and 5:56

The tricky thing about this speedwork is that I’m using Finsbury Park as a relatively traffic- and pedestrian-free stretch. The park isn’t lit at night, so I’m running these splits on a Saturday. Then, on the Sunday, like many other runners training for a spring marathon, my ubiquitous long run is scheduled.

My legs are coming back up to strength and I’m not particularly prone to injury, so this weekend cramming seems to be working so far. Part of the purpose of the long run is to get used to running on tired legs, so there is arguably a psychological advantage come race day if I’m used to covering significant distances while a bit stale.

Once more I’m taking a high-volume approach to my long runs (partly inspired by accidentally running too far a few weeks ago), and despite running the day after my high intensity session, I’m seeing improvements:

  • On 23 January I ran just under 23 miles in 3:14:06 (and a lot of pain)
  • On 30 January I ran 22 miles in 2:57:31
  • On 6 February I ran 22 miles in 2:51:32

Clearly there’s a long way to go until race day, but it feels good to see progress over the weeks. Consistency is key, and I’m going to be intrigued to see what I can manage on three or four training sessions a week.

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