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Virgin London Marathon training: Week 2

January 15, 2012
Runners starting their mile race at the Iffley Road track

The timed mile races at Iffley Road track in Oxford in the summer of 2011

This week the temperature has dropped from the unseasonably mild to the seasonably frosty. Even so, I’ve not yet had to resort to leggings or running tights, much as I might have wanted to be wrapped up warm while standing on the pavement outside work waiting for my Garmin to catch a GPS signal.

Since I’m not aiming for specific weekly cumulative distances, there is an argument to say that I should just get on with running and let the satellite signal sort itself out a few minutes down the road. However, I’ve started to pay a bit more attention to mile splits and what they tell me about the different stages of a run.

There are a few common mistakes that I think people make in marathon training:

  • Not running fast enough (i.e. not pushing the tempo and threshold runs)
  • Not allowing sufficient recovery time
  • Training with gels too early

It’s the first of these bullet points that has caught my attention this week. My week consisted of five running days, two of which were a plain commuter runs, one was a speedwork session combined with a commuter run, one was a threshold run and the other was a paced long run. Consequently, this means that I should be showing a range of different paced mile splits in my Garmin records.

Let’s take the commuter runs first. These are typically through rush hour in central London with a day’s worth of clothing and lunch or a 600-page novel tucked into my backpack. They’re not exactly optimal for speed. The average mile tends to be around 7:30 or 7:40. They make good recovery runs, but if it weren’t for the fact that they serve as transportation to and from work they could be easily written off as training junk. (However, I find that running at a slower pace and with a heavier load makes me focus more on my footfall, so they’re not without benefit.)

Thursday’s speedwork session was a first for me. I’d decided two things: firstly, it would be in central London to make getting home simple and to get the most out of fresh legs, secondly that I couldn’t be bothered to go back to the office to pick up my stuff afterwards, so I’d just do the speed session with my backpack on. I opted for four sets of three minutes hard followed by one minute recovery along Embankment.

I pushed the first couple too hard, which meant I didn’t get the same pace from the third and fourth repeats, so I’ve got something to work at next time. However, my first mile during the speedwork was in a split of 5:20. For comparison, in the summer I ran a 5:15 mile at the Iffley Road track in Oxford during a race. Consequently I felt the burn in my legs running home afterwards, but the speedwork helped me to limber up and run a fair amount faster than most other commuter runs.

Then we come to Friday’s threshold run, taking the same format as the previous week’s run (run from work to Regent’s Park, two laps round the park, run back to work – a total of 8.5 miles). This time I shaved nearly a minute off last week’s run, and including the slower miles to and from the park (dodging pedestrians, road crossings, etc.) my average mile split was 6:22. The miles around the park were covered in 6:07, 6:12, 6:04, 6:08, 6:14 and 6:01. This is a little slower than my 10k pb pace (still 37:59 from 2010), but a promising training run.

Mile splits from my 19-mile paced run

Broadly consistent splits until the war of attrition starts around mile 14 (note mile 19 was hampered by waiting at traffic lights to cross a road)

And then we come to Saturday’s paced long run. This year I’m alternating between hilly runs for a set time and flat runs of a set distance with a target pace. My long run target pace is 7:00 per mile, but generally aiming to run comfortably and consistently. This week I ran 19 miles (I’d intended to run 18, but hadn’t bothered to measure the extension to my route before setting off) along the canal paths of the Lee Valley.

I’m trying to avoid building a dependence on carb gels over long distances, so ran without water or energy snacks. Once off the roads and on to the canal paths I was hitting a comfortable stride and clocking off miles in around 6:40. Around mile 7 (I believe there was a runner in front of me who I wanted to overtake – these things keep me amused while I’m running) I knocked off a 6:28 mile. However, with various fiddly turns to get back on to the canal path and steep slopes around locks to navigate, mile 14 fell back to a 7:00 split, which I (over)compensated for with a 6:37 mile 15, for which I paid a 7:04 price until I knocked out mile 16 in 6:51… I’m sure many runners recognise the pattern of this war of attrition with mile splits.

In the end, despite having to wait an age to cross the A10 in my last mile, I finished the 19-mile run in 2:10 and an average mile split of 6:50. I’m happy with that and by and large I felt strong, but I need to try to avoid pushing the pace up until I’m at least halfway through. There’s some work to do on the mental toughness required for the last few miles of a long solo run, but that will come with time.

And so we come back to the point of all this: people often don’t run their marathon training runs fast enough. Granted, my paced long run approach isn’t directly comparable to a long slow run pace, but it is telling that the fastest split on my steady run is 14 seconds a mile slower than the slowest split in my threshold run. So what does this mean? To a small extent, my long run was a little too fast (more consistent pacing needed), but to a greater extent my threshold run should be faster.

This week consisted of 56 miles in total, with three solid hard runs. I’m feeling good and positive about my training, but ideally should avoid stacking the hard runs in consecutive days like I managed this week. Either way, with a timed long run due next week, Friday should hopefully be the perfect opportunity to try to push the threshold run harder.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. January 26, 2012 10:09 am

    Great post – I am also guilty of not running my tempo runs fast enough. I think it’s just too easy to slip from the mindset of ‘tempo’ to ‘steady’, especially when you are trying to sustain it over 5-6 miles. I’ve just done a few weeks of shorter, faster interval sessions, just to try and remind myself of what running fast feels like. Hopefully the next few tempo runs will benefit!

    • January 26, 2012 1:16 pm

      I find it’s easy to get hung up on certain paces. A couple of years ago I was trying to break 40 minutes for the 10k, so focused on running at 4-minute kilometres or 6:26 miles in order to get the pace right. I got under the 40 minutes mark, and have been under by a couple of minutes since, but even now in training I tend to get hung up on those split times.

      So, when I see a 6:26 or so split now I’m trying not to think ‘Phew, that’s fast, can I keep it up in training?’ and trying to focus on the fact that I’m feeling good and that I could probably run a bit faster. Seems to be working so far…

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