My top tips for breaking the magic barrier
Quality not quantity – Don’t burn out hitting huge mileage week after week. I would average 30-40 weekly miles with the focus being on 100% quality for my tempo and long runs – 2 x grey zone workouts (Sometimes a 3rd hill workout) My other runs were easy (3-4 miles) to repair the damage and fine tune my body ready for the 2 focused sessions.
Long pacey runs – Classic advice but easy to fall short here. Start your long run’s at a pace of at least 1 min per mile slower than your goal race pace. For a 2:59 marathon which is around 6:52 min mile pace, I would start your long run’s at 8 min miling, for 10 miles. Gradually increase the pace and the distance until your closer to the 7mm mark built up to 20-23 miles, then taper.
Tempo runs– Essential to get a good quality tempo session in each week. A tempo run is working at a pace faster than your goal race pace. For a 2:59 marathon (6:52) you should be aiming to run your tempo’s well below 6:30, ideally you would execute them at 6 min miles flat. These workout’s increase your lactate threshold, enabling you to run faster for longer without fatigue. When you return to race pace you will find it easier. Classic tempo’s would be 6 miles long without rest.
Alternative tempo’s: 10 x 1k’s. Close to 3:50 per km pace. (2 min rest between sets) 6 x 1 miles. 5:45-6 min mile pace (2 min rest between sets) 800m reps – Start with 6 and build until 12. For a 3:00 marathon, run reps at 3mins, 2:55 marathon = 2mins55secs reps and so on (2 mins rest between sets)
3 week taper – During this time you will shed fatigue, fine tune, sharpen up and get your mind focused – 3 is the perfect amount. In the first week cut the distance of your long run by 50%. So if you ran 22 miles, your first long run taper is 11, but increase the pace from close to 7 min miling to 6:50’s. The following week take some distance off, I like to run 9.3miles (3 x 5k’s) again a little quicker, around 6:40’s – you should be feeling really sharp here. Continue with your easy runs and cut your tempo’s slightly. In your final week just take it easy with plenty of rest before race day.
Hills – Add the odd hill workout every now and again. Go hard up the hill and recover on the way down. Attacking the hills will improve your running efficiency on the flats. Focus on high cadence on the downhill recovery, lots of short steps to avoid injury.
Nutrition and rest – Get plenty of ‘good fats’ in your diet – fish, nuts, oil’s and my favorite avocado to provide energy to burn. Also give yourself 1 or 2 full days off each week. To maximize rest days you can double up sessions, morning and evening runs – get the training in so you can put your feet up.
Fueling – It’s impossible to fuel a full marathon so be sure to top up your glycogen stores every 30 min’s or so. Gel’s will help to keep your electrolyte levels adequate – I use GU gels (Very small and can easily carry 4) and sip water throughout. Don’t overdo the energy drinks such as lucozade, as you are already getting calories from the gels.
Mental strength – Always be positive and visualize your race, then execute and enjoy!
Through racing experience, miles in the legs, understanding your body and plenty of sacrifice and desire you will achieve this goal.