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Marathon speed session ideas

6 watchers
Jan 2015
1:44pm, 15 Jan 2015
1690 posts
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Are you sure you need to do fast speed interval type sessions? For doing a marathon could the time be better spent upping the mileage? Would more time running at marathon pace be helpful?

I ask these questions as for someone like you who is a relative low mileage runner (like I've always been), just getting more miles in *could* be helpful when training for your next marathon. Running shorter faster sessions surely increases the chances of injury, which is the last thing you'd want in a build-up to a marathon.
Jan 2015
1:56pm, 15 Jan 2015
2126 posts
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Old Man
Slickster, faster speed work is absolutely necessary for a successful marathon

As someone who coaches beginner and first time marathon runners there is a common misconception that you just need to do more and more miles at a slow pace, that just trains you to run slower and slower

You need a mix of different paced runs when marathon training

What I certainly advocate is "longer" reps or intervals, I see know benefit in doing 100 or 200m reps, you need half mile, km or mile reps
Jan 2015
1:59pm, 15 Jan 2015
2127 posts
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Old Man
"Know"? Should be no !!
Jan 2015
2:22pm, 15 Jan 2015
1691 posts
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Ok, no worries. I'm not a coach or have any qualifications, so was just passing comment on my own experience. (For those that look at my profile which only has records up to 10k, I did run 6 steady paced marathons last year)
Jan 2015
2:39pm, 15 Jan 2015
6822 posts
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I am a coaching assistant, just about to become a coach, and I'd concur with Slickster.

You don't need speed sessions for a marathon. I jettisoned *all* speed work during marathon training, and broke 10k and half mara pbs in my last few marathon training schedules. When I do speed work I get slower! I believe this is because I put in less miles because speed work causes extra stress and damage and takes longer to recover from.

Unless you have a solid aerobic base - say 10 years at 1500 miles+ a year, then you will just see improvements from improving your aerobic base - which simply means more miles - at fast, slow or medium speed. There is very strong scientific evidence to back this up. If you don't believe me check out Canute's fantastic thread on polarization training here on Fetch -, which has a whole wealth of stats, blogs, and links. 80%-90% if training is does at "easy pace".

The idea of LSRs making Long slow runners partly derives from a Sebastian Coe quote. At the top level it holds true, I'm sure if Coe had gone out and done no speed work he would have slowed. And yes if you have a solid aerobic base, then you will need speedwork to improve.

But the truth is most people here don't have a solid aerobic base and you'd benefit from building that up. NB I'm not advocating doing all your miles at one pace, please vary it, throw in some marathon pace, some tempo, some progressive runs, some fartlek, but do not feel you have to do speedwork. If you enjoy it, then do it, but please don't think there is a magic short cut to getting faster, via speedwork, if you do 50 miles a week solid for a couple of months, without injury, I guarantee you will get faster also.
Jan 2015
4:17pm, 15 Jan 2015
545 posts
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My Hal Higdon plan - and his plan worked for me last year - states that he doesn't expect any speed work. BUT I'm training on an Intermediate plan and it might be more likely to appear on more advanced schedules. Most of us want PBs though, and I imagine that means having to incorporate some intervals as Chrisull suggests. And i might just look at some local mapped targets - as Fetch suggests. Onwards.
Jan 2015
4:21pm, 15 Jan 2015
59 posts
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I attended the local coach development training session this weekend and one session was focused on marathon training. There a very experienced coach said you need a combination of endurance, steady, tempo and speed sessions but the speed needs to relate to the marathon so needs to be longer reps. Interestingly his main focus was tempo running, that he said was the key to a good marathon, obviously on top of a good endurance base. Arguably you should have base that allows you to run a good half marathon before starting marathon training. I think speed work is a confusing term. For marathon training it isn't track work but a session perhaps once a week where you run at tempo or faster for short intervals so a fartlek would tick the box as would a progressive run but you need a variety of paces to improve your marathon pace.
Jan 2015
5:22pm, 15 Jan 2015
627 posts
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Reinhold Messner
Fine, but was this coach referring to someone who barely runs 20 miles a week?
Jan 2015
2:15am, 16 Jan 2015
2129 posts
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Old Man
If you barely run 20 miles a week you shouldn't even be thinking about running a marathon!!

Chrisull, fartlek, progressive and tempo is speed work just by another name, so by your last paragraph you are advocating speed work in marathon training!!
Jan 2015
3:21pm, 16 Jan 2015
6607 posts
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Yes, I think when people say "speedwork" to them it means intervals. I agree with OM, that speedwork can encompass tempo and fartlek and even Hill work, which I tend to think are often severely overlooked by many people - to me they are a near perfect speed session, because of the reduced injury risk.

I would say you need the odd flatter intervals type session very occasionally though to work on leg turnover, but not all the time.

I also think the tempo run or an hour's hard run if you prefer is often overlooked by many as well.

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