Thu, 8 Dec. 2011 - 5:32 p.m. MT
Credit: ARA Staff - American Running Association
There is a strategy in marathoning known as the “10-10-10”: Take the first ten miles of your race slower than you feel ready for, ramp into miles 10 through 20 aggressively, and push through the last 10K, fighting inevitable exhaustion for a strong finish that leaves nothing in your reserves. This race partitioning strategy relies upon taking the challenges on race day in fathomable chunks and is also rather a good thing to keep in mind in the months prior. The fact is that training for a marathon is a lot like the process of running it.
If you’re planning to run your first marathon, or are attempting to get back in the game after time away from long distance running, it may be beneficial to state the obvious: One of the best things you can do before beginning training is to make reasonable expectations for yourself. In essence, a realistic marathon time goal should be based upon how much you are willing and able to train for it, how experienced you are with the distance, and what your fitness level is going in. Then, by slowly building your mileage up just as you increase the intensity of your pace over the course of the race itself, you can hope to arrive at the starting line fresh, focused, and thoroughly prepared for a stellar experience. This strategy’s effectiveness is contingent upon listening to your body and being realistic about where your present fitness level lies. Do not pick an arbitrary time goal first, and then try to accommodate it with training that may be beyond your means. This is a sure-fire path to injury, and possibly lasting discouragement.
Five Training Variables
When deciding on a training level, consider the five variables that shift in intensity from training tier to training tier:
Among the questions requiring honest answers are: How many weekly miles have you averaged in the last six months? How many days per week can you manage to train, given other commitments? What is the current length of your long run? Being honest with yourself now will save you a lot of heartache later.
A basic marathon training level commitment might look something like this:
Determining Goal Time
You can use a recent half-marathon race time to help determine your marathon goal time. The rule of thumb is to double the time it took you to run the half, and add 13 to 22 minutes (This range for added minutes works well for those with a basic training commitment. Elite athletes on the other end of the spectrum, who may well be running up to 100 miles per week, might add as little as 5 to 10 minutes.) The low end of the added minutes range is for a more challenging half-marathon course, or weather conditions, than you will face in your marathon. Use the high end of the range if your marathon will be more challenging in these areas, or if you were better trained at the time of the half-marathon than you expect to be now.
While the ideal marathon training period is about 18 weeks, you really spend only half of this time running at the upper end of your weekly mileage. The process is gradual. The goal is to keep you injury-free and otherwise ready for whatever is on the training schedule on a given day. You should never feel overwhelmed by a scheduled workout. Developing your confidence is as crucial a training goal as any objective time goal. This mental and physical pacing of the training schedule over 18 weeks exactly mirrors the mental and physical pacing you’ll use in the marathon itself.
A Marathon in Three Acts
Once you’ve established a goal time, calculate your goal per mile pace. Running well in a marathon means staying patient and well within your ability in the early miles, then gradually pushing the pace until you are running at the edge of your potential in the latter stages of the race. Starting cautiously and conservatively, naturally unfold your steady-state pace and maintain it. Eventually summon your courage and mental determination to hold this pace through the finish.
One variation of the 10-10-10 strategy is the Six Mile Cutdown. It is an excellent way to achieve and hold your desired marathon pace by neither overshooting it too early or waiting too far into the race to get there. In the Six Mile Cutdown, you spend six (instead of 10) miles ramping up to your marathon pace, and remain there for the next 20 miles. The advantage to starting slowly and easing into your goal pace is no secret to marathoners the world over. Variations on this theme occur in coaching manuals, training schedules, and racing how-to books again and again. They tend to be similarly effective, but to be sure, whatever their differences, they all have one thing in common: some portion of the early race miles is run at a pace slower than the marathon goal pace.
In the Six Mile Cutdown, you run the first two miles each :30 slower than your goal per mile pace; miles 3 and 4 are each run :20 slower than goal pace; and miles 5 and 6 are slower than goal pace by :10 each. In the aggregate, this six-mile chunk is only two minutes slower than any other six-mile chunk of the race. And yet the benefits abound. This strategy:
Racing this way allows you to find your goal pace comfortably and with the least risk of injury. Marathon racing is served well by being physically and mentally relaxed, focused and in the present moment. The Six Mile Cutdown—or countless variations—brings you to this state smoothly and readily.
In another issue we’ll look specifically at training schedules and the various intensities associated with certain days of the running week. Properly ramping up your training until you are strong and fit and then backing off in the final two weeks to be sure you’re well rested means discovering the delicate balance between pushing oneself and knowing when to listen to your body’s demands for recovery.
(Mar. & Beyond, 2006, Vol. 10, No. 5, pp. 41-56; Daniels’ Running Formula by Jack Daniels, 1998, Human Kinetics, Champaign, IL, pp. 104-112, 266-278)
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