Sunday 13 August 2023

Marathon Training: The Art of the Slow Run

Justin Ferguson during his Boston Qualifying run
Mid-race during my Boston Qualifying run

By: Justin Ferguson

When it comes to marathon training, advice abounds, and every seasoned runner seems to have their own secret formula for success. However, there's one piece of wisdom that stands out among the rest - the importance of slow, deliberate long runs. It might sound counterintuitive, but slowing down your pace during long training runs can be the key to unlocking your best race day performance.

Here are some elements to consider:

1. The Tortoise's Approach to Long Runs

In the whirlwind of excitement surrounding marathon training, the temptation to push your pace on every run can be irresistible. But seasoned athletes know better. Long runs, those backbone workouts that build both physical and mental endurance, are meant to be slow. A general rule of thumb? Run about a minute and a half slower per mile or about 1 minute per KM than your target race pace. This might feel like taking two steps back, but it's actually a giant leap forward in terms of preparing your body for the demands of a marathon.

2. Kipchoge's Wisdom: Slow and Steady Wins the Training

Even the legendary marathoner Eliud Kipchoge, often hailed as one of the greatest runners of all time, adheres to the principle of slow-paced training runs. He reserves his speed runs for a specific part of his training regimen and maintains a slower pace for the majority of his runs. This method allows his body to recover, adapt, and build the necessary endurance for the race day challenge.

3. Race Day: Trust Your Training

When race day arrives, it's natural to feel jittery and anxious about your pace. But rest assured, if you've been consistent with your slower long runs during training, you're setting yourself up for success. The energy and excitement of race day, coupled with the adrenaline of competition and the support of fellow runners, often lead to a faster pace than you might expect.

4. Tempo Runs: A Glimpse of Race Pace

While long runs should be slow, there's a place in your training for some faster-paced workouts. Enter the tempo run, a training technique where you run at a pace just below your race pace. These workouts help your body become familiar with the sensation of running faster and can bridge the gap between your slow long runs and your target race pace.

5. Embrace Variety in Speed Workouts

Variety is the spice of life, and it's no different in marathon training. Once a week, incorporate a speed workout into your routine. Mix things up with ladders, fartleks, intervals, and tempo runs. This not only prevents monotony but also challenges different aspects of your running abilities, making you a well-rounded and adaptable athlete.

6. The Unpredictability of Running

Remember, every day is a new opportunity to learn and grow as a runner. Sometimes your best runs come from the days when you didn't feel like stepping out the door, while occasionally, even on days you're excited to run, things might not go as planned. Embrace the unpredictability and acknowledge that each run contributes to your overall progress.

7. Accepting Setbacks and Learning

Not every run will be a triumph, and that's okay. There will be days when you can't finish a run or when you need a helping hand to make it back home. These moments teach us resilience, and the importance of listening to our bodies. Every setback is a chance to reevaluate, adjust, and come back even stronger. I remember a particular long run, I had done everything right in preparation, but I couldn’t finish it.  I was 5 weeks out from a race and was heartbroken, but I didn’t stay down for too long. I got back out there, kept my training going and crushed my personal best at the race.  

Marathon training is a journey that demands patience, discipline, and a willingness to challenge your preconceived notions about pacing. By incorporating slow long runs, following the footsteps of running legends like Kipchoge, and adding a touch of speed work to your training, you're setting yourself up for a successful race day. Embrace the variability of running, learn from setbacks, and above all, enjoy the process of becoming a better runner with every stride.

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