Many questions surround the two main components of the sport of running: endurance and speed. This is particularly the case when designing a training program meant for a specific distance. Will more endurance work reduce speed? Should a training week have more speed or endurance work? Should a long run come at the start or at the end of the week? What kinds of speed workouts are important in a marathon training program? When is the right time to begin doing speed workouts? What are the ideal long run distances to do? The list of questions could be endless.
But what is clear is that endurance and speed are the two main qualities necessary to win in any race from the 1500m through the marathon and all the way up to ultra-marathon distances—and getting the perfect ratio of the two elements at any given distance is the key. A 1500m runner will need more speed and less endurance compared to a marathon runner, and vice versa. Perhaps we could roughly put the necessary ratio of speed to endurance this way:
- A middle distance runner will need a ratio of 3:2.
- A long distance track runner will need 3:3.
- A marathon runner will need 2:3.
Applying the ideal ratio to a training program will depend on the intended result. If the focus of the runner is to run a marathon, then more of the training time will go towards building more endurance compared to what it would have been for running a 5K race.Applying the ideal ratio to a training program will depend on the intended result, says @kenyanathlete. Click To Tweet
Stages, Distances, and Surfaces
The pattern of training will be almost the same for the different distances, starting from gradually building the runner’s aerobic capacity before going into the more demanding anaerobic and speed workouts. The significant difference here will be in the volume of the weekly mileage and in the spacing of different runs in a week.
For a runner who has been out of training for a while, or who is new to running, the first two to three weeks of beginning training are often the toughest. It is like beginning to roll a large tire: once it starts to move, it gets easier to keep rolling.
I have worked with runners who started their training by shifting between jogging and walking before they were able to complete a continuous easy run of 30 minutes. Aiming to run/walk for about 40 minutes in a day, three times in a week can be a good start. As the body adapts to running, the number of runs and duration can be increased gradually according to how the runner responds to training.Aiming to run/walk for about 40 minutes in a day, three times in a week can be a good start, says @kenyanathlete. Click To Tweet
From there, it will require a lot of patience as it will take time (in some cases even years) for some to be able to run their first marathons.
One good thing about running is that you can start tackling the shorter and less demanding distances like the 2K, the 5K, and the 10K as you keep building fitness and confidence, until you or your athletes are eventually able to run the half and the full marathon distances.
Coaching is an art that is dynamically changing with advancements in science and technology, and through learning from real experiences of other runners across the world. That is why world records keep getting broken every year.
Some years back, it was common to have coaches advising their runners not to specialize in more than two distances. If you ran in the 400m, you were not allowed to train for and run the 800m. You had to choose on becoming a sprinter (200m, 400m), a middle distance runner (800m, 1500m), or a long distance runner (5000m and 10000m). Road runners fell in a separate group altogether—in fact, it was sometimes argued that a road runner would never be able to be competitive again on a track.Some years back, it was common to have coaches advising their runners not to specialize in more than two distances, says @kenyanathlete. Click To Tweet
I have seen runners progress from the 1500m to the 5,000m and longer on the track and then transition to the road, but I have never seen a runner who has been running on the road come back to do the 5000m on track. A famous coach once told me this after learning that I had run in a 10K road race before as I was seeking to join his group of middle-distance track runners for a speed work session. The same coach must have now seen runners like Mo Farah and Geoffrey Kamworor crossing all the distances and surfaces from the 5000m on track, to the marathon, and back onto the track again.
Of late, a number of runners are beginning to increase their scope from running the 1500m on track up to the half marathon on the road. Examples are Netherland’s Sifan Hassan and Kenya’s Hellen Obiri, the reigning world 5000m champion who just made her half marathon debut by running 1:04:51 at the Istanbul Half Marathon on April 4th—the fastest debut in history. Interestingly, she will be moving back to the track to specialize in the 5,000m and 10,000m distances going into the Tokyo Olympic Games in July.
Developing Endurance for the Marathon
Always start by building an endurance base that will increase your aerobic capacity. Increase your mileage gradually on a weekly basis. The best way to go about this will be to start with the number of runs in a week before concentrating on the distances.Always start by building an endurance base that will increase your aerobic capacity, says @kenyanathlete. Click To Tweet
With the runners I coach, I often start by basing their training on the duration of their runs rather than on the distance they should cover in their first days of training. Once they get used to 50-minute morning runs they can proceed to 1-hour runs, continuing that way until days when they can alternate 1-hour-40-minute runs with 1-hour runs.
After about a month, when the athletes begin to feel comfortable with their running, we move on to some long runs once in two weeks. At the same time, we introduce double runs on some days to help add up the weekly mileage.
The long runs would range mostly between 25km to 35km, and they are introduced to runners in that order. They start with the shorter of the long runs as they build both their confidence and endurance before moving on to the longer distances.
Competitive marathon runners should cover around 120km in their weekly mileage. Out of my personal experience, I have come to learn that it doesn’t matter whether a long run begins or ends the week—what matters in the end is the weekly mileage.Competitive marathon runners should cover around 120km in their weekly mileage, says @kenyanathlete. Click To Tweet
These first stages of training are heavily targeting the aerobic element, which works on the body’s mechanisms that produce energy with the use of oxygen. It helps in building more endurance and in strengthening the cardiovascular and the respiratory systems. The intended result is a stronger heart and more efficient lungs.
Strength and Anaerobic Training
After building greater endurance, speed and strength training should easily fall in place with a significant reduction in injury risks associated with the harder and faster training. Starting speed training before building a strong endurance base will put runners at greater risk for injures.Starting speed training before building a strong endurance base will put runners at greater risk for injures, says @kenyanathlete. Click To Tweet
Anaerobic means “without air” and refers to training the body to produce energy without oxygen. This applies to exercises at a higher intensity that last less than two minutes, where the body requires immediate energy. The body will rely on stored energy sources rather than oxygen to fuel itself, which includes breaking down glucose.
This will be a time to start hill workouts, fartlek runs, tempo runs, and track intervals.
There are so many ways and ideas to vary hill workouts, but given that the end result of all the variables is to strengthen the leg muscles, quicken strides, and expand the stride length, I often recommend a simple one for my runners:
- Find a slope of about 300–400m.
- Run up moderately and jog down slowly as recovery.
- Perform continuously for 35 to 40 minutes.
Fartlek runs are a perfect way to begin introducing speed workouts. This will be more of a continuous run, but with alerts to push hard and to jog along the way. It is a good idea to start doing a number of fartlek runs before beginning to do interval runs on the track. These runs can be varied according to the stages of training. There are times that runners can run longer and jog less (such as five minutes hard and two minutes jogging), and days where the ratios are more even (such as two minutes hard and two minutes jogging). All will depend on the context of a training week as a whole.
Tempo runs are more of race rehearsals. These are run at slightly slower than a typical 5K race pace. Tempo runs help the body get mentally and physically used to racing conditions. They also help all the aerobic and the anaerobic systems begin getting used to their work in a racing condition. Marathon runners often participate in events shorter than their primary race as part of their tempo run workouts—for a marathon runner, these distances range from 8-15km.
Track intervals are done at a pace faster than the race pace. Marathon runners should do track interval distances ranging from 800m to 2000m. For 800m intervals, the recovery time between intervals should be around two minutes, while for 1600–2000m intervals it should between three to four minutes. Interval training sharpens speed and improves running cadence.Interval training sharpens speed and improves running cadence, says @kenyanathlete. Click To Tweet
Preparing for Success
The best way to prepare for a marathon race is to give it the full respect the race deserves right from the first day of training. It helps to acknowledge that the marathon is a very demanding distance that will require significant preparation in building sufficient endurance and enough speed.
“To win is not important. To be successful is not even important. How to plan and prepare is crucial. When you plan very well and prepare very well, then success can come on the way. Then winning can come on your way.”—Eliud Kipchoge, the world marathon record-holder.
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