Safetly speed up my marathon running pace?
August 14, 2006 6:08 PM   Subscribe

How do I speed up my marathon running pace?

I have a little less than 3 months until I run a marathon, and I'm going really slowly. I'm following a good training program, and just finished my first 8 mile run today, but I'm "running" 12-14 minute miles, and at that rate, I'm gonna have an awfully long marathon. What do I do to speed myself up without hurting myself?

More info:
Been training for ~6 weeks with a heart rate monitor, and typically run at 145 +/- 10 bpm. I've been hoping that my heart rate will tell me when to speed up, but I haven't really made any speed increases. I'm 25, was totally, ridiculously out of shape, and have a resting heart rate of 50. This seems to put 70-80% HR at 135-155, which is where I'm exercising. I'm on a 4-day/week training schedule, with 3 short runs and 1 long run per week, no gains of more than 10% mileage per week (first few weeks' mileage: 3 4 3 5 | 3 4 3 6 | 3 4 3 7 | 3 5 3 8)

Do I try to train at the higher end of this range? Do I just put a bit more trust into my body figuring out how to go faster, and keep training at the same heart rate? Do I push it on the short runs and pull back on the long runs? If so, what does "push it" mean?

#1 priority throughout all of this is safety for my joints.
posted by sdis to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (19 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
First time out, I wouldn't worry too much about the actual pace... it's more a matter of getting used to the distance and finishing. (Case in point -- my first one was just less than 5 hours but my most recent, 2 years later, was 3:41...)

As far as getting faster, there are a ton of different techniques that people have. In general, I've found that just eating well and trying my best during any given training session has lead to steady improvement over time. It's just a matter of getting out there and grinding away at it, even when you don't really want to.

Personally, I don't run with a heart monitor or anything (although I don't think there's anything wrong with 'em)... if you stick with the sport long enough, you'll get a feel for what's possible at any given time during a 26 mile run. At least for folks like me, there's a lot of strategy in terms of when to push and when to lay off a bit, given that I can't run that entire distance at my maximum pace.

The important thing is to have fun.
posted by ph00dz at 6:20 PM on August 14, 2006

For your first marathon you should probably consider the most important task to be just finishing, not finishing at any particular speed, but I remember reading about an interesting marathon speed workout in runner's world a few years back.

It involved doing 800s on the track. Say your goal is to run a marathon in 3 hours and 30 minutes... you would do your 800s at 3 minutes and 30 seconds.

But again, I don't think you should worry about your speed. Focus on getting your long run mileage up towards 20, and keep yourself stretched and healthy.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 6:21 PM on August 14, 2006

When I was running very consistently, I found the best way to improve my speeds was to do interval training. Start out running at what feels like a very comfortable and maintainable pace, then alternate between your comfort pace and a pace that you wouldn't be able to maintain for quite as long -- one that pushes you a bit more. You choose the intervals that are right for you at this moment. They could be 2 mins comfort pace/ 2 minutes tough pace, 3 minutes comfort/ 1.5 minutes tough...or more or less. Whatever you feel like is going to work for you. As you train, you will gradually decrease the amount of time you spend running at your easy pace and replace it with the tough pace. Do this GRADUALLY. You don't want to injure yourself.

That said, you'll definitely still need endurance for the marathon! Make sure you spend some days going on runs that are longer in mileage but not necessarily the fastest you can go. Others make agree or disagree with this tactic, but it worked well for me.
posted by theantikitty at 6:26 PM on August 14, 2006

The short answer? You don't. At least, not if you want to finish the race. You're training to run a marathon, not a 10K.

Now the longer explanation: I ran the Marine Corps marathon last year - and I started out training 6 months in advance. I did it with the Aids Marathon Training program (which was raising money for charity as well as guaranteeing me a spot in the race).

It was a great program, which allowed me to train with professional coaches who insured that I would finish the race - safely and with no injuries.

Probably the biggest thing I learned was - you have a pace that you start training at, and that's your pace from there on out. The point of a Marathon is to finish it - especially if it's your first one. They had us run 3 miles the first day - if you came back huffing and puffing they automatically added two minutes to your 'official' pace.

Save the speed increases for 'in-between development' before your NEXT race - just focus on endurance for now. Your body will thank you, especially when you start getting above 14 miles. Also - I rhighly reccomend any book by Jeff Galloway... he's the marathoner many training programs base their own programs on - and it works.
posted by matty at 6:26 PM on August 14, 2006

It involved doing 800s on the track. Say your goal is to run a marathon in 3 hours and 30 minutes... you would do your 800s at 3 minutes and 30 seconds.

Yasso 800's.
posted by dersins at 6:27 PM on August 14, 2006

Response by poster: Can I expect some natural speed gains as the training progresses over the next 3 months, or am I gonna be running for 6-7 hours come marathon day? :P
posted by sdis at 9:18 PM on August 14, 2006

Of course some natural gains are to be expected. As your muscle memory adapts to the longer distances, your endurance and breathing come in line as well as an overall increase in performance - I would assume that's to be expected. I think everyone above has made salient points so I don't think there is too much to add. Best of luck and don't sweat the time - you'll put hundreds of hours into this so a few more at the end won't be a bother. Anyway, finishing will mean so much more than your time.
posted by j.p. Hung at 11:07 PM on August 14, 2006

Response by poster: Am I putting myself at risk by doing speed-type training (threshold runs, intervals, etc) on my short days?
posted by sdis at 11:20 PM on August 14, 2006

I concur with Mattu, your goal is to finish the race. One thing you might try as you work up your conditioning is change the drummer in your head. You have a natural pace count that goes with the breathing,, this can be altered by setting a rhythm in your mind that is different from the one you're currently listening too.
posted by ptm at 11:24 PM on August 14, 2006

I read somewhere that your body establishes what "pace" it thinks it can maintain by feedback from the available (glycogen?) stored in the muscle tissue basically the first few seconds you start running.

Do you have a nutritional program along with the run training? You might increase the carbohydrate intake a little bit. If you're trying to lose weight as well, ketosis is pretty draining on the body's resources, and I wouldn't be worried about competitive time.

posted by spatula at 12:04 AM on August 15, 2006

I agree that finishing should be your main goal, but let's expand on that. 4+ hours is a long time to be out there on the road. As the miles tick by and you become more tired, you will lose form and run sloppily, increasing the chance of injury. Your goal should be to maintain good form toward the end of the run and finish injury free. If you can do this for at least two or three half or full marathons (during which you'll naturally become a bit faster), then you can think about deliberately ramping up the speed.
posted by randomstriker at 1:00 AM on August 15, 2006

I'm training for my first half-marathon right now and have also run into the speed problem. I've been training for about three months and have noticed that my time starting dropping once I incorporated speed work. I sprint up hills and run very slowly on flat and down sections. I do this once a week on a 3 mile run.

I also found that I started getting faster once I stopped focusing on my speed. The book, No Need for Speed, really helped me start focusing on enjoying running regardless of my times.
posted by JuliaKM at 1:59 AM on August 15, 2006

sdis -- i don't think you're putting yourself at risk by doing speedwork. You want to get your VO2 max up. (Don't ask me what that number is... it's just a measure of lung capacity.)

I guess here's my takeaway message: you're running 8 miles now but in 10 weeks, you're going to have to go at least 20 miles to prepare yourself to run 26 miles. That's a long friggin' way to run. These runs are called "LSD" (Long Slow Distance) for a reason -- as you're getting started and your body acclimates itself, you want to concentrate on building up endurance so you can cover the distance.

Your speed will increase as you get more fit. I wouldn't worry about that. Randomstriker is absolutely right, though -- if you concentrate on the fundamentals now, it'll pay off bigtime as you progress. Good form makes a HUGE difference.

What race are you doing, sdis?
posted by ph00dz at 5:02 AM on August 15, 2006

Typically the recommendation is to build your base first before refining your speed. You are still very much in that base building phase (eight miles is a heck of an accomplishment and also not that long a run).

You can add some speed work, which should not exceed 10% of your weekly mileage. At the place you are in your fitness and your current speed, any fast running will count as speedwork. You don't really have to worry about a specific workout, but neither should you be running flat out. Run no faster than at a pace you can maintain for ~5 min, and you could run as slow as a pace you can maintain for fifteen. You're going to have to figure out what those paces are. Save the Yasso's for another race, that's a really tough workout and is designed to be used with a goal finishing time in mind.

If you keep running, there will be all kinds of chances for improvement in your speed. Running fast is fun, but you do need to be in shape for it, which is different from just getting into shape.
posted by OmieWise at 5:48 AM on August 15, 2006

Great advice here. And I'm glad you asked, because I've never heard about Yasso training before. The one thing I would suggest is doing some core training on your off-days. It doesn't have to be a lot, but it will improve your form and speed.
posted by RibaldOne at 7:26 AM on August 15, 2006

Response by poster: Doing Santa Clarita, Nov 5th. Aside from the obvious (not swinging arms side to side, minimizing bouncing up and down, trying to keep a pretty straight alignment), I have no idea how my form is. Do I need to see a coach? Would I benefit from seeing a coach just once or twice?
posted by sdis at 9:04 AM on August 15, 2006

Response by poster: (And where do I find a coach recommendation for Los Angeles/The Valley?)
posted by sdis at 9:19 AM on August 15, 2006

Most people run pretty well without getting coached on form, although one of the things that speedwork does is help people to become more efficient as runners. I don't think you sound like you're at the point for coaching yet.

It sounds like you're doing really great. Keep in mind that distance running is something that one develops over a long period of time--years. A lot of this is because it takes time to develop the base mileage that can support the serious training that goes into being a distance runner. Focus on finishing this marathon in good order, and then you'll have a sense of where you are and what you might want to work on. It's hard for most people (who haven't already been running shorter distances for years) to make their first the absolute best it could be.
posted by OmieWise at 10:13 AM on August 15, 2006

Ach, don't get a coach unless you have money to burn. But DO work in some speedwork. The only way to run faster is to run faster. If you always run slowly, your body gets used to running slowly. Speedwork is for everybody. If you were 75 I'd tell you the same thing.

Remember, speedwork is not all-out sprinting. Do a 3-mile tempo - high but sustainable pace - to get an idea of what you can handle. You may barf 2 miles in, that's OK.
You'll know better next time.

Then try doing 3 or 4x 800 with 2 minutes in between repeats. Run them a little faster/harder than the tempo pace. But get that heart rate up to 170, you're only 25! You must leave the comfort zone if you want to get faster!

Now having said that, DO take it easy on your long runs. They should be around 1.5 or 2 min per mile slower than your goal race pace. So don't sweat it. What I am a little concerned about is that you are only at 8 mi. with 3 months to go. Ideally you'd spend a few weeks at 8 mi. before moving up, but you may have to accelerate this a bit. You have got to get in at least one 18 - 20 mile run before the big day. You are going to have to add 2 miles every two weeks to get there, and that's tough - but not impossible.

I think you will finish the race in under 5 hrs, but the point, once again, is to finish.

Finally, gratz on the decision to run the marathon. You will not regret it, if you live...
posted by Mister_A at 10:21 AM on August 15, 2006

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