First off, congrats on some great times in your half marathons! Going under 1:16 is no small feat, and doing it consistently shows you have a good base and consistency to your running. I’m guessing that your 2:40 goal came from some race-equivalent calculators that show that as an attainable goal predicted from your sub 1:16 finishes. So, the good news is that if all things are equal, – training, race day conditions, nutrition, etc – you are certainly capable of running a 2:40 marathon (6:06 pace for those who are wondering). Now comes the hard part … actually doing it :)
To begin to answer your question … I’ve got nothing! There are no tried-and-true benchmark workouts for the marathon distance. This is why you have some plans taking you up to 24 miles for your long run and others taking you only to 16 miles. Similarly, that is why some plans use track workouts and others never get away from the roads and sidewalks. The marathon has so much variability built into it that having key workouts is a tough thing to standardize across a lot of runners. You might have heard of Yasso 800s as a predictor workout … ultimately, this workout along with many others can give you a general insight into your fitness and abilities but still cannot be considered a benchmark workout for every athlete.
So, that’s the bad news … you are somewhat on your own in that you are a case study of 1 man trying to run a 2:40 marathon after some consistency in running 1:16 half-marathons.
Now for some good news … here are some general thoughts and workout set ups that I think could benefit you from what I know about your ability based on your times, goals, and phrasing of your question:
* Vary your paces in workouts – You need to run a 6:06 pace to finish in your goal time, but remember you only need to run that long run at 6:06 pace on your actual race day. Try to resist the urge to turn your long runs into marathon-pace workouts. For the most part your long runs should be just that and not pace runs. Generally speaking yours should be in the mid- to high-sixes and even bleeding over into 7 min pace sometimes.
* Vary your workouts – If you are going to vary your paces, you have to have a nice variety of workouts built into your plan. Because you are looking to run a fast pace, you should be covering the gamut of workouts – even good old fashioned track intervals. Plan to work all of your systems – aerobic and anaerobic, endurance and speed, and multiple combinations of all of them.
* Big mileage base – To run a marathon at that pace, you have to be somewhat of an aerobic powerhouse, which means your body has to be very good at delivering oxygen and using that oxygen over the course of a long time at a hard pace. Thus, LSD (long slow distance) becomes a major player. In general, I am an advocate for lower mileage plans even for the marathon distance; however, when you have a goal of 2:40, mileage base is important and has to be more than what many runners are used to. For most of your training you likely will need to run a minimum of 40 miles per week and likely get into the 60s+ a few times. All of this has to be taken within the context of staying injury free though … research has shown that running over 40 miles/week and being competitive are two of the only consistent risk factors for injury in runners (so, you will be putting yourself at a greater risk for injury). This factor is often one of the major ones that skews race prediction tables for the marathon – it is really tough to get up to an equivalent mileage base jumping from half marathon to marathon distance.
* Nail your nutrition plan – Nutrition plays a huge role in this event, and to run at your best, you have to have a solid plan. You can get as detailed as mapping out every ounce of fluid/gel you will take in or you can set yourself up on a general intake plan based on your training run experience. You cannot wait until you “need it” in a race at this pace – you will be guaranteed to “bonk”. Use your long runs to practice with your nutrition of choice, and plan to use that exact same nutrition for your race. It’s always helpful to check race websites to see what will be offered and try it out beforehand.
* Simulate your race day – Again, everything has to go right to hit this type of time and PR. Map out your race day plan to the point of what/when you will eat, what you will be doing in the hours up to the race, etc. etc. and simulate that at least once and preferably more than once during your training.
* Some “specific” workout recommendations:
- Fast finish long runs – For some of your “shorter” long runs, plan to run the last 2-5 miles at or near your goal pace
- Progression long middle distance runs – For some middle distance runs that are approaching “long run” status, complete a progression workout where you start at long run pace and drop the paces until you finish at race pace
- “Brick” workouts – Combine an AM/PM day or PM/AM day with the early workout being a tough speed workout and the late workout being a middle distance marathon pace workout. This can help simulate hitting your paces on tired legs.
- Consider “pyramid” workouts in your buildup phases – 800, 1600, 3200, 3200 and back down would be an example of a middle distance workout. You typically don’t go all out on these, but you should be working hard for each distance assigned and then have partial active recoveries of equal or half distance. These type of workouts are nice because they can hit most of the systems you will be using in various ways
- Use a lot of middle distance tempo type runs – both right at race pace and above/below it
- Get to the track! – Don’t neglect your speed work. Even dropping down to 400m repeats can be beneficial. Speed work engages more muscle mass, improves running economy, and can help your 6:06 pace seem more and more manageable.
So, those are some tips. I wish I could give you three “key or benchmark” workouts that every serious marathoner should complete, but they simply don’t exist. Each runner is an individual and training plans must be treated as such. Hopefully, you know your own strengths and weaknesses and can plug in some of the info above to reach your goal. Good luck meeting your goal!
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