How Interval Training can change your Marathon

Aug 11, 2022

Marathon running – The importance of Intervals

Yes, you have to run 26.2, but that should not dictate every training session you complete. You may or may not be surprised to find out, that a programme with various intervals will yield the best results.

Tempo runs, Fartlek, hill sprints, and speed work! These are just some of the many options available to keep your marathon training elite, and most beneficial. Let’s look at the principles behind this and a few of the runs themselves!

  • Minutes, not miles.
  • Overuse and repetition.
  • Getting faster.
  • What’s right for you?
Minutes not miles

Minutes, not miles! I’ve said it once and will keep repeating it. If you look at your training runs purely in the distance, it has objective goals which your body had to meet regardless of its current condition. We at Running Logic would encourage you to think of the minutes of load which you put into your body. It could be in the form of walking, fast intervals, long-distance sessions, or a combination of the above. All of the above are types of training to will condition fo your body specifically to your marathon goal – be it three hours or five. This is how we manage load and avoid overuse injury. Doing a walk run split over three hours puts all the time and load into your body, but the load is managed between the walks and runs. It also gives you a chance to concentrate on specific aspects of your running technique at the same time.

Overuse and repetition

Intervals allow us to vary distance, intensity, minutes and load effectively, and with consistency. Although you have to run 26.2 miles, just going out for regular long-distance runs three to five times a week will not adequately prepare you for a marathon. Slow plodding runs put a significant load on your joints at tendons, if you are always running at a marathon pace, then your ground contact time is significantly increased. More time on the ground equals more stress and equals an increased injury rate. To top this off, you won’t get faster, improve your anaerobic base, learn how to manage lactic acid build-up or focus on improving specific training modalities. Enter the interval!

Getting faster

We all know that training at one speed, one weight, and one distance repetitively will only lead to minimal improvements. Progressive overload is the key principle to getting muscle adaptations needed to improve performance. This simply means, that learning to run fast, requires you to run fast. Initially, you cannot complete this for a long period of time, due to a low, VO2 max, muscle strength, and ability to deal with lactate build-up and fatigue. Different intervals will train these modes of fitness. Running hills at speed will strengthen your muscles. Running above race speed for 30-90 second intervals will stimulate your central nevous system, creating new movement pathways to train faster running. You can then take that into more sustained efforts as you improve your fitness. There are many methods and many ways, but they are all far better than just hitting the pavement aiming for at least 60 minutes each time with a longer one on the weekend.

What’s right for you

As always, if you are a beginner I would recommend you see a running coach to assess your technique, and strength, and handle your programming. If you are setting it yourself, and not sure what to focus on, here is my advice. Prioritise improving on your weaknesses as a runner. Your strengths will only improve with overlap from specific interval training. Therefore if you are struggling with injuries and strength, I would advise hill running. If you can sustain a good pace for 60 minutes or longer but suffer from fatigue from that point on, you should do some tempo and threshold run. If you struggle with motivation, try Fartlek, and concentrate on form and speed for a varied amount of time with some steady efforts in between. If you are an experienced runner, focus on speed sessions and speed endurance – they will be a killer, but you will reap the rewards!

Some of these sessions will have considerable overlap, but they are all great for you and will make you faster over a marathon distance. Keep it fresh, keep it fun, and you have plenty of time to try them all!

  1. Think of your training in minutes not miles.
  2. Try to avoid every run being the same. This is the road to plateau and ninjury.
  3. To run fast, you have to run fast!
  4. When planning your interval, focus on areas where you are not as strong.
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