The Key To Fast Marathon Efforts

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Key to fast marathon

The key to fast marathon times really comes down to an enormous amount of effort that you must be willing to endure to make it happen.

I wish I could say that the key to fast marathon efforts were easy, that would be about as far away from the truth as it gets.

I agree with Roland Rust’s observation in Racing Faster:The Key To A Serious Marathon, that the long run has to be at the core key to fast marathon running.

What is the key to fast marathon times? What do the top runners do?

Rust discusses how the world’s best distance runners usually run the marathon distance as their long run every other week. How is that for effort?

A key thing that he mentioned was the importance of running your last few miles of your long runs at or near your goal race pace.

This is crucial because the bottom line, honest truth is this, the key to fast marathon times is training fast and for long periods of time.

I have been harping on this topic since I started because I know it works.

There are a set of fundamentals you must master if you are to run a fast marathon time. Now I completely understand, it isn’t everyone’s objective to run a fast marathon.

‘Fast’ has a different meaning for everyone.

Fast could be breaking the 4 hour marathon to some, sub-2.15.00 for others.

The fundamentals needed to run a extraordinary marathon time, sub 2.20.00 to sub 2.10.00, demand almost an obsessive attention to detail.

That being said, these fundamentals can be implemented whether you are a 5 hour marathoner just starting or a sub 2.40 marathoner.

This is the beauty of running fast. It can be taught regardless what ability level you are currently at but you have to understand, people who do things at the elite level aren’t any more special than you.

I want to be very clear with this.

The difference lies in their attention span not diminishing in the face of adversity.

Do you want to know the difference?

What you think of as pain, elite athletes think of as pleasure. You switch those two mindsets and you will be well on your way to do drastic improvement in your marathon times.

I wasn’t born with talent. I found something I enjoyed doing and taught myself to see the adversity of training and enduring long periods of time being uncomfortable as pleasure.

I could take anyone who had that willingness and make them into a champion.

Are their faster marathoners than me? Absolutely. Have I been humbled in races? Yes, but I have also outrun world-class marathoners by not letting up.

The difference between mediocre runners and those who have reached a higher level in endurance sports is an unbreakable belief and a complete disregard to rational thought.

It doesn’t matter if you are a sub 4 hour marathoner or a 6 hour marathoner you still exceptional and deserve respect.

Is it talent? ‘Talent’, whatever you want to call it, has a place but I believe the mind is far greater tool you can use to override what society and our running culture says you may lack. Food for thought.

The difference between you running a fast marathon is your willingness to keep going in the midst of failures. How willing are you to endure that?

Does that mean runners who haven’t ‘yet’ made it don’t understand this? Hardly. They understand it, but don’t implement it as drastically as they should. Our culture doesn’t necessarily assist the situation.

There are many distractors.

Partying on the weekends, work obligations, American culture as whole etc. It is great to have fun but to run a fast marathon time and do it well, like anything else, you have to be willing to live in a way that mimics other cultures.

Do you think the Kenyans are the best runners in the world? How about the Japanese? You have to have an extreme dedication, most closely resembling an obsession to go from descent to great.

Are there not Americans in this country not just as dedicated? There are and they all have similar qualities.

They are putting in an extreme amount of dedication and effort into their craft, to the point where most people would simply give up or think their nuts.

The truth is these people could do the same thing if they were willing to sacrifice for an equal amount of time. One lets go, the next keeps going and going…and going.

A sub 2.06 marathon (4.48 mile pace) would consider a 2.19 marathoner (5.19 mile pace) like me a ‘descent’ marathoner, but a 2.30 marathoner (5.43 mile pace) would consider the same time as ‘great’. I consider it somewhere in between.

You can’t have your cake and eat it too? No, thanks…I’ll have both. Your attitude also has to be just as positive and willing as your preparation to earn a fast marathon time, so always keep your head up and look ahead. You can do it.

You have to think outside of yourself to run a fast marathon.

If you are not thinking daily about making performance jumps and more importantly, not willing to do the work required, than how are you going to achieve it? Wanting and doing are two different things.

You want to run a 2.50 marathon, are you doing the training required and while were at it, what are you doing the other hours of the day to compliment that hard work?

Kevin Beck of Running Times in his article, Run Your Best. Really, discussed how the great Brazilian Ranaldo De Casto shattered the previous marathon world record time running 2.06.05, he did several of his long runs at or near marathon race pace.

We are talking about 17 to 22 miles at 4.48 per mile ‘average’.

This means his miles are hovering above and below 4.48 per mile pace.

A 2.06.05 is an extraordinary time. There are only a handful of the world’s top marathoner who can put up a time that fast globally each year.

The Key To Fast Marathon Running Means You Must Run Faster For Longer

Why? Well, running longer does teach your body to burn fat, rather than carbohydrate as fuel.

The longer you run, the more fat plays a role in your body’s main fuel source, but only by running fast and for longer period of time, will you train yourself to not only build fat, but recruit more muscle fibers needed to keep you going when you tire.

This training tactic was the #1 reason I dropped so much time off my marathon. I went from a 2.40.02 personal best to my current best of 2.19.35 in a matter of months.

Now, don’t misunderstand this, what I was doing wrong prior to that sub 2.20 effort, was not doing long runs at a harder pace for many years.

Why do I need to learn to run slow, I already know how to run slow…I want to learn to run fast – Emil Zatopek

I would do the usual track workouts (a must for a fast marathon time too), but spending my weekends running long slow miles. It was great for fitness, but it didn’t get me any closer to running a fast marathon time.

It was making me strong for running the first 10 miles relatively strong, but the last 16 miles I was struggling burning all my carbohydrate stores up and not using my body’s carbohydrate to fat fuel capability to its’ maximum.

Running long runs every weekend slow will build fitness and teach your body to burn fat, but to maintain a fast pace for 26.2 miles, you are going to have to recruit more muscle fibers so that when you need them most (when you are fatigued), they will be there for you when it counts.

I have always believed that long slow distance, produces long slow runner – Sebastian Coe, Olympic Gold Medalist -800m/1500m

So, the key to running a fast marathon means you have to teach your body to burn fat as its primary fuel source and conserve your carbohydrate stores.

Sports science statistics state that we only have approximately 1800 calories of carbohydrate stored within our body. When do runners usually hit the so-called ‘wall’?

It is safe to say this occurs around mile 17 to 18.

You are burning around 100-110 calories for every mile you run during the marathon, calculate that it brings you to about mile 18 in the marathon.

Now, what happens if you are using fat and a smaller percentage of carbohydrate?

You are preserving those stores to power you through the hardest section of the race, usually the last 10 kilometers of the race.

You recruit more muscle fibers the faster you run, couple this with learning to run at a higher percentage of overall effort and extending that effort out for a longer period of time?

You will make yourself a dangerous, lethal weapon against your competitors come race morning which brings me to my final key to a fast marathon performance.

The Key To Fast Marathon Preparation Is Taking Recovery Just As Serious As You Take Learning To Run Fast

You can take all this advice and throw it down the tube quicker than you can blink if you don’t take your recovery days as serious, if not more serious, then training hard.

The biggest mistake far too many runners make is misinterpreting fast training as the be-all-end-all for a fast marathon time. You have to spread your training out intelligently to get real results.

There is a time to run fast and push the limits and there are times to take it extremely easy and throw away the watch.

I spent months running at or below 5.25 per mile pace leading into my 2.19 marathon performance. I prepared to break my then-time goal of 2.22.00 by harder running in the forms of training I didn’t go in-depth with in this article such as tempo runs, track intervals, fartleks.

Running fast doesn’t equal a breakthrough performance, a combination of smart long-term training will help you to earn it.

You will run a fast marathon time by bringing all the fundamentals together intelligently. They are as follows:

  • Hard running and gradually extending the time you spend at that golden effort
  • Tempo runs at half marathon goal race pace
  • Workouts that exceed goal marathon pace Intervals i.e. 10x1000m, 8x1mile@30 seconds faster than goal marathon race pace
  • Focus on jogging on recovery days, at least 2 minutes per mile slower than goal marathon race pace (preferably slower)
  • Massage, Ultrasound, Physical Therapy, Chiropractic services (and ice baths!)

In conclusion, there are many factors that go into producing a fast marathon time. The most important lies in disciplining yourself to take your easy days as ‘jog’ days. It doesn’t make much sense to do your mile repeats on the track at 5.30 per mile, then go out the next day and run 6.30 mile pace for your ‘recovery’ day.

1-minute slower than your hard effort is still running too hard for your own good. I usually do my mile repeats (when fit) around 4.40 to 4.50 per rep. The likelihood in seeing me out the next day running at 5.50 pace is pretty slim, yet why do so many runners think running hard everyday is such a necessity?

The key to fast marathon times lie in humbling yourself to not follow the crowd that is training un-intelligently. Save your fast marathon time for the race itself. Regardless what your current time is, you can take something away from this form of training.

The best marathoners in the world spend most of their miles at or exceed their goal marathon race pace and run slower than your grandmother (love you grandma!) on their easy days.

They know the importance of shutting the effort switch off and making use of health professionals to speed up the recovery process. Don’t look at the best and put them on a pedestal, implement the proven fundamentals, train intelligently and go earn yourself a fast marathon time.

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