Monday, September 26, 2011

Need for speed

Three weeks ago I decided to kick the habit of running marathons, and I already feel like it’s one of the best decisions that I’ve made.

The marathon is a great event, and this is by no means goodbye forever. But I've honed in on my goal: to reach towards my potential as an amatuer runner and to take maximum enjoyment from the sport. And I’ve come to realise that the best way for me to progress towards this goal is to take a step back from marathons for a year or two, and instead train for speed.

As I’ve said in earlier posts: in order to run a fast marathon, one first needs to run a fast 10km. In order to run a fast 10km, you first need to run a fast 5km (note: Patrick Makau ran a WR time of 2:03:38 yesterday which is average 14:40 per 5km pace). You can follow this logic right down to middle-distance speed. In other words, you could argue that raw speed is a foundation, and in fact a pre-requisite, for a fast marathon. This is why most of the top marathoners have a track background. Speed is only one piece of the jigsaw puzzle. The other, more obvious pillar, is endurance.

Unfortunately the majority of us long-distance runners, with our modest athletic CVs (and in particular, without a background in track running), are at a significant disadvantage. Because whether we like it or not, time-trials over short distances are usually a good indicator of what we are capable of running over marathon distance (with the right training).

For example, if a runner is not capable of running under 19 minutes for the 5km (3:48 min/km) at a given point in time then he/she will have difficulty breaking 3 hours (4:17 min/km) over the marathon distance (without improvement). This is for the simple reason that, even with ample endurance, the required marathon pace would feel 'uncomfortably fast' and will probably push him or her into the anaerobic zone too early in the race (most likely blowing hard and running out of steam with a good way left to go).

With this in mind, it makes sense for me to shelve the marathon away as a long term target. Or to put another way: 'learn to walk (run fast over short distances) before I run (marathons)'. Instead, I've plotted out a race plan for the season, comprising of shorter distance races on the road, hills, track and cross country. And since August I've training towards shorter races by running these types of sessions:

8x1km off 90 seconds
12x400m off 60 seconds or short jog recovery
10x800m off 60/90 seconds
5x1 mile off 2 minutes
30 minute tempo run
10x300m off 60 seconds or jog recovery
Short hill repeats (30 or 60 second)

It already seems to be working since I already ran a 5km P.B (15:53) over the weekend on the back of a big week of training. Plenty of work still to be done. Just need to focus on training smart: consistency and quality. The results will come.