(Long boring running post about running/training ahead)
It's not secret that I'm a big runner, and I enjoy it, but the fact is, I have no idea what I'm doing. 10 years ago I had even less of an idea. I started running recreationally in college to stay fit (isn't it terrible that back in college I could run 3 miles 3 times a week, eat 2 pints of Ben & Jerry's on my own, drink a keg of beer, and still never put on weight? Side note. Now I'm depressed thinking about my current non-existent metabolism.)
I ran my first half-marathon when I was 23 on minimal training and did it in about 2:15. Between then and a couple of years ago, I ran one marathon and several other halfs. My one marathon time was 4:36, and I never broke two hours during the halfs.
This was simply because it never occured to me that I could actually get faster. The natural pace you ran was the pace you were destined to run for the rest of your life, I assumed. Baby Olympians are born running 5 minute miles out of the womb, where as my 9:30 minute toddler mile was the best I'd ever do and that was a-okay with me. Plus, running long distances like that is hard enough -- how could you possibly even push yourself more when just finishing at the pace you were acclimated to doing was already so tough?
This was the attitude I maintained until one or two years ago, when I started running with more training groups and became friends with people who had a much broader knowledge of how to be a better runner than I did. My training knowledge: You run, a few times a week, and then you run really long on weekends. Also, drink all the beer, because, that is fun. Their training knowledge included terms like tempos, speedwork, optimal training pace, fast-twitch fibers. WTF?
So I started to pick up bits and pieces of knowledge and push myself a little bit harder. With a little bit of speed work and increased distance, I was able to drop my half marathon time by over half an hour from my slowest time, and my marathon time 47 minutes from my slowest time.
Today, I'm looking to go even a bit faster, so I'm trying to do more. It's annoying, because if I want to get even a bit faster, well, I've got to run a lot more. I'm running about 30 miles a week now and that will increase to 50 or 60 miles over the summer as I head towards an early-October marathon. So, if you're interested, this is what a typical week of running looks like for me (if I can stick to it. Sometimes, I can't. I was supposed to get up and run this morning, and due to a couple of heavenly cocktails from the Brixton last night, that did not happen):
Monday: 3-4 easy miles (easy being relative to your base pace. The McMillan calculator is the best way to figure out your training paces) in the morning. I run this between 8:45 and 9:15 min/mile.
Monday night: I try to go to a yoga class if I can, just cause there's a teacher I really like who teaches a Monday night yoga class.
Tuesday: 6 hilly miles (it will probably be more in the coming weeks, I haven't looked at my training calendar (which I ripped out of the July issue of Runner's World -- they had a great piece with NPRite Peter Sagal on how he improved his PR [personal record]. I love the title: The Time of the Ancient Marathoner.)) As this article mentions, hills, and lots of them, are the best way to get fast. These also tend to be 8:45 - 9 min miles for me, sometimes slower, because hills are hard, duh.
Wednesday: Rest, thank golly, because I can't move.
Thursday: 6-8 easy miles.
Friday: 3 easy miles.
Saturday: Long run time. These start at 9-10 miles and go up to 20 or 22. This weekend, I've got to run 16. Blech. The perk is that you are supposed to run this real slow. I find this very counter-intuitive and hard to do, but it's easier on your body and these runs aren't supposed to work to maek you fast; they're just supposed to help build endurance and time on your feet. So I'll probably run them at 9-9:30.
Sunday: Rest, praise Allah. Maybe gentle yoga.
Some Tuesdays I'll probably replace the hill repeats with speed workout or tempo runs. Speed workouts usually take place on a track, if you have access to them. They can get very complicated and there are lots of variations to them, but I like simple a workout referred to as Yasso 800s, named after Bart Yasso, a Runners World editor. It's easy. Basically his hypothesis is that if you can run ten 800s (aka twice around a 400m track) in, say, 4 minutes, resting for 4 minutes in between each sprint, then you can run a 4-hour marathon. If you can do 10 800s in 3:30, with 3:30 rest in between each, you can run a 3:30 marathon. And so on. Of course, you'll have had to do all the other long runs, etc.
Tempos are also great. Melody has a good post on what tempo runs are:
A Tempo Run is a rate of performance at a steady pace. In other words, you’re running almost as fast as you can for a defined amount of time. Tempo runs help develop metabolic fitness; and as a result, your anaerobic (or lactic) threshold will improve – this is key for running faster.
I still have no idea what anaerobic threshold means, but tempo runs do work.
So, that's pretty much it! A mix of hills, tempo, speedwork, easy easy runs, and the long runs, and you're ready for a faster marathon. I sure hope it works for me. My goal pace for my upcoming marathon is about 8:08, which is will be the fastest I've ever run for 26.2 miles, and no doubt painful. But if I can stick to this training plan, I think I'll be in decent shape for it.