This is my first training related post here since wrapping up the Paris Marathon series. It's a fitting time to return as I recently signed up to the Manchester Marathon which will also be an April race. This article provides a snapshot of what I have been up to in the pre marathon specific period and the aim is to provide some practical advice you can implement in your own training.
It's natural for a marathon entry to start influencing your training and it's tempting to dive into marathon pace work straight away but I was conscious not to get sucked in too early. A reflection on my preparation for Paris was that I probably spent too long doing marathon race pace sessions. I have no doubt they were effective but I sacrificed higher intensity training to focus on the marathon pace work.
There's a general consensus that improving your performance in shorter races before getting into a marathon block is a good idea. "Raising the ceiling" is a phrase used and it relates to boosting your Vo2 max and raising the speed at which your second lactate turn point occurs.
I wanted to include specific training for a 5k race but also gradually build up my total running volume with the marathon in mind. I appreciate these two goals may not be seen as complementary but I would like to share how I structured my last 7 weeks of training. I returned from a holiday in mid October so this tracks from October 16th to December 3rd 2023. I could have stretched this block out but the 5k race I picked draws a particularly strong field and I love the route!
I like having a set structure to the week. I tend to try and maintain this structure and change the type of training I'm doing within that framework depending on the target event. For example the Thursday session will start to incorporate marathon pace work from early January. The Saturday long run will start to include chunks of marathon pace work too.
The most specific work I did for the 5k race was in the Tuesday interval session. I have used these types of sessions before but I'd consider myself relatively inexperienced at executing interval sessions where the rep length is under a kilometre. I found a blog by the highly respected coach Steve Macklin helpful when planning the progression of these sessions. I have recently helped support one of Steve's athletes from a physio and strength and conditioning perspective and seeing his work up close has been a good learning experience. The rest of his blog posts are well worth exploring!
Ideally, I would have extended this preparation period to 10 or 12 weeks but with a race selected I condensed his recommendations. Straightforward session plans suit me and I enjoyed gradually ramping up the distances here while trying to keep the quality high. The recovery time has a huge influence on how these sessions feel. I'd err on the side of being generous and doing an extra rep or two rather than being too ambitious and getting into trouble mid workout. Completing these on a track would have been nice but I just can't look past the convenience of getting my training done in the morning. This means hitting these sessions on a 1k strip of a cycle path with a slight slope. Not perfect but it does allow to me consistently complete these sessions with minimal logistical fuss.
5k Specific Sessions
Other than 6 x 20 or 25 second strides on a Monday and 4-6 x 6-8 second sprints on a Wednesday I didn't come close to these paces for the rest of the week. If the 5k race was a primary objective I would have tried to add a second interval session.
With my dual objectives of preparing for the 5k and bumping up my aerobic foundation pre marathon block I opted to keep my Thursday run as a tempo of 30-40mins. These didn't change much over the 7 week block but they did start to feel easier and I was able to increase the paces slightly.
One area I did look for progression in was the Saturday long run. A 5k race is still predominantly aerobic in nature so despite the paces being far slower than a 5k race I was comfortable with a longer and slower run in the schedule. I viewed these runs as good building blocks for the longer marathon pace work that is to come too. It's clear from the table that there isn't perfect linear progression but that wasn't necessarily the plan. Some of these runs were with other people and the environmental conditions varied quite a lot. I didn't manage a long run one weekend due to hosting friends but I did manage two shorter ones to maintain total weekly volume. The key takeaway was that I was moving more quickly at a lower heart rate and feeling good at the end of the two hour runs. I found these more enjoyable than expected too!
The culmination of this mini block was the Newmarket 5k race on December 3rd. I was viewing this as a chance to push hard and to see where I was compared to the same time last year. I ran 17.10 in 2022 so to hit 17.00 was rewarding. 10 seconds is a reasonable chunk to take off the time but it was how I felt during the race that really stood out. I remember last year being under serious pressure from mid way through but this year felt a lot more controlled. It still felt like an extremely hard effort near the end but it definitely took me longer to reach that point. I did mention to a few people I'd love to break 17 and I could mount a couple of arguments to plead my case but at the end of the day you have to take the race result!
*Click for 1k race splits.
I'm going to follow a similar plan up until the new year and then start a more formal marathon preparation block.
As always, I'm keen to hear from anyone who has questions about why I'm doing what I'm doing and although I haven't gone into any detail on the strength training side of things here I'd happily discuss this with anyone who gets in touch.
There is also a Christmas Special Offer on annual Running Buddy subscriptions (20% off!). These can be for personal use or gifted to a loved one who's looking to improve their running in 2024! You can get the offer here.
I hope your training is going well and thanks for reading!