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How can I run fast in the marathon when my training pace is so slow?

By   /   July 11, 2011  /   Comments

Answered by guest blogger Chris Twiggs, National Training Program Director for Jeff Galloway Productions

The answer is a 3-part process that has been used by hundred of thousands of runners to reach their goals in a marathon, half-marathon, or other distance event.

Step 1: The Magic Mile

Wouldn’t you love to run a 2-hour 10-minute marathon or win The Peachtree Road Race? I certainly would, but I know those dreams are the sort I have when I’m asleep and not the type to turn into goals. Ambitious goals are great. In fact, I like to say that if a goal is something you know you can accomplish from the outset, it’s not a goal – it’s a task. We want our goals to be just scary enough to keep us consistent in our training.

In Galloway Training Programs around the world, we use Jeff Galloway’s Magic Mile to help us determine what an ambitious goal would be for our desired race distance. The Magic Mile is explained in detail in many of Jeff’s books and on his website HERE, but the basics are very simple. During the course of a short training run (3 to 5 miles if you are training for a marathon) time yourself running a fast-ish mile. The mile should be run faster than 5k pace but not all-out puking pace. Jeff is on the record as being AGAINST PUKING!

Following your run, multiply your mile time by 1.3 to find an ambitious pace for you to use as a goal for your marathon. Throughout your training season, run a Magic Mile every two or three weeks and adjust your goal accordingly. Also, remember to run your long training run at least two minutes per mile SLOWER than your predicted marathon pace. Long runs are about endurance – not speed. Jeff’s research shows that top Kenyan marathoners routinely run their long runs at least three minutes slower than their race pace. So if anyone asks why you slow down so much on your long days, tell them you’re training like a Kenyan!

If your goal race is something other than a marathon, use the calculator on THIS page to compute your predicted race pace.

Step 2: Pace Training with Mile or 2-Mile Repeats

Unless I’m getting paid for something, I don’t usually call it work, so I’ll leave “Speed Work” for the guys and gals competing for the prize money. Jeff writes in his books about many “Speed Play” drills that have been effective in making runners faster. For a marathoner or half-marathoner chasing a time goal, though, the issue isn’t speed – it’s pace. The most common time goal for experienced marathoners, for example is 4-hours, which is a 9-minute 9-second pace. For someone to have a 4-hour marathon as a realistic time goal, he or she should have a Magic Mile time of around 7:02. So if I want to average 9:09 and I can go 7:02, speed isn’t the problem; the problem is I need to train my body to hold a 9:09 pace (including walk-breaks, of course) for 4-hours.

The answer is to use Mile or 2-Mile Repeats to practice race pace and train the legs to recognize how that feels.
Mile Repeats are explained in many of Jeff’s books, including GALLOWAY TRAINING PROGRAMS, the textbook for our marathon and half-marathon training programs. This is a challenging workout that involves running a measured mile (perhaps the same spot you used for the Magic Mile) at about 30-seconds faster than race pace, followed by a 5-minute walking recovery. Mile Repeat sessions should be run every two to three weeks on non-long run weekends. Start with 3 or 4 Repeats and over time lengthen your sessions to 10 or 12. Runners with a time goal of under 4-hours should work up to 14 Mile Repeats 2 or 3 weeks before race day. At first the Mile Repeats will seem slow, which is another reason calling it Speed Work would be misleading. In fact, my wife, Diana, who is chasing a 50-States goal, hates Mile Repeats because she says she has to hold herself back so much. However, her multiple Boston Qualifying times in marathons prove that Mile Repeats train her body to go the pace it should on race day. So if we’re training for race pace, why do we run 30-seconds FASTER than race pace during Mile Repeats? It works out that 20 to 30-seconds per mile is the average amount of time we lose during our walk breaks with the Galloway Method, so our Mile Repeat pace is actually the pace we will run between walk breaks!
Jeff introduced 2-Mile Repeats in his book BOSTON MARATHON: HOW TO QUALIFY! and from personal experience I can tell you two things: they work, and they are not as much fun as Mile Repeats. Runners looking to qualify for Boston or veterans eying that just out of reach time-goal can use this workout to make it happen. Much like Mile repeats, 2-Mile Repeats involve running the prescribed distance just faster than race pace, but instead of running a consistent pace as before, 2-Mile Repeats involve dropping into a faster gear after the first half-mile and a short walk-break after the first mile. Because of the complexity of this workout, I won’t try to cover it all here, but if you have used Mile Repeats to work your marathon time down over several marathons and you’re looking for that next level, pick up a copy of BOSTON MARATHON: HOW TO QUALIFY! and get ready to sweat!

Step 3: The Power of the Crowd
So you’ve used the Magic Mile to set a realistic goal, and you’ve run Mile Repeats or 2-Mile Repeats to train your body for race pace. Is there any other magic to carry you to the finish line? You bet! Marathons, half-marathons, and other distance events are celebrations of health and well-being. Standing at the start of even a small 5K, you can feel the energy and excitement radiating out from the other participants, to the spectators, and back to you. Combine this energy with the confidence you have from months of training to power yourself all the way to the finish. Every time you start to feel tired or can sense that the smile has left your face, say something encouraging to another runner or call out to the spectators and thank them for being there. Every kind word you say during a distance event will return to you many times over.

Just remember to stick to your plan and resist the urge to run too fast in the first half of the race. Many runners have been carried along to the point that they forgot themselves and forgot their training. These are the poor folks you will be passing in the last few miles of the race as they struggle to finish. A good strategy is to run with a group of friends all targeting the same time goal. You can help keep each others’ moods up and pace on target. Just remember to pull over to the side of the road during your walk-breaks, especially if you have a large group. Another great option is to choose a race with Galloway-friendly pace groups. 26.2 with Donna, The National Marathon to Finish Breast Cancer, for example, offers pace groups all the way from 3-hours 10-minutes to the 7-hour cutoff, and every pace group takes walk-breaks according to Jeff’s guidelines.

Chasing a time goal in a distance event is a great way to stay motivated during the long months of training, but good run or bad, fast run or slow, never miss the opportunity to thank God for your ability to be out there running, and always take the time to encourage others join in the fun!

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Tom Knighton is the publisher of The Albany Journal. In November, 2011, he became the first blogger to take over a newspaper anywhere in the world. In August of 2012, he made the difficult decision to take the Journal out of print circulation and become an online news agency, a first for the Albany area.

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