Pace training for a marathon
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Pacing is important in every running event but especially in marathon running. Southern Cross University senior lecturer in sport and exercise science Dr Chris Stevens has some words of advice on how to structure your training and pace before and during the Gold Coast marathon.
No one, except perhaps Forrest Gump, attempts a marathon without preparation. Whether you’re a first-time runner or an experienced athlete, sports science can help you prep like a pro.
Training and pacing are two areas where the advice of sports scientists can be gold. Runners should be doing three types of training sessions, says Southern Cross University senior lecturer in exercise science Dr Chris Stevens: long slow distance, threshold and interval training sessions.
“Long slow distance sessions are when you aim to run for a long duration at a slow pace. These sessions increase your body’s capacity to transport and use oxygen for energy,” said Dr Stevens.
Then there are the threshold or tempo sessions: “The aim here is to get comfortable with running at the race pace. These sessions increase the lactate threshold, which allows you to run at a higher intensity for a longer period without fatigue,” said Dr Stevens. Lactate is the by-product of muscles using glucose for energy and increasing your lactate threshold allows you to run faster for longer.
An interval training session is the third type of important training session. “The aim is to run faster than usual in these sessions, by alternating fast running with periods of rest. These sessions allow a runner to increase their maximal aerobic running pace,” said Dr Stevens. It won’t make the race a walk in the park, but it will make race pace more comfortable.
Novice runners aiming to go longer than they have before should focus on long slow distance sessions to improve their ability to run the race distance at an even pace.
Avoid always running as fast as you can in training - it’s a common mistake for novice runners to run at their threshold in every training session, which limits the distance that can be covered in a session and places a lot of stress on the body too.
A threshold session once per week can be beneficial to help you to practice the pace that you will run at on race day – aim to start at a speed that allows you to run at an even pace.
A weekly interval session is suited to runners who are confident in running the race distance, know their race pace already and want to get faster. During intervals, runners should go 15 to 30 seconds faster per kilometre than their current race pace for four to six minutes and take enough rest that allows you to do this three to five times.
Over time, you will notice yourself running faster in these sessions, and running faster in your threshold sessions too.
Progressing your training over time is also important. For an inexperienced marathon runner, the goal is to build up the total running distance over time, especially by progressing a long slow distance session each week. “A useful rule is to not increase your weekly training distance by more than 10% each week,” advises Dr Stevens.
When it comes to race day, emotions and adrenaline can take over, but thinking about and planning your pacing beforehand can help enormously. “Pacing is an important consideration for any runner, but especially a marathon runner. Often runners will start a race too fast and then they are forced to run at a speed that is slower than their potential,” says Dr Stevens. “Aim instead for an even pace throughout. Less experienced runners particularly should start slower than a comfortable running pace and aim to increase their pace in the second half of the race.”
Southern Cross University offers a Bachelor of Sport and Exercise Science at the Gold Coast, Lismore and Coffs Harbour campuses. Exercise science is a specialised health discipline that involves the scientific study of human movement – from anatomy and biomechanics to nutrition and psychology, as well as exercise testing and prescription.
Sport and exercise scientists can improve the fitness and performance of a runner through their knowledge of training strategies and monitoring, recovery techniques and other performance enhancing aids such as nutrition, hydration and cooling techniques.
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