Speed training

When you first start marathon training, you soon learn that there’s more to it than just trotting out blithely for x number of miles (or kilometres, if that’s your thing). Whether you call it speed training or interval training or fartlek (a Swedish word meaning ‘speed play’), at some stage you’ll have to go very fast for a while.

Okay, but only for the next half-mile.

The point of speed training is not just for the kick of going fast (though there’s that, of course). Busy getting your leg muscles into shape, you may not realise that your heart and lungs must also be trained to withstand the marathon effort. Speed training helps takes care of that.

Also, the slow parts of your speed session are as important as the fast parts. Just as your night off watching football on TV is an active part of your training (or so I always tell myself), so too are the slower laps or distances essential in developing your capacity to recover from strenuous effort.

You can find a variety of speed training ideas and fartlek suggestions in running magazines and online. A workout I used was one suggested by Irish running legend Eamonn Coghlan in a marathon training series he did for The Irish Times in 2004. His workout was: 1 slow lap (or minute) and then 1 fast; 2 slow and 2 fast, then 3 and 4 and even 5. Then work your way back down from 5 to 1. I really enjoyed this one. But I know others who base their fartlek on the geography of their running route – something like “I’ll run steadily to the park, then I’ll pick up the speed as far as the statue, then recover until the fountain, then fast again for a full lap of the park, then….” As with a lot about running, you’ll soon find something that works for you.

‘Fast’, though, doesn’t mean a manic dash every time – you just have to pick up the pace in a controlled way so that you know you’re putting in the hard work of running beyond your normal speed. That said, you may want to finish on a high and sprint home for that final lap or stretch.

Tonight I did the first speed training work of my Paris Marathon schedule. After warming up with the 2 miles to my local track, I did four 400 metre intervals – a recovery-pace lap and then a fast lap, four times. Getting back into it for the first time since the Dublin Marathon four months ago, I had to work hard and needed the full lap to recover. But that last lap I was blasting around the track, trying hard to block out the lactic acid sloshing in my legs and the dregs of bronchitis still floating at the bottom of my lungs. Then I still had to run the 2 miles back home.

For my effort, tonight I did a 400 metre lap faster than during all my Dublin Marathon speed training sessions last summer. So 1:23:27 for the 400 isn’t going to burn off any sprinters – but it’s a good start and it’s only going to get quicker. While remembering to go slow too, of course.

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