The most common question I receive (almost daily) is did you go from a 4:38 to a 3:29 in one training cycle? The simple answer – yes.
The more in depth answer has one key component that was vital for me to make that jump in my marathon time. While my marathon training plan was what got me to my first Boston Qualifying marathon time, the work began before that.
So, what is the one thing that made me a faster marathoner?
Shorter distance training.
I get it though – marathoners typically don’t enjoy 5k and 10k training. The mindset, the paces, the pain it’s all very different and it uses an entirely different system.
Let’s look at the two systems real quick:
We all have two different types of skeletal muscle fibers: fast twitch and slow twitch. Slow twitch muscles are not as powerful or strong as fast twitch fibers but they can sustain for longer periods (such as in endurance running). Fast twitch muscles tire more quickly but they are used for more powerful bursts (think of sprinters). Fast twitch muscle fibers will also require longer for recovery.
Typically we are all dominate in one over the other. As you can expect, marathon runners tend to dominate in the slow twitch fibers therefor making them stronger in longer distance running then shorter and faster race which require use of more fast twitch muscle fibers.
Prior to beginning my marathon training cycle I take anywhere from 8-10 weeks and focus on shorter distance training. During the cycle where I took that large chunk of time off I focused on a 10k training plan to help me. This time around as I work to get speed back postpartum I am working on a more 5k based plan.
Does it really matter which type of plan? No.
A plan is a great thing to have but it’s not entirely necessary. The key is to get your body to call on those fast twitch fibers more. To get your legs to move faster then they would during a typical marathon training cycle.
I won’t lie to you – it hurts. It really hurts at times. However; it is has been so important and an integral part of my training and has helped me prepare both physically and mentally leading up to a marathon training cycle.
How does shorter distance training help you to prepare for marathon training?
Decreases Your Injury Risk
You can’t be in a marathon training cycle all the time. Yes, I know there are many out there who may try but it’s not a good idea. Trust me on this one. Your body not only needs time to recover but it also needs to use different systems. It’s good for it!
Shorter and faster stuff does put add in faster miles, but it also reduces your miles and allows your body to get out of the habit of just pounding out long mileage.
Provides You with a Mental Reset
If you’ve ever been burnt out then you know it’s not something you ever want to experience. Want to know what one of the most common causes of burnout is? Doing the same thing over and over. Burnout is primarily mental and when you are not mentally strong your running will plummet. I’ve been there and it isn’t pretty.
Shorter distance training provides you with a new type of training which helps you to mentally reset and focus on something new.
It Makes You Faster
The goal for most marathoners is to get faster right? I knew when I started training that I had a lot of time to cut off my marathon time and the only way I could do that was to get faster. It sounds silly but I needed my legs to be able to turn over faster.
Adding in shorter distance training works on your leg turnover so that once you do begin your marathon training again it makes your marathon pace feel easier.
It Gives You More Time for the Other Things
Marathon training takes a lot of time. Being out on your feet for 2+ hours some days doesn’t leave you much time to get much else done. We all know that in order to stay healthy and improve you can’t neglect things such as stretching, foam rolling, and strength work.
Now imagine that instead of going out there and running for 1.5-2 hours you are done in 45-50 minutes on most days. Sure, the workouts can hurt but they are over quicker and the other time you used to still be running you can use to focus on the small things. Those small things can go a LONG way in getting you read for marathon season.
When people ask me what I did to cut 1 hour and 9 minutes off my marathon time in one cycle, I could give them a list a mile long of all the things that I changed, but at the end of the day the biggest and number one thing I did to succeed in the marathon was to focus on shorter distance training.
Don’t focus on how hard it is going to be, how much it will hurt, or how you might feel completely out of shape. Focus on how much it will benefit your marathon training and get you to those BIG goals you have for yourself.
To get faster you must do the things that you don’t normally do. Otherwise – you stay in the same place you already are. Learn to use the systems of your body that you haven’t used in a while and let them help you get to that next level! To reach the next stage.
I remember mornings being out on the track in the middle of the summer and thinking it was impossible. Sure, it felt like that but those workouts, that training it helped me believe that if I worked hard for it that maybe it really was possible! I saw more improvement from those 8-10 weeks of short distance training than I had in a long time. When you begin to see the results it almost becomes an addiction.
All this being said my answer to the question I get so often what helped me become a faster marathoner is short distance training and of course believing and trusting the process.