Speed Work:

My home for the last 4 months - The Mall

My home for the last 4 months - The Mall

I’m a pretty comfortable distance runner. When I start a long run or race, I know that I’ll be able to finish. But finishing in a reasonable time has always been a struggle for me. I’ve yet to hit a sub-4 marathon. Yes, I do struggle with nutrition, but I think that my drop in pace toward the tail end of a long race is largely down to the lack of one simple element in my training; hard work!

I’ll follow a training plan as far as mileage is concerned. And I’ll maybe occasionally do a hill session. But when I’m on my own, I’ll rarely do the actual fartlek or repetitive speed training that’s asked of me. So if there’s one thing I’ve done differently during my Virgin London Marathon 2011 training this year, it’s to incorporate a lot more speed sessions.

High intensity, speed training is the hardest part of training for a marathon (for me) by far. Running up and down a straight piece of road, or around a running track doesn’t hold much appeal at all. So in order for me to start training in this way I had to enlist the help of my work colleagues and join them on their Tuesday sprints session up and down the Mall at Buckingham Palace.

On my first go, a lunch-time session of 4 x 1200m with 2 minute rest periods, I did what anyone would do. I tried to keep up with everyone else. By the 3rd rep I was nearly 400 metres behind, with a face as white as a sheet and feeling as though I was going to throw up. It was really hard. My colleagues were encouraging, but many of them were in hard training (one of which can run a sub 3-hour marathon) and their pace was demoralising.

I stuck with it each week and reaped the benefits of having an experienced marathon runner on hand to develop the different sessions. These consisted of long, sustained sessions (like 5 x 1600m), or shorter, faster paced sessions (like 5 x 400m + 800m). Without the group element, there’s no way in hell that I’d have added these speed sessions to my training. My competitive edge had emerged.

Because the intervals vary so much, it’s sometimes difficult to see any improvement week on week. I was feeling stronger during my long runs on the weekend and could run at an improved pace for longer. But a real test of improvement came in the form of a weekly 5K handicap race against the people at VLM that I mentioned in my last post. This is the most fun I’ve had in running since my cross-country days as a kid. If you’re not aware of the handicap format, it’s when a group of runners with mixed-abilities set off at varying intervals, with the aim that everyone finishes at roughly the same time.


Sub 20 minutes

Sub 20 minutes baby!

This race is addictive and extremely competitive. Journalists move meetings with PRs so they can attend and not miss out on the Golden Shoe (awarded to the person who attends the most races in a year). I even heard one chap ‘joke’ about taking his holiday somewhere in Surrey, rather than abroad, so he could come back and run during his break! It’s immensely entertaining, and since I started in January (with a time of 23:34) I’ve run a PB 7 times, and my current best 5K time stands at 19:56 (which I’m very chuffed with)!

I’m in to taper week now, feeling in the shape of my life and ready as I’ll ever be for the marathon in a week’s time. And it’s all thanks to speed work. I can’t recommend it enough. If you fancy it, my only advice is to take it slow in the beginning. It’s very easy to pick up an injury by over doing it in the early stages. I managed to pick up achilles tendonitis (a painful creaking in the heel) and had to rest solidly for nearly 2 weeks. Luckily it subsided after a lot of icing, but I could very easily have ruined this year’s marathon. There’s some good advice here.


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