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Marathon Training Week 13: The Value of Hard Run Workouts

by Karl Gruber
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“One dark, midwinter evening in early 1971, Steve Prefontaine and Frank Shorter were on a 10-mile training run high in the mountains outside of Taos, New Mexico. It was cold – the bitter, goes-right-through-you-like-a-knife kind of cold that often descends on the Rockies like a sheet of ice after the sun goes down. There was no spandex back then, no lycra, no polypropylene tights, no shoes with air or gel in the soles, no heart rate monitors or digital watches. Those who have run in such conditions know that the winter wind bites right through those flimsy, antidiluvian nylon tops we used to wear…You can’t see because the sleet and snow are blowing directly into your face, crusting up and freezing your eyelids and turning you into a snowman…It was Shorter and Prefontaine’s second run of the day…The two runners were freezing, tired, and cranky. "Frank, this is crazy. Let’s head back, light a fire, and have some dinner," Prefontaine said through the ice hanging from his mustache and eyebrows. Shorter looked over at his friend, squinted into the blinding snow, and said, “Steve, no one is training as hard as we are right now. No one!”

This description from Michael Sandrock’s book, Running Tough, of this incredible scene of the two legendary professional runners during the American running boom of the early 1970’s, pretty much says it all – if you desire to run your best, if you wish to be competitive in your upcoming marathon. I say “if” because, especially if you are a first-time marathon runner, in which it is highly recommended that you simply enjoy the experience of your first 26.2 mile race and not worry a whole lot about your finishing time. However, I do know that, (and I am one of them) that some people have an inherent competitiveness built into them. So novice or experienced runner, here are a couple tough run workouts for your review to see if it is something you might like to incorporate into your training.

Three Loops of a Rolling 6 Mile Course (for long run base-building)
(by David Morris, former American marathon record holder, 2:09:30)
Plan – A continuous, non-stop run
Pace – Moderate at first, then getting progressively faster
When to Do – Before a marathon or half marathon
Total Distance – 18 miles

Morris ran this workout at 6200 ft. with water bottles placed along the course to practice drinking fluids while running at a faster pace.

10 x 10K (Interval workout to increase your speed)
(by Arturo Barrios, PR’s: 27:08 10k, 2:08:37 marathon)
Plan – 10 x 1000 meters reps
Pace – A few seconds per mile faster than 5k race pace
Recovery – One slow 400 meter (one lap) jog in between each 1000 meter rep
Total Distance – 10 miles with warm-up and cool-down

Barrios knew that when he mastered this interval workout run on a 400 meter track that he was race-ready.

Da Costa’s 5K’s (Tempo run at or near race pace)
(by Ronaldo Da Costa former marathon world record holder, 2:06:05)
Plan – Multiple reps of 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) 
Pace – Marathon race pace or faster
Recovery – 5 to 10 minute easy run between each 5k rep
When to Do – During last phase of marathon build-up
Total Distance – 15 to 18 miles

Da Costa liked this workout because it taught him to run quicker when he was tired, such as what happens during the second half of a marathon.

These are just three tough run workouts that can help you run very well during your marathon. The nice thing about these workouts is that you don’t have to be an elite runner to do them. Even if you are a novice runner, you can edit the workout to match your current running ability and still improve in speed, distance, and endurance. While there are many, many sources to find tough run workouts, I recommend that you check out Mike Sandrock’s, 2001 book, Running Tough: 75 Challenging Training Runs. 

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