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Marathon Success and the Race Rehearsal Workout

27 July

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Creative Commons License photo credit: thelastminute
Don’t Wait Until Now to Find Out How Fit You Are

As exciting as marathon race day can be, it doesn’t have to be such a giant roll of the dice. After all you’re not just hoping for a PR, you want to run the whole race. While every marathon runner starts with high hopes on race day, not everyone is able to realize their goals. This is due, in part to poor race execution, but also to a fundamental training flaw: very few marathoners spend training time at their goal marathon pace!

Training To Finish, Not Race
What’s the big deal with only just doing long runs?

Before we get into specifics, let’s examine why marathon race day is such an unknown for most runners. The biggest single contributing factor is that most runners train for long runs, not for racing. Their goal is just to do 18 miles, to run 20 miles. Yet on the big day they want to race. There is a vast difference between just running 20 miles at a long run pace and actually racing a marathon at your goal pace.

Inside Marathon Nation we structure your training so that your ideal marathon race day is what “should” happen, not what “could” happen. We do this by de-emphasizing the role of the traditional long run, replacing it instead with a Race Simulation workout.

The three key Marathon Nation training components are:

  • 5k Test for Fitness Benchmarking
  • Quality Long Runs
  • Properly Executed Race Simulation

Long Runs Aren’t Enough
While long runs are an important part of any marathon training program, as building up your endurance (even if you have to split the runs) is important. These long runs, however, shouldn’t be the center of your marathon training universe.

Endurance is important, but it’s not the only pre-requisite for having a successful race. A great race day requires that a lot of things go well at the same time. There are two types of variables:

Under your control: Fitness, Pacing, Nutrition, Gear
Outside your control: Weather, Competition, Disaster

Getting in your long runs can make sure that your fitness is in order, but it doesn’t put your ability to race to the test. Yes you might cover some of the other elements listed above on your long runs, but why put it to chance? Use a Race Simulation run to get everything dialed in and know, for sure, just how ready you are.

Building Race Fitness
Since just running longer isn’t enough, we need to have workouts that challenge your actual race day potential. But before we talk about the actual simulation, it’s important to note that your entire program is what prepares you for race day — not a single workout. In fact some of the easiest runs a Marathon Nation athlete does all year are longer than 18 miles…almost every other run has some form of intensity involved. Inside Marathon Nation we start training towards your goal race potential right on Day One, when we test your functional fitness with a 5k and then generate challenging training paces.

Our PRO System® approach promotes quality over quantity, meaning we do a lot of challenging interval and tempo work. Thanks to the PRO System, almost all of your workouts will challenge you to get fitter and faster. In this regard you are well on your way to being race ready before you consider an actual race simulation run (this is partly why choosing the right program is such a critical decision!).

Over the course of a 12-week Race Preparation build up, the typical Marathon Nation plan will have you doing 3 long runs of 18 miles or more, and then one Race Simulation workout. But remember that the shorter runs on the “odd” weeks aren’t exactly easy. Thanks to the PRO System these runs will put your fitness to the test; consistent with our mantra of targeting every run to helping you achieve your race goals.

The Race Simulation Solution
With the goal of covering 26.2 miles on race day, it’s tempting to think that running “far” is your primary goal in training. At the same time, most of our long runs are endurance focused. This means we run them at a pace that’s typically 30 to 40 seconds slower per mile than what we’ll run on race day. So while we are running longer, we aren’t really putting our actual goal pacing to the test. The Marathon Nation solution is simple: run fewer miles at a faster pace.

As any veteran marathon runner will tell you, the opportunity to waste your good fitness on a training run is never more than a few poorly paced miles away — so we need to proceed with caution!

The Prep: We’ll treat the actual workout as a race, so you should warm up accordingly with some light jogging and some 30″ pick ups at 10k pace / effort. Be prepared to track your splits per mile for post-run analysis.

Marathon Race Simulation Option #1: 3 hours or 18 miles, whichever comes first, as 50/50. First 50% as goal pace PLUS 30″ per mile, preferably on challenging terrain, then second 50% as just than faster goal pace (by 5 to 10 seconds per mile).

Coach Comments: The more basic of the two simulations, this run splits your pacing evenly between the typical long run pace and then your goal pace. This will allow you to cover quite a few miles (up to 9 miles) at your goal pace in a slightly pre-fatigued state, thanks to those early miles. As a result, you’ll really know whether or not your goal pace is attainable or not by virtue of how you perform over the second half!

Marathon Race Simulation Option #2: 3 hours or 18 miles, whichever comes first, as 30/50/20. The first 30% as goal pace PLUS 30″ per mile, 50% at goal pace, then last 20% as FASTER than goal pace. Warm Up as you would for a regular race, including some 30″ pick ups. Track your splits per mile for post-run analysis.

Coach Comments: In this advanced version, the goal is to replicate the true demands of those last 6 miles on race day, when running even your pedestrian goal pace seems so incredibly hard. We do this by shortening the “easy” miles at the beginning and ask you to try and run the last 20% (or 3.5 miles) at faster than your goal pace. If you can hit all the pacing goals on this workout

There Is No Silver Bullet
While I am confident the Marathon Nation training approach and these Race Simulation workouts will get you closer to your goal finish time, there is no guarantee. There are a million and one things that can happen between now and race day to interfere with your lofty goals, but if you can follow the guidance listed above at least you’ll know that fitness and experience are on your side. The rest is up to you to make it happen!

Bonus Section: Race Simulation Checklist
Aside from the actual workout itself, one of the most valuable components of the race simulation experience is getting all of your gear and equipment tested. It’s one thing to have new stuff, it’s quite another thing to try and put it all together! Here’s a list of things you’ll want to have ready for your next race simulation.

  • Shoes
  • Socks
  • Shorts
  • Shirt
  • Hat / Visor
  • Sunglasses
  • Hydration System
  • Fuel (gels or sports drink)
  • Pit stop options
  • Conclusion
    Marathon race day is special for many reasons. It represents the culmination of months of training and sacrifice. It’s a celebration of the fit lifestyle that you share with thousands of other runners. And it’s a day full of possibilities: will I set a PR? Will I get those dreaded cramps? How will the weather play out? Tensions are high and adrenaline has you ready to go long before the starting gun goes off.

    Hopefully the tips outlined above will help you take that old school “long run” mentality and transform at least one of them into an examination of your race day readiness. Life is full of surprises, but race day doesn’t have to be. Good luck!

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    As always, I just wanted to thank you for subscribing. This blog is a success because of you and your support. Here’s to your fitness!

    If you want to learn more, please download our FREE eBook: 29 Tips to Transform Your Running. You can become a Fan of Marathon Nation on Facebook to join the conversation and consider creating a two-week free trial to see our plans and resources for yourself!

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    6 Responses to “Marathon Success and the Race Rehearsal Workout”

    1. Patrick August 12, 2010 at 12:59 am #

      @Kirk — That means if your goal pace is 9:00 miles, you run the first five starting as 9:30, 9:25, 9:20 down to just below 9:00s, like 8:55s. By the time you hit mile 20 you will have recouped the early losses and be ready to rock!

    2. Kirk August 10, 2010 at 2:44 pm #

      you refer to plus 30″ in your training outline, what does this exctly mean?

    3. Sam Gillis August 1, 2010 at 5:51 pm #

      Ka Chee,
      I’m not Patrick but you can probably do the elliptical machine (any gym will has several) You can use your arms as well as your legs and get a good workout without having to pound that cut on the pavement. All elliptical machines will measure your heart rate so set the resistance high enough that you have to work (without hurting your cut)and keep your speed up. Speed is probably more important than resistance. Exercise for at least as long as you would run. Pay no attention to how far the machine says about distance or speed.

    4. ka chee July 28, 2010 at 5:49 pm #

      I just have a big cut on the bottom of my foot.I won’t be runnig for a week or so.How do you want to follow the programe.My next marathon would Long beach on Oct.17/2010.
      Please advice.Thank you.
      K.C.

    5. Elizabeth July 28, 2010 at 2:57 pm #

      awesome job SAM!!!! and yeh that hill there on Buchanan (I think) was a killer huh? (I did the second half)

    6. Sam Gillis July 28, 2010 at 11:49 am #

      Caoch Patrick,
      This is a follow up to you. I am the 75 year old who because of a groin pull limited my last 8 weeks of marathon training to 90% on the ellitical and stationary bike and 10% to running on flats. I ran the San Francisco and finished in 4:33:04, goal 4:22. Conclusion: You can’t train for down hills on an elliptical. I avaraged 10:01 for the half. Was 10;08 at 20, then came a steep down hill and I kept my pace for about a mile after that. The last 4 miles was at about 12min/mile. Qualifying for Boston and finishing 5/19 in my age group and 283/5929 in age graded results, one might say I crushed it. The down hill Boston will require more than elliptical training.
      Thanks, sam

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