Marathon Endurance Training

What exactly do we mean by endurance when we talk about endurance training? In 1928 Noah Webster defined endurance as continuing under pain or distress without resistance, or without sinking or yielding to the pressure. This sounds like a good definition for a marathon. Continuing under pain and distress. So then, the goal of endurance training is to increase your ability to continue under higher levels of pain and distress without yielding.

Everyone has a level of endurance, and the obvious goal of marathon training is to improve it. Your endurance level will be set by your VO2 Max and your anaerobic threshold. Fortunately these are tied relatively close together, meaning if you improve one you will improve the other. The only way to improve these two factors is to regularly stress your body and let it recover. Then increase the stress and repeat. In the words of Bill Bowerman, "Stress, recover, improve." Endurance training is a key component in this cycle and will make up just over 50% of your marathon training.

During your marathon training you will focus on two types of endurance training. You will train extensive endurance and intensive endurance. Extensive endurance training is the long slow run, or training your body to continue for extended periods without stopping. These get you ready for the 26.2 miles that you will be running. Intensive endurance training is higher pace, higher intensity runs of a shorter distance. Your intensive endurance will be made up of tempo runs between 30 and 60 minutes long.

The Long Slow Run

The long slow run is a primary component of increasing endurance. The only goal for these runs is to increase your endurance capacity. You will work on speed and strength on other days, so for your long runs focus on long slow endurance training. Once you are at the point of running 6 continuous miles, you are ready to start your long run regime. If you're not able to run 6 miles without stopping, refer to the Marathon Beginner page to help yourself get to this point.

Typically the long runs will be on a weekend, but you can adjust the day to fit your schedule. Just make sure that you keep the day of your long run consistent. Also, keep the order of the runs consistent as well. For example, don't change your long run to a day that is immediately before or after a hard run day. Always keep your runs in the proper order with the proper rest between each.

For all the plans listed on the Training Plans page, you'll start your long run somewhere between 6 and 10 miles depending on your level. Each weekend after that you'll increase it by 1 mile up until 12 to 16 miles, again, depending on your level. After that, you'll do a long run every other weekend, alternating in other types of runs which are determined by the plan that you choose. And once again, the focus of these runs are for extensive (meaning long in time and distance) endurance training, both physical and mental endurance that will be necessary to carry you through 26.2 miles.

For this portion of the endurance training, the beginners need to run at a conversational pace. You should be able to speak in short sentences without gasping for breath. If you're huffing and puffing and only able to get out a couple of words without gasping for air, you need to slow down. You may be using a heart rate monitor, but at this stage you don't necessarily need one. If you're using a heart rate monitor, you should keep your peak heart rate during the run below 70% of your maximum. But check your breathing against your heart rate. If you're continuously under 70% of maximum heart rate and still huffing and puffing, slow down. If you haven't already done so, check out the Heart Rate Calculator page to find out your maximum heart rate and to see the different training zones.

For the intermediates, you should be using a heart rate monitor. Your long runs will be in the Aerobic zone which is between 65% and 75% of your maximal heart rate. Make sure you have read through the Target Heart Rate page to get an understanding of your training zones. The longer the run, the lower you should try to keep your average. For your longest runs, your average heart rate for the whole run shouldn't be higher than 70% but not lower than 65%. Don't worry about going too slow, this is extensive endurance training not intensive. This is the part of your training where you are supposed to be going slow. This is only one step above a recovery run, so don't try to change it into something else. When your long run mileage starts to get higher, the slow pace will help to prevent injuries.

For the advanced runners, refer to the Lactic Acid page to get an understanding of your anaerobic threshold and lactic acid levels. All of your long runs will be at your L1 level. This is 80% of your anaerobic threshold heart rate. This is different from 80% of your max heart rate so don't confuse the two. You are at the point where you can control your heart rate better than most, so you will need to keep your average heart rate very close to this level. If in doubt or if you feel overexerted in any way, back off a bit. Remember these runs are for building an aerobic base through endurance training, not for seeing how hard you can push it.

The Tempo Run

The second part of your endurance training will be to train intensive endurance. Meaning simply intense or strenuous. While the long run trains you for the extensive distance of the marathon, tempo runs train you for the intensity of it. They are also a key component to raising your anaerobic threshold. Some people consider tempo runs a part of speed training, but we will consider them the fast part of your endurance training.

Simply put a tempo run is somewhere around 30 minutes, but definitely no longer than 60 minutes. If you're following the intermediate plan, the pace for your tempo runs will be in your anaerobic zone. See the Target Heart Rate page for an explanation of the anaerobic zone. For those following the advanced plan, your tempo run pace will be either L3 or L4. Refer to the Lactic Acid page for an explanation of the lactic acid levels. The goal of your tempo run is to maintain an even pace. If you start to slow down at the end of the run, then you went too fast. And remember, this should also be a pace that you could keep for up to 60 minutes. Tempo runs will make up roughly 15% of your marathon training plan.

For the beginners, you should not worry about doing tempo runs. The long slow run is the only component of your endurance training that you need. Finishing the marathon is your goal. Don't push yourself to far yet or you could risk injury. Once you have a couple of running seasons under your belt, then you can start the intensive portion of your endurance training.

The intermediate and advanced runners need to find a place that is relatively flat where they will be able run for 30 to 60 minutes in your anaerobic zone or near your anaerobic threshold. You want to be able to run at a constant pace without your heart rate fluctuating too much, so stay away from all but the smallest hills. During this portion of your endurance training you are focusing on maintaining a steady pace.

For those following the intermediate training plan, some of your tempo runs will be in the lower half of the anaerobic zone between 80% to 85% of your max heart rate. On the training plan, these intensive endurance training runs will be referred to as low anaerobic or "LAn" tempo runs. This pace should roughly correspond to your marathon pace toward the end of your training plan. If you are not approaching your goal pace while running your "LAn" tempo runs toward the end of your training plan, you may want to reevaluate your marathon goal.

The rest of your tempo runs will be in the top half of the anaerobic zone between 85% and 90% of your max heart rate. On the training plan these endurance training runs will be referred to as high anaerobic or "HAn" tempo runs. These runs will train your anaerobic threshold, helping to raise it. This means that you will be able to run closer to your max heart rate without running out of gas.

The above information holds true for the advanced runners. The only difference is that you will be running at either L3 or L4 for your tempo runs. L3 will eventually translate into your marathon goal pace. And L4 will be slightly over your marathon goal pace.

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