When Eliud Kipchoge ran 26.2 miles in less than two hours on Oct. 12, the Kenyan defied decades of scientific assumptions about the body’s potential.
Previously, researchers believed human beings couldn’t run a marathon in under two hours. Kipchoge proved that belief was wrong, given the right conditions. Running on a mostly flat surface with pace setters shielding him from the wind, Kipchoge crossed the finish line in 1:59:40, almost two minutes faster than the world record of 2:01:39 that Kipchoge set at last year’s Berlin marathon.
A mere day after Kipchoge stunned the world with his superhuman pace, Brigid Kosgei of Kenya demolished the world record women’s marathon time winning the 42nd Bank of America Chicago Marathon.
Spectators deemed Kosgei’s early breakneck pace suicidal but she survived and settled into a steadier pace in the back half, finishing in two hours, 14 minutes, 4 seconds to a new world record (former record was 2:15:25 held by Paula Radcliffe) on an unusually windy day.
These athletic feats should inspire each of us to set goals that seem impossible and to reach for personal records that seem too scary to even attempt.
Here are a few tips to propel you to that marathon personal record that always seemed too scary to set as a goal.
Define Your Goal
Do you want to set a personal record or just finish? Whether you’re aiming to to beat your previous time or qualify for the Boston Marathon, picking the right plan is crucial. You need to do the correct pace work to hit your goal time on race day. But if you’re simply looking to finish the race with your head held high, you don’t need a plan loaded with speedwork and hill repeats or fartleks. That doesn’t mean you can’t do them, but the plan is less important than if you were setting out to conquer your previous best time.
What was your last marathon pace? Before committing to a time goal, calculate your average mile pace during your last marathon. Also, consider your pace at the various stages of the marathon. Were you cruising until the 20-mile marker until you hit the wall? Did a mid-race potty break add too many minutes to your time? Pick a reasonable pace that is better than your previous race and do the math to generate a new time goal.
What are your 5K and 10K race paces? Take a look at past race performances, to feel out your marathon goal. Try the McMillan Running prediction calculator to figure out your new marathon pace.
To Race Fast, You Have To Train Fast
Most people think that marathon training is only about building up the miles before hitting 26.2 on race day. That’s important, but if you want to run a faster marathon, you’ll need to incorporate some speed work into your training regiment. Most runners dread speed work, but if you embrace them, speed workouts can be fun. Really. I swear! They help break up the monotony of marathon training while helping you achieve your time goal.
Here are some of the common types of speed-training workouts.
Fartleks: During a fartlek, you speed up and slow down at varying intervals. For example, run hard for four minutes, then run easy for two minutes, then run hard for five minutes and so on.
Tempo Run: A tempo is a run done at a slightly uncomfortable pace. Sometimes they are runs done at the pace of a previous 5K or 10K. They can also sometimes be done at your projected marathon pace.
Intervals: Interval training increases endurance by adding intensity at set points in your run. Run a set distance at top speed, then a set distance at a slower pace to recover and repeat. Common intervals for marathon training are 800 meters, 1200 meters or one mile.
Hills: Improve your speed and efficiency by running hills. Run up and down the same hill over and over again.
Pace work: Pace runs are workouts done at the pace you hope to use during the marathon.
Although strength training might not make you faster, it will contribute to making sure you’re injury-free throughout training and help keep biomechanical issues from ending your race at mile 20. Strength training can help you to handle the unique muscular demands of pounding pavement for 26.2 miles.
It can be hard to find time to hit the gym when you’re running four to six days a week. That’s why I recommend the book Quick Strength For Runners. I’m also a big fan of the ECFit mobile app that takes you through the strength routine of pro marathoners like Kara Goucher and Parker Stinson.
Train Hard And Recover Harder
You’re not as good as your workouts. You’re really only as good as how you recover. If you don’t properly recover from a tough run, that tough run won’t help you build fitness–in fact, it sets you back in your training plan.
First, nail the basics. Be mindful of sleep and nutrition, keep your easy days easy and be flexible about training plan if you’re feeling fatigued or stressed. Once you have that down, spend a little extra time kicking your feet up after harder sessions to keep your rest days intentional.