Training plan to improve your marathon pace

There’s only one way to improve your marathon running pace: training faster. When you’re building up to your next marathon, you may start to notice you’ve got yourself into a pace rut – continually doing long jogs at a fairly slow speed. These long runs are undeniably important for your stamina and endurance, but they won’t help you get faster overall.

Let’s look at why and how to improve running speed for your race – and we’ve also put together some tips for a speed training plan for marathon running.

Why running faster in training helps your marathon

Long, slow runs are an essential element in marathon training. However, mixing in some speed training into your schedule has multiple benefits:

  • It helps you increase your VO2 Max (volume of oxygen): Speed training improves the efficiency your heart, lungs and muscles use oxygen. For marathon running, that can pay dividends in the final, tougher miles of the race.
  • It helps improve efficiency at removing lactate: When you run fast, your body produces more lactic acid, but with practice it becomes more efficient at clearing this from your muscles. The more speed training you do, the more easily you’ll be able to increase your marathon pace.
  • It stresses your body: Stressing your body helps build up muscle strength, and means you become more able to cope with exhaustion.
  • It breaks up monotonous training: Adding some variety into your training schedule also makes it more fun and adds a little more motivation than endless slow jogs.

How to improve running speed for your marathon

There are a number of different kinds of speed running which you can mix into your marathon training schedule. Some of the most popular speed workouts include:

  • Fartlek training: From the Swedish for “speed play”, Fartlek training is a kind of unstructured speed training where you switch between high tempo running and slower jogs. Visit your local park and try mixing it up. After warming up, you might set your sights on a tree a hundred metres away and sprint to it, then jog the next 40 metres to a goal post, before sprinting to a pond and so on.
  • Interval training: Interval training is a key part of any speed training plan for marathon running. Similar to Fartlek training, you’ll run a certain distance at a high pace, before dropping back to a slow jog and repeating. The difference is that the slow/fast distances are more regular – you might do 75 metre sprint, before a 25 metre walk, then another 75 metre sprint and so on.
  • Hill sprints: An invaluable way of increasing speed and resistance, hill sprints build up your body’s strength and engage muscles which might not be used so often in your regular running. Find a hill with a reasonably steep gradient and run 30-40 metre sprints up the hill, before slowly walking down to the beginning and starting again. Hill runs can also be done on a treadmill by adjusting the gradient setting.
  • Tempo runs: If a lot of your training is either done at slow jogging pace or rapid sprints, tempo running essentially aims to find the middle ground between the two. The aim with tempo running is to sustain a relatively hard and high speed – you shouldn’t really be able to hold a conversation – for at least 20 minutes. After a 20-minute warm up, find this tempo pace and run for 20 minutes, before slowing down for another 10 minutes to warm down.
  • Striders: A strider is a kind of marathon running speed workout often performed on a track in repeats of 100 metres or so. Start at a slow pace before accelerating to your top speed before dropping back down to a slower run for the last 15 metres or so. Repeat.

A speed training plan for marathon running

As noted earlier, those long, slow, weekly runs will continue to play a big role in your marathon running training and should not be replaced. However, by mixing in at least one speed training session per week into your training, you’ll begin to notice the difference in terms of your pace and comfort when running fast.

Your first three or four weeks of marathon training should focus exclusively on slower runs and building up your fitness. However, after this initial period, you’ll benefit from doing at least one speed training workout each week. Choose one or two of the workouts described above, depending on whether they appeal to you and if you have the space to do them (if you live in a very flat area, hill runs will be difficult!).

Need for speed

There are many benefits to building speed training into your marathon plan – not least that it should help increase your overall marathon pace. And, combined with fast running shoes, you’ll have all the support you need to hit those targets even quicker.