The marathon is primarily a feet of endurance. Yes, if you are hoping to Boston Qualify, it is also somewhat a test of speed. But my point is this: if you can run a 5k at your goal marathon pace, you need not question whether you are capable of running “fast enough.” The question is whether or not you can sustain that pace for 26.2 miles.
As I hope I pointed out in my earlier posts, many people think the way to achieve the level of endurance needed to Boston Qualify is to run as close to 26.2 miles as possible at goal marathon pace. Practice makes perfect, right? Again, I say no.
These long run/fast pace efforts often cause more harm than good, leaving us injured or burned out by race day.
A much better approach to increasing our endurance is to gradually ramp up our weekly mileage, ideally before we even introduce speed work and tempo runs into our training program. I believe there is a direct correlation between average weekly mileage and marathon performance.
Interestingly, I have noticed through my own experience that the greater my average weekly mileage, the faster I become as well.
Now before you go adding 50 more miles to your training plan this week, please keep in mind that there is a correct way to build endurance through weekly mileage:
1. Gradually – I do not know who first suggested the old 10% rule, but you will hear a lot of runners say that to reduce the chance of injury, only increase your weekly total mileage by 10% each week. Now, I think that’s a fairly decent principle to go by, but it does not hold true in every situation. For example, if you can only run one mile, I am not going to suggest that it will take you 10 weeks of training before you can run two miles. I think the safe percentage of weekly mileage increase will vary from runner to runner. But in any case, a gradual increase of weekly mileage can take time, perhaps more time than you want to be officially “marathon training.” However, if you can stand to build your mileage up slowly, over a period of months instead of weeks, you are better off.
2. Economically – What I mean by this is don’t put all your money on the long run. Yes, the long run is important, but the 6 other days of the week are also important. I believe it is better to add a mile or two to each of your weekday runs than to add 4 to 10 extra miles on to the long run. The problem, however is this: We are all busy. Work, kids, friends, volunteer responsibilities, cross- training, and this important little thing called sleep – sometimes it seems like there aren’t enough hours in the day. Obviously, you have to work with the cards you are dealt, but if you can sacrifice an extra 20 minutes of sleep in order to achieve more economically distributed mileage, you should do so.
3. Safely – As you increase your weekly mileage, you stress and therefore build the same muscles through the repetitive movement of running. Too much repetitive stress can lead to muscle imbalances, and ultimately injury. Frankly, your body needs to be strong enough to withstand the amount of mileage you are asking of it. That is why it is imperative (at least for me — and probably for most people) that I include a decent amount of targeted strength training into my marathon training with special attention given to my glute, hip and core muscles.
In the course of my marathoning career, I have had 2 DNS (Did Not Start) experiences. Both were due to injury and in both cases, I was running between 55 – 70 miles a week and basically ignoring strength training.
This is as much as I will say on strength training at this point, but I plan to dedicate a future post to the topic.
Also keep in mind that the greater your weekly mileage, the faster you will wear down your running shoes, so they will need to be replaced more frequently. Most running shoes will give you 400-500 miles (less if they are lightweight). If you are running 50 miles a week, you will basically need to replace your shoes every couple of months. More on this later as well.
Finally, don’t forget that overwhelming majority of your weekday miles should be at an EASY pace. You should not be adding significant mileage onto your tempo or speed sessions, unless those miles are for your warm-up or cool-down.