Preparing well for anything in life requires knowing with accuracy what you are preparing for; what are the specific demands of the task? When it comes to running the variety of race distances can be distinguished from each other by intensity and duration, but individual events also may have their own specific demands, such as weather or course profile. Essentially, it’s building an accurate picture of what the race entails and then trying to replicate this as a fundamental part of your race preparation.
For marathon and ultra distance races, the weekly long run is the key part of the specific training; this is the opportunity to practice pace, build duration and test race nutrition and equipment. The same principles apply to shorter events such as 10K and half marathon, although for more seasoned runners these events are less of a duration challenge and more an intensity challenge. The form of specific training here is usually repetition-based workouts.
An example of a specific marathon long run might be a total run distance of 30K, of which 20K of the run is done at the marathon goal pace in segments of 3-5K, followed by shorter recovery segments.
For example, 2K warm-up / 4 x [5K @marathon pace + 2K @ 30 seconds slower than marathon pace]. Alternatively, if preparing for a 10K race, the specific workout would involve doing 7-10K of volume at 10K race pace by way of a series of repetitions of 1-2K followed by an interval of recovery, such as 4 x 2K@ 10K pace followed by a rest interval of 2-3 minutes after each repetition.
Additionally, the specifics of the race course need to be replicated, if this will be something unfamiliar to what you normally encounter in training. An example of this is the Boston Marathon course where the first half of the race is a net elevation drop followed by a series of hills in the latter stages. These specific challenges need to be plugged into the weekly long run so you hit the race fully confident there won’t be any surprises on race day.
By doing this type of specific training you are challenging yourself by replicating the physiological demands of the goal race, so that come race day you will be as familiar as possible with the task at hand both physically and psychologically. The runners with the most familiarity of their goal are the most confident runners on race day and the ones who will most likely deliver a predictable performance.
Marathon Training Plan – 16 Weeks
Turn Your Marathon Training Into An Ultra
To modify this program for racing distances over 50K it would be necessary to adapt Day 7 to be specific to the goal race. Aim to progress Day 7 training day so you are covering 60 per cent of the race distance/time on this day either in 1 or 2 training sessions at similar speed and on similar terrain you will race on.
For example, one way to achieve 60 per cent, or 60K, in preparation for a 100K race would be to do a 40K trail run as the first training session in the morning followed by either a 20K run or fast hike in the afternoon. Aim to progress to these big 60 per cent training days from Week 8 onwards every other week, with middle weeks being 40 per cent of the race distance/time in a single run.