Best Interval Training for a Marathon


Training for a marathon is a daunting task. I often advise beginners to think of running the marathon as they would think of eating an elephant; one bite at a time. The marathon, marked by the extreme distance of 26.2 miles, is a true test of human endurance. Attempting to go out and run the entire race without a structured plan is sure to leave you mentally and physically exhausted and overwhelmed. Instead, it is far more efficient to train using an interval program.

The intensity and speed of the intervals will vary slightly for each runner. Newbies will want to start out slower than veteran runners. Those in peak shape will be able to run faster intervals than those who are starting out on a weight loss journey. However, the same principles of interval training are applicable across the board with the variations in speed and intensity for each runner.

Interval training can be used for speed or endurance building. When building speed, high intensity speed intervals are an excellent way to quickly become a faster runner. This is done by pushing max anaerobic threshold for up to 60 seconds, followed by 4 times the recovery period. Then, the cycle is repeated with the minute of hard running followed by an easy 4 minutes of recovery running at a slower pace. While the intervals are run, split times should be as equally dispersed as possible. This means that the same distance should be covered in each timed split, to ensure that optimal results are being attained.

Endurance interval training works the same way, except for longer periods. The timing on the interval splits will vary. When I ran my first marathon with the charity support group Team in Training, the coach recommended and ran her own intervals at a 9:1 ratio. She ran at a steady pace for 9 minutes and walked for 1 minute recovery. Her training partner ran a tri-split interval at 7 minutes steady pace, 2 hard minutes and 1 minute recovery for the entire distance. I found myself favoring the 7:2:1 pace, as this allowed for the most break-up of the distance and monotony of mileage.

Interval progression allows you to gradually increase your interval training, combining speed and endurance workouts for optimal marathon performance. These are done on a track, and combine longer distances with shorter ones with intense speed and recovery intervals. 10 x 400 meter runs on a track at 5k pace one day followed by 15 x 300 meter runs at 2 mile pace the next will train your body to handle the distance at a faster rate. Gradually increase the speed of the interval workouts to 10 x 400 meter runs at 2 mile pace (slightly faster than 5k pace) with 15 x 600 meter runs at the same pace.

For more information about interval training for a marathon, read some of our other articles at Whether you are running your first race or you are a seasoned veteran, you have the opportunity to improve your race with interval training.

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