9-Weeks to Boston …. Fast Finish Long Runs

Posted: February 14, 2010 in Training

Monday morning there will be just 9 training weeks remaining to the first leg of the Run for Dom “double” – the Boston Marathon.  The list on the “Magic Fridge” this morning called for a 16-mile long run.  For Marathoners the “long-run” is a key part of the training schedule.  I’ve said many times in the past that there is no single individual workout during a 16, 18 or 20 week marathon training schedule that is any more important than any other. 

That is absolutely 100% true.  It is the culmination of all of your individual workouts that result in a well prepared, healthy, rested and mentally strong marathoner.  Your rest days, recovery runs, tempo runs, mid-week “sorta” long runs (8-10 miles), long runs (10+ miles) and taper period all contribute to arriving in peak physical condition on race day.

16-Mile Long Run Summary

The long run however just seems like it is the most important workout on the schedule.  It gets the most attention, takes the most time to complete and tests you more mentally and physically than any other workout.  When I think back to my first marathon in 2006 I was in a very different place mentally than in 2009 when I was going to try to run a Boston Qualifying time at Pittsburgh.  By 2009 I was a more experienced runner.  I was stronger physically for sure, but most importantly I was more confident.

There is a significant difference between thinking you can do something and in fact knowing it.  In 2006 running toward City Hall at the Philadelphia Marathon I had never run farther than 20-miles.  Could I run 26.2? What would it feel like? Just how hard would it be?  Was my nutrition plan sound? Would I be able to handle the water stops? Would my feet blister? Was I dressed warm enough? Was I dressed too warm? Could that guy running while dressed in drag really beat me? (Yes was the answer to the last one).

But at Pittsburgh it was a different story.  I knew what the final 10 Kilometers would feel like.  I knew that my training plan had been tweaked, re-tweaked and re-tweaked again to peak for May 2, 2009.  My clothing, gear, nutrition plan, hydration plan all were tested, re-tested and re-tested again.  And there was no way in the world another cross-dressing runner was going to take me down.

So where does that confidence come from?  Sunday long-runs.  It is where you can really focus your workout to test everything from your equipment to your pre-race meal.  It is where you transform from a runner who “thinks” they are a marathoner to one who “knows” they are.  That confidence makes all the difference in the world as I strongly believe that after a certain fitness level is attained distance running is 80% mental and only 20% physical.

It was my desire to strengthen not only the physical side but also the mental side of my marathon preparation that led me to adopt a training strategy endorsed by Greg McMillian at McMillian Running.  As I approach the final 10 weeks of my marathon training program I incorporate two different types of long runs in my training schedule.  The traditional long run as well as the fast finish long run.

The traditional long run or slow and steady long run is widely accepted as a critical part of marathon training.  The key to this workout is to run the long distance of 12-20 miles at a slow and steady pace somewhere between :30 and :45 seconds slower than your target race pace for the marathon.  This accomplishes a few things:

  1. Increases your body’s ability to burn fat and increase your glycogen stores.
  2. Increases your leg strength and your stamina.
  3. Increases your ability to continue to run when you have become fatigued.
  4. Increases your confidence level that you can run for 3 or 4 hours at a time.
  5. Increases your mental strength that you can and will continue to run when you are tired.
  6. Allows you to build mileage and not risk injury by training too hard too fast.

The fast finish long run is a strategy that is not nearly as widely adopted.  In fact I do not personally know many runners who implement this strategy.  It calls for running a significant portion of your long run at or near race pace and then push the final 10-15 minutes of your run at a pace “faster” than your marathon race pace.  Yup, I said it,  faster than your marathon race pace.

Saturday Night's Seafood Pasta

This serves as a confidence workout for me.  It allows me to really zero in on my splits and determine the type of race I am capable of running.  Now this is a key point – it is not a good idea to do these fast finish long runs very often nor is it a good idea to do them too close to race day.  I typically do 3 fast finish long runs with 9, 7 and 5 weeks to go before race day.  This allows for a very solid month of decreased intensity and a strong taper period so I can peak for race day.

So how did our workout go today?  16 miles in 1:58:21 (7:24/mile pace), last year’s pace for this distance was 7:32/mile.  My individual mile splits were:  7:21, 7:22, 7:31, 7:27, 7:25, 7:27, 7:22, 7:34, 7:23, 7:31, 7:13, 7:28, 7:32, 7:22, 7:11, 7:05.

The key numbers there are miles 15 and 16 which were run at 7:11 and 7:05 respectively after I had already covered 14 miles.  Great stuff this morning on a near perfect day for running – 43 degree temps and very little wind.  The fast finish long-run is not meant to be an easy workout – but after a few of these runs you will really start to see the benefit as you reach the latter stages of your 16,18 and 20 mile runs. 

Confidence is a powerful weapon.  Come the Newton Hills at Boston or Forbes Hill at Pittsburgh it is nice to have that little “extra” in the tank knowing that even when you feel fatigued there is another gear that you can tap into that will be there when you need it most.

So with only 63 days to Boston, 76 to Pittsburgh and another great week of training in the books, confidence is high – bring it on.

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Comments
  1. Great blog Joe!

    Since I have a blog on blogspot, I can’t be your follower so I added my email so I can be notified on your new posts.

    Bring it on Boston Marathon!!!!

    Cynara Saraiva.
    http://www.dailymile.com/people/LuvToRun

  2. BRR says:

    Fantastic blog, Joe! I never thought about it, but you’re right, those fast finishes really do give a good confidence boost. Thanks for sharing your insights! Looking forward to reading more!

  3. tbrush3 says:

    I have come to dread so many of the long runs. I like this approach though and it might be able to give me something else to focus on and even more purpose in the run. Great post

    • joerunfordom says:

      Trey – thanks for the visit! I really like adding this element to every other long run when the miles start to get up there – it as you put it really gives a great deal of focus to the end of that workout instead of just ticking the miles as they go by. Hope all is well out in Atlanta – best from Austin, Joe

  4. Karla Gregg says:

    Looks like you are following McMillian! I started following his marathon plans last year and really like doing the fast finish long runs. that’s what helped me most mentally running my PR in Boston. Are you also doing the ‘no GU’ thing?

    • joerunfordom says:

      Hi Karla! Thanks for stopping by and for the post. I’ve actually taken some Hal Higdon philosophys, some FIRST cross training elements and Greg’s training elements and arrived at what seems to work best for me. You are spot on however regarding those fast finish long runs – no way I would have made my BQ last year without them and a lot of tempo work. From a nutrition standpoint – I’m not on the “No-Gu” plan – I actually practice my race nutrition starting with my first long run of 14 miles or more. I typically take Clif Bloks as they work best with my tummy – 3 Bloks every 5 miles with water. This really seems to keep me “even” and I feel like I have a lot of energy throughout. If you have some tips for miles 16-21 at Boston please share! I’m always looking for veteran knowledge! Thanks again for the visit! Best, Joe

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