Qualify for Boston 2008

by Alberto Salazar - 1982 Boston Marathon Winner

Part 4 of 6

For those of you who have been with us from the beginning (16.1 - Jan/Feb 2007), you are well on your way towards qualifying for Boston in 2008. The first three articles of the series dealt with the following topics: 1. 1. 2. 2. 1. Laying a proper foundation of mileage and long runs. Tempo runs and hill training in preparation for upcoming speed-work and races.

3. Incorporating long interval training to 1. prepare your body to run efficiently 1. and effortlessly at marathon pace. This fourth article will focus on the addition of short interval training and time trials to get you even closer to realizing your marathon goals. These time trials may consist of race like efforts in a workout or running actual races as part of your preparation. As I mentioned in previous articles, every time you add a new type of training to your workout program don’t eliminate the previous type of workout. Rather, simply make room for the new type of training by cutting back on the previous type of training. It’s a universally accepted principle amongst coaches that once you’ve achieved a physiological effect by repeating a certain type of workout, you can cut back the frequency of that same workout and still maintain its benefits. As you progress in your marathon training program, you may only have to do a tempo run or long intervals every other week to retain the benefits that those workouts originally created. Believe it or not, the addition of short intervals and time trials allows your other workouts, although completed less frequently, to continue to improve. Often, you can break through a plateau you may have hit in a workout

by backing away from that particular workout and concentrating on training that stimulates your body’s systems in a different manner. Don’t get me wrong, it is necessary to be repetitive in your workouts; however your body will always plateau at a certain point. To break that plateau, and for optimal improvement in distance running, you need to put your body through different stimuli, e.g. workouts of different distances and intensities. When you first start a training program, it is possible to continue improving on a particular workout every time you repeat it. For instance, you may have started out at running 6 x mile at 6:00 and repeated the workout every 2 weeks and are now averaging 5:40 per mile. At this point you cannot, and should not, try to improve on that 5:40 pace, as your effort is probably reaching its peak. Similarly, in your other workouts (like tempo runs) you may plateau at a certain pace. To break through this barrier, incorporate short intervals and time trials into your training program and back off on the frequency of the other workouts. You will still do them regularly; however your level of effort will vary. A simple way to track the variances in your training effort is to use a grading system similar to those used in schools. Assign an “A” to the best times you have ever run for a particular workout. For instance, in the above example, the runners best session of 6 x mile at 5:40 would be designated an “A” effort level. If the runner ran 6 x mile in 5:50, it would be considered a “B” level, and 6 x mile in 6:00 would be a “C” effort level. Similarly for your tempo runs, you’d assign an “A” for your best tempo run pace at a particular distance, and “B” and “C” to times 10-20 seconds slower per mile. At this point in your training, realize that every time you run a particular workout, you can’t always run at the “A” level. Trying to do this will simply lead to overtraining and injury. So, if you were planning on running 6 x mile, 3 times in the next 6 weeks (once every 2 weeks), you might run one session

each at the “A,” “B,” and “C” level. Likewise, with your tempo runs, hill repeats, and long runs, you would alternate between “A,” “B,” and “C” efforts. For example, in a one week period you might run an “A” workout in long intervals, a “B” workout in hills, and a “C” workout for your long run. You should never have 3 “A” level efforts in a week. You simply won’t recover if you are running that hard 2 or 3 times a week. Hopefully over time, when you attempt to run an “A” level workout you’ll end up improving and breaking through previous plateaus. For example, our runner that had previously leveled off at 5:40 for 6 x mile might end up running 5:35 per mile just by adjusting the effort levels of the workouts as described above. Altering your workout effort in this manner, over time, will keep your body from becoming stale while simultaneously allowing progression and improvement in your performance. Again, it is important to remember that once you have achieved a set level of physiological fitness by repeating various workouts, it is not necessary to do those workouts as often or at as great an effort to retain that fitness level.

Short intervals will work on your musculoskeletal system and make your muscles stronger and faster, allowing for greater efficiency at your marathon pace. Long intervals, long runs, and tempo runs (all exercises from the first 3 articles) directly improve your oxygen carrying capability. These exercises condition your VO2max, anaerobic threshold, and also your fat burning capabilities. As in my car analogy from previous articles (15.1- Jan/Feb 2006), those three workouts can be likened to working on the engine of your car to increase the horsepower. They also work on the fuel system to improve your car’s performance. Short intervals, on the other hand, work on your ligaments, muscles and tendons, similar to working

on the chassis, alignment, and tire pressure on your car. By getting these workings in optimal condition, the car will run faster while using less fuel. Likewise, on a runner’s body, short intervals will make you more efficient by strengthening the musculoskeletal system so that less energy is required to run at a particular pace. A good rule of thumb to use in designing your short interval workouts is to aim for a total volume per workout of 1.5-2 miles. The interval lengths can range anywhere from 200 meters to 400 meters and should be run at a pace slightly faster than what you could currently run in a 5k race. (See Table 1 for sample workouts.) Your recovery jog after each interval should cover the same distance as your most recent interval, but at a very slow pace. Remember, the goal here is to work on your musculoskeletal system, not your oxygen carrying capability, i.e., a good slow recovery is acceptable. Also, it is important that you do these workouts on a measured distance, preferably a track or soft surface to accurately determine how far and fast you’re running. In Table 2 I have outlined an example of a short interval workout for someone running a 5:30 pace at 5k. To determine what your interval pace should be, see Table 3. These short interval workouts should be integrated into your regimen about two times every 3 week period. As you did previously, make space for the short intervals by cutting down on the frequency of your other workouts. (See Table 4 for sample workout schedule.) The benefits you’ll realize from these short interval workouts will trickle down into all aspects of your training. Because you’re strengthening your musculoskeletal system, your long interval workouts will eventually become faster, causing your tempo runs to become faster, which will ultimately help speed up your marathon pace without increasing your effort.


One of the greatest dangers in training for the Marathon is that the volume and workload is very high, yet you’re still able to progress in your workouts in a manner that leads you to believe you’re fresh and ready to race. Sometimes you are not ready, and you only discover this once you’re in an actual race. For this reason, there is nothing like a time trial or race to let you know for certain whether or not you’re over-trained and stale. This is why elite runners run a couple of preparatory races before a major marathon. It is not only to get race sharp, but to ensure that they have not dug themselves into a deep hole of overtraining. By running a race or time trial at your goal pace and feeling good about it, you know for certain that you are getting close to being 100% race ready. The key is to select races that will give you this confidence while still allowing you to train sufficiently for the ultimate goal of the marathon itself. The furthest time trial race most top runners will run in preparing for a marathon is usually the half marathon distance. Occasionally some may run a 30 kilometer race, but this is very rare. My suggestion is that you run a range of races, perhaps 3-4 from 5k up to the half marathon. These races should be done no closer than 2 weeks apart with the last one being no later than 2 weeks prior to the marathon. (See Table 5 for a schedule.) These could include time trials done on your own or in a controlled road race. The times that you shoot for in each of these races should be equivalent in effort and time to what your marathon goal is. There are several charts, tables, and formulas available for calculating equivalent performances at different race distances. You, of course, will not be completely rested for these shorter efforts, so you may not be able to hit the exact equivalent performance, but you should be close. When you add one of these races or time trials in a particular week, you should adjust your workouts before and after that effort accordingly. If you are going to run a 10k road race on a Saturday and the workout just prior to the race is on Tuesday, you should

probably aim for a “C” effort level in that workout. It should be a short interval workout, as you are obviously about to run an “A” effort level type workout. Also, after the time trial effort, you need to come back with another “C” effort level workout followed perhaps by a “B” and then an “A” at least a week later. This will ensure that adequate rest and recovery will occur before and after hard efforts. Just as you made room in your training schedule for new types of training, you must also make room for these races – cut back the number and intensity of the other workouts as needed. You are a product of the total mix of your workouts, and as you add new ingredients to that mix, you must adjust the others accordingly or they all will suffer. These time trial or race efforts should become your most important workouts and the ones where you are really looking for “A” effort level results. Any coach would rather have their runner run a great race and a moderate workout rather than vice versa in preparation for the main event. With these short intervals and time trial/race efforts, you are approaching optimal readiness for your Boston Marathon qualifying attempt. Until the next article, best of luck in your training and see you at the races!