Speed training for amateur marathoners?

How important is the speed training for amateur marathoners?


Answer by Joaquim Ferrari

Considering speed training for those who use just the anaerobic lactic system, they are not so important for both professional and amateurs marathoners. Around 99% of the energy used in the marathon is produced aerobically, so there isn't justification for lactic trainings. One of the most common training mistake isn't the lack of speed training, but its excess. For the marathon, the majority of the intensive trainings should be 30-60 minutes long at 95% of the anaerobic threshold speed.
Joaquim Ferrari
Phone: (21)2241-2581 - e-mail: jferrari@alternex.com.br - Website: www.joaquimferrari.com.br


Answer by Carlos Gomes Ventura

Speed training benefits for marathoners, amateurs and professionals, are uncertain. When the athlete is fast, and he knows his opponents, he can use the speed as a strategic weapon in some parts of the race or at the final sprint.

The most important thing for the marathon training is, no doubt about it, the race pace training. I used, with some of my marathoners, the race pace method with 1000 meters intervals when I was preparing for some races where I knew they would need to use speed. Some days per week we did 150m from 250m shots, and sometimes short fartleks in a 8-12 km course. This training had excellent results, even more in half-marathons with Diamantino's victory over Paneta, the world half-marathon champion, in Stramilano half-marathon, where he won the race in the last meters. I suggest to the athlete that wants to do speed training, to first do a pyramid with much volume and pacing.

Of course, speed is important, but to have the use of it, you have to do race pace training before the speed training. A tip: in a training, the athlete shouldn't mix different works (speed and volume).
Carlos Gomes Ventura
Phone: (11)3686-5384 and 4191-3490 - e-mail: cgventura@uol.com.br  


Answer by Luis Tavares

The speed training is as important for the marathon as the long run is, since, by doing it, you are working with quality and volume in the same training. Basically we work with many extensive intervals with short recovery pauses. Example: 20 x 400m with 50m jogging to recover. The 400m would be covered in a pace 10% faster than your anaerobic threshold, that is the pace you run a 5000m race; or it could be 15 x 1000m with a minute pause and the 1000m would be covered in a 10,000m race pace. 

The athlete that wants to improve his time in the marathon needs to train above the anaerobic threshold at least twice a week. But it is impossible to work out above the anaerobic threshold for a long time since there is too much lactic acid accumulation in the muscles, so we do speed training with quick pauses for recovery. In this way, we improve the threshold, improve endurance and speed without the risk of exhaustion.

Athletes that just run, and never do speed training, have the tendency to arrive at a stage where they don't improve their time anymore.
Luis Tavares
Phone: (11)3159-8456 - e-mail: e.c.tavares@uol.com.br - site: https://www.ectavares.com.br


Answer by Luis Antônio Sturian

Maybe a single word can reflect what all amateur athletes look for: "adaptation" to the continuous intensity workouts.

A.- Adaptation to the effort at the anaerobic threshold;
B.- Adaptation to the lactic acid;
C.- Adaptation to intense pacing.

The majority of the amateur athletes do just long runs, which gives a lot of endurance, but they lose in terms of fast pacing since they aren't used to high intensity running. When these athletes run at higher intensity, they use too much muscle glycogen and can't sustain the fast pace because they didn't do speed work. So, speed training improves the athlete performance by helping then to sustain high intensity running and to have more tolerance to lactic acid.

In a marathon, everyone has to know his pace, and its usual that most of the athletes can't run at the predicted time (pace faster than they trained, too much use of muscle glycogen). The runners that are concerned about performance and that just do long low intensity training, must review their methods.

A particularity: even though the professional runners are used to high intensity workouts, what they do "isn't healthy" since they train over their limit to get great performances and they have a lot of injuries. On the other hand, the amateur runners seek "pleasure" and this is more "healthy". The leisure sport brings many benefits to the health and the personal satisfaction of finishing a marathon.
Luis Antônio Sturian
Tel.:(19) 434-2545 - e-mail: voutreinar@voutreinar.com.br - site: www.voutreinar.com.br


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Answer by Marco Antônio Pardal Delgado 

Speed training for amateur athletes helps to strengthen the lower body muscles involved in the interval training. Speed training can also be used to improve the athlete's strides (improving its amplitude), so the runner will have less energy waste and will get a smoother running pace. 
Marco Antônio Pardal Delgado 
Phone: (11)91077402 - e-mail: marcopardal@bol.com.br


Answer by Marco Alburquerque

It is implicit in the question that speed training is important for amateur marathoners.

Speed training should be done by amateur runners training for the marathon, but they shouldn't do any training like 100 meters shouts on the track. The characteristics of speed and endurance races are very distinct, you don't need to be an expert to know this, but there is some confusion when the issue is speed training. The endurance athletes should do speed training, but it will only be beneficial if the athlete does the training at the right speed. 

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An important difference showed by researches comparing international elite marathoners (sub 2:11 for men and sub 2:32 for women) and high level marathoners (sub 2:16 for men and sub 2:38 for women) is that the elite had a higher weekly mileage at faster speed than the high level marathoners and with a higher speed.

Regarding the amateur marathoners, a research that followed Copenhagen Marathon, in 1986, verified that 50% of the amateur participants trained between 30-60 km/week and just 25% trained more then 60 km/week.

It seems clear that speed training is more important for high performance athletes and that the amateur runner has low weekly mileage. Researches also show that marathoners had more success with higher weekly mileage, but there stops being a linear correspondence with the performance from 120 km/week.

Intensity training, attained by speed training, started to be widely used because of a simple reason: it works. There is, nowadays, among the amateur marathoners a resonable concern in increasing the quality of the training to the detriment of the volume; after all, even among endurance athletes the faster wins.

This observation gives speed training an important place in the training schedule of the endurance athlete, but it can't be wrongly quantified. Before thinking about finishing fast the runner must think about finishing. Even though the amateur athlete should do speed training, his main concern must be preparing his body to finish the marathon without too much effort.

Speed training for the amateur marathoner is important, as long as this training is done in a speed range compatible with the effort he will be using. In other words, the athlete must do this training at a pace similar of the race pace. 

This training is important because it increases the aerobic endurance of the athlete, in other words, it trains the body to work aerobically in a higher speed level. The proposed training should make the athlete work at a level near the anaerobic threshold. Running above the race pacing, on the other hand, causes important alterations in your blood status with the decreasing of the pH and significant increasing of the blood lactate, so the athlete has a higher proportion of anaerobic metabolism what drastically restricts his race performance.

This anaerobic threshold can be measured through physiologic laboratories devices or by carefully done empiric ways. 

Generally the athlete's anaerobic threshold is between 80-87% of the max heart rate. For more accuracy, the max heart rate should be measured and not estimated by formulas like the classic 220 minus age.

Another way to find out the threshold is by doing a test on the track with progressive speed. The runner begins the test at slow pace, jogging, and he has to talk, yes talk. As the jogging is getting faster, it will becoming harder to talk. You can assume the threshold is at the pace where the runner is out of breath and can't talk without forcing the breathing before finishing a sentence. 

These two last methods are very simple, but have a good level of accuracy. 

The next step, based on the pace stipulated by the test as the believable anaerobic threshold pace, is running at this pace to make some adjustments. 

The athlete must be able to run from 20 to 30 minutes at the pace he believes is the anaerobic threshold pace, without suffering too much. Suffering, in this case, means that the pace is too fast. Very easy running means that the anaerobic threshold pace is faster.

Training at this speed is quality training. 

Training done at a faster pace is more important for high performance athletes. The amateur runner should train at a pace near the anaerobic threshold pace. There are direct and indirect methods to determine, with reasonable accuracy, the pace at the anaerobic threshold. This training should prepare the athlete to run longer at this pace. Work at the anaerobic threshold pace is used as race pace training and long intervals training.
Marco Alburquerque
Telefone: (12) 97038870 - e-mail: marcomrt@directnet.com.br


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Related articles: Improving Speed for Distance Runners, anaerobic threshold, long run, heart rate

This article has informational purpose and  isn't a substitute for professional advice.

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