When I was a sub-3:30 marathoner, I was
6'1", 165-170 lbs, 47-51 years old. I can't do sub-3:30 any longer at 63 years of age and an extra 50 pounds of weight.
The keys to getting to sub-3:30 (3:22
PR at age 50 and 51) for me, in order of importance, were:
(1) A long range plan that was based
on setting a detailed annual program at the beginning of each year that extended me a little more than the previous year's
program. I adhered to my planned annual program as closely as practical as I proceeded through each year, while making adjustments
for "life's interruptions", which will occur. My annual program was based on a macrocycle that consisted of alternating spring
10k and fall marathon seasons, separated by 2-4 week "R&R breaks" that consisted of 50% mileage cutback and no hard running.
That planning approach got me to sub-3:30 two years after my first marathon (3:47). My detailed annual plans included all
of the (2-5) elements that follow.
(2) Annual mileage - 1800-2100 miles.
That's about all I could handle. More than that is better for younger, more athletic, and/or more "natural" runners. The number
one objective of any serious marathoner should be to gradually increase annual mileage and the time spent in other forms of
training (like weight work) to the max that s/he can tolerate without physical breakdown (injury) or sacrifice of other important
aspects of one's life....like a marriage.
(3) 20-22 races/year. Half were 10k's,
which I consider to be the best race distance for marathon training. A hard 10k race really pushes LT for about the longest
distance that LT can be pushed, which is a major key to improving MP. I consider hard races of 5k-half marathon, with the
emphasis on 8-15k, to be the best form of "speed training" that a marathoner can do. And the more of them, the better, with
appropriate attention to rest and recovery. Thus, an average of a race every 2-3 weeks throughout the year is excellent.
(4) Regular speedwork. As long as you
follow 1-3 above, it almost doesn't matter what the speedwork consists of.....although, threshold and hill repeats should
(5) No runs longer than 15 miles when
not in a specific 14-18 week marathon training program. I'm not a believer in continuing LSD's longer than 15 miles while
not training for a specific marathon. I think total annual mileage is more important. In fact, I think that it's the most
significant element of an optimum marathon improvement program, with a few 20+ mile LSD's within a specific marathon training
program second most important. During the "off season" I think it's better to accumulate total miles in running more often,
including 2-a-days, if necessary, than to continue super-LSDs year round. Runs of longer than 15 miles take a heavy toll on
the body. The cumulative effect of doing them year round can be destructive instead of constructive. While I think that this
is more important for "older" runners.....that means anyone who has been running seriously for several years....all marathoners
who have at it for a few years are getting older every day.
The net result of items 2-4 above is
improved running economy. And the more efficient one's running becomes, the faster the pace that one can maintain longer.
That's really the bottom line to marathon performance improvement....including getting to sub-3:30, which is about the top
5-10% of today's American marathoners. Item 5 above is the counterpoint to items 2-4. It's the hard/easy concept applied on
a seasonal basis.
Fifteen years ago, approximately three
times as many American marathoners ran sub-3:30 as today. Why the decline? I think it's because fewer marathoners follow the
basic guidelines that I listed above, which were standard practice among marathoners who "grew up" in the heyday of American