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The Value of the LSD

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After I posted the following in response to another forumite’s post.....


‘Many people interpret “1-2 min/mile slower than race pace” to mean 1-2 min/mile slower than MP when marathon training.  However, for optimum training benefit, LSD's should be run 1-2 min/mile slower than 10k race pace, not 1-2 min/mile slower than MP. In your case, that would put them about 20-50 sec/mile slower than your MP of 6:30.


Of course, it's also necessary to consider that neither 10k pace nor MP is as fast in hot, humid summer weather as they are on a cool, dry fall race day. For instance, for a 2:50 marathoner (6:30 MP) like you, 7:30 might not be a bad LSD pace for awhile in July/August until cooler weather arrives in Sept/Oct. Then, 6:45-7:15 would make a lot more sense.


When I raced fall marathons at 7:45 pace, my LSD pace started at 8:30-8:45 in July/August and dropped to 8:00-8:15 later in the fall.


.....another forumite replied that he thought that LSD’s should be run slowly to keep one’s legs fresh for the rest of the week.  The following was my reply.


What keeps your legs fresh is easy and off days. The weekly LSD is not an easy day. It's one of the 2-3 hard days you should have each week. It's just a question of how hard you want to make it. And that should be determined by the stage (not pace) at which you are marathoning.


Most first time marathoners and others who consider themselves to be relative novices at the marathon should run LSD's at an easier pace. 1-2 minutes/mile slower than MP is OK for them. (Although there exceptions to that generality.....such as someone who is quite experienced at training hard and racing at shorter distances.) More experienced marathoners who are interested in optimizing their progress should push the LSD pace a bit harder. I think that an average pace of about 20-40 sec/mile slower than MP is good range for these runners. Without a taper, that begins to emulate a race level effort for the LSD distance. There is more than one way to hit that average:


(1) Run each mile of the LSD at the "target" average pace.


(2) Start with a few "warm-up" miles at a somewhat slower pace (like 45-60 sec/mile slower than MP), pick it up in the middle 1/2-2/3 of the run to MP, and finish with a few slower "warm-down" miles.


(3) Start with a few miles at the slower "warm-up" pace, increase the pace in the middle miles to the target average, and finish with a few miles at MP, i.e. simulate a negative split effort.


Any of the above should yield an average pace in the "target" range. I mostly use a combination of (1) and (3) above. I use (1) in warmer weather, like July and August. I use (3) in really good running conditions, which is always later  in my training cycle (late Sept-Nov) for fall marathons, and I base when I "shift gears" to the faster paces on how I feel as the run progresses. That simulates the pattern....at a slightly lower pace....that I hope to run in the marathon. I use (2) above for a couple of planned MP workouts that I include late in my training program.


I also have to, again, add the caveat that all paces, target training paces and MP, have to be adjusted for the weather conditions. In other words, MP and 10k race pace, which are the baselines around which training paces should be set, aren't the same in hot August weather as they are in great November marathoning conditions. (It's very easy to fall into the trap of becoming a slave to the watch and not adjust training paces to match conditions. That's a mistake that we would NEVER make in a race, right? )


Basically, I think the elements of a marathon training program, in order of importance, are:


(1) Total mileage.


(2) LSD's.


(3) Threshold training.


(4) Hill training.


(5) Rest.


(6) Weight training.


(7) VO2max, or aerobic capacity, training.


(8) MP running.


If LSD's are the second most important element (many people think they're the most important), why would you compromise the quality of them to make legs "fresh" for lesser important running during the week? I think the reverse is more important. I want to be as fresh as practical for the LSD. That's why I take off the day before one. And I schedule an easy 4-6 mile day following it to recover for the other hard days to come.


I would only ease off on the two most important elements of a program....total mileage and LSD's....if I struggled with threshold and/or VO2max workouts for two consecutive weeks. Even then, I would only sacrifice total mileage and/or LSD quality for a week or so. If that didn't resolve the problem, I would reassess my overall training regimen.


To repeat....use the 4-5 easy/off days each week to keep your legs fresh for the hard days. Run as slowly as you have to....or not at all....on these easy days to maintain the quality of the hard days. Don't compromise a hard day (LSD, speed and hill training days) to stay fresh for either another hard day or the easy ones. However, stay in touch with how your body is reacting to your program and, if it is wearing you down, ease off on the overall program while keeping the balance between hard and easy stuff.


Hope this makes a little sense.