N.B. Marathon Record Holder Shelley Doucet’s Long Run Workouts
Shelley Doucet likes to run a lot. In her marathon build for Boston, she did several runs taking her over 2:30 to complete, most of which included a significant portion of running at goal marathon pace. One particular workout was 2x40 minutes at marathon pace (MP), which she did about seven weeks before the race. The buildup to this workout was first to start out with 6x10 minutes about 11 or 12 weeks out from your marathon. Then move up to 5x15 minutes, 4x20 minutes and 2x30 minutes at MP in the preceding weeks. There are several reasons for doing such a workout progression: fat metabolization (when your body learns to tap fat as its primary energy source during a long run), even pacing and confidence. I think of workouts in terms of progressions rather than one-offs: each step does the same thing but as you require more to get the desired stimulus, you increase the load. While many times, in particular at a high level, a marathon won’t be run at one, steady pace, physiologically there is an ideal pace that will get the athlete across the line in a time she is happy with. Most often, that pace is beyond what the body can do with its stores of glycogen, including in-race fuelling, so we need to teach it to run at that pace, while metabolizing fat. In the early stages of the run, the fuel mix is mostly carbs, but as she runs at pace, and beyond two hours, more fat is metabolized. Regardless of if the pace drops in the later stages, the demands on the body will still result in more efficient fuel usage going forward.
Pacing is important in a marathon in order to put off the drastic shift to fat metabolization as long as possible (even if we’ve trained it well). Running at her goal pace allows Doucet to learn that pace. Early on in the workout, as well as early in the progression, the right pace can seem too easy, but being disciplined and holding back yields rewards later.
Finally, being able to run 80– 90 minutes (another high end variation of this is 3x90 minutes) at MP within a three-hour long run is a beast of a workout. When you are able to get through that, you’ll feel ready. The marathon is such that you never really know if you can do it until you do it. There are 5k and 10k workouts runners can do that can confidently predict race performance. There’s really no such thing for the marathon. Doucet’s comment after finishing this having averaged 3:50/km was, “I feel like I am ready to run 2:45 now.” The workout is not predictive, but without that confidence, it’s unlikely a runner can achieve her goal in a marathon.
John Lofranco coaches Shelley Doucet, and is also a founder of the club Athletisme Ville-Marie in Montreal.
LEFT Shelley Doucet races the 2017 Boston Marathon