The History of Marathon Speed
We are in the midst of a second running boom where half- and full marathons are seeing record-setting numbers in both the amount of events and the number of participants enjoying them. A shift in the demographics of those who are participating has occurred too, and with that, training principles have been altered as well to include a more generalized approach. Unfortunately, the emphasis on speed workouts has been minimized as a result of this newfound, oversimplified methodology. Speed training has always been present in the training programs of those competing at the world-class level and there are learnings in that for runners of all abilities. Racing legends like Bill Rodgers, Steve Jones and Alberto Salazar — and without question all the greats from east Africa — included generous amounts of speed work in their marathon preparation. Prior to the last 20 years, the predominant marathon training program was a modified version of 10K training, where the focus was on speed endurance and running economy with a little more weekly mileage and longer long runs on weekends.
Another widely adopted approach was to get in good 5K/10K racing shape first and then transition to more marathon-specific training. My fastest marathon of 2:09:41 came four months after winning the national championship in the 5K and running under 27:50 in the 10K. I was able to take the overall accumulation of speed endurance and transition that to my marathon preparation. It is safe to say that every world record ever set in the marathon was achieved by an athlete who included speed work as one of his or her essential training elements. With the understanding that most of you reading this column are not trying to be world beaters and simply desire to get the most out of your half-marathon or marathon experience, what does this need for speed really look like, and why is it important?