Ask The Coach: How Can I Improve My Marathon Time?

Speed workouts can help all runners become faster when it counts: on race day. Photo:

Olympian and coach Juli Benson shares her expert advice.


I’m a marathoner who runs a lot of miles every week (about 50-60) but most of my running is at a slow pace. How can I implement faster workouts into my training that will help me improve my marathon times?


Mileage is one of several important ingredients to running a great marathon. However, if you run lots of slow miles, you’ll be just that: a slow distance runner. Adding one or two more upbeat workout sessions per week can give your fitness a huge boost and will allow you to see exciting results come race day.

Once a week, try a fartlek (a Swedish term that translates to “speed play”). A fartlek is a fairly unstructured type of run that involves changing the pace throughout a portion of your run, and it can be done on all types of terrain. During the middle third of a regular run, start alternating short stints (anywhere from 30 seconds to four minutes) of slightly faster-paced running with slower recovery jogging.

RELATED: Effort-Based Endurance Fartleks

Another workout that is beneficial for the marathon is a tempo run, also known as an anaerobic threshold run. In layman’s terms, this is a segment of a run in which you are trying to keep your heart rate at roughly 80 to 85 percent of your maximum. For many runners, this pace will be around your half-marathon pace. After a good warm-up, try running 15 minutes at that pace and add three to four minutes per week until you work up to 25 to 30 minutes.

Incorporating some faster running is key to lowering your marathon PR, but remember to sprinkle in enough easy days or off days between harder sessions so your body can recover. Make sure your last hard effort is at least 10 days before your goal race so you can get to the starting line with fresh legs.


About The Author:

Former U.S. Olympian Juli Benson coaches cross country and track coach at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. 

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