Running

8 Tips to Improve Your Marathon Times

By May 3, 2019 2 Comments
man sitting on the couch talking to the camera

Recently I have interviewed 3 very talented marathon runners on The Extramilest Show. They shared a lot of great insights in their training and racing. Today I have signed up for the CIM marathon in Sacramento in December 2019. In todays video and post I am going over 8 of my takeaways from these interviews and how I will using these in my own training. These principles can apply to runners of all levels looking to improve your marathon times.

The 3 recent guests were:

There were many other great points shared, you can find the full episodes in the linked names.

High milage can help improve your running times

  • All 3 runners have ran very fast marathon times. All 3 run of them high miles of at least a 100 miles (161k) per week up to 140 miles (225km) per week.
  • These guys have made running a massive priority in their lives, this is not for everyone. That being said, many runners looking to improve their marathon times, can benefit from increasing their training volume. Even if that means going from 3 days a week to 4 days a week. 
  • I see many runners who want to qualify for Boston but only run 30 or 40 miles (48km – 64km) per week. If you’d be running 50 to 70 miles (80km -113km) per week, your chances to succeed with this race goal will go up. 
  • Josh shared the Tanda Race Predictor, which looks at the training volume and pace 8 weeks leading up to a race and can predict race times very accurately. This is another confirmation that higher training miles do work. 
  • Rest, recovery and sleep is important too, so it’s a fine balance for most people with full time jobs.
  • Important to build training volume up slowly to limit risk of injuries.  
  • For my next training block I will do more double days, morning run then afternoon or evening run. Easier to recover during higher mileage weeks too. 

Running low heart rate miles in training works well for runners of all levels

  • Pretty much every day I hear about runners from different levels improving their times, when they stop running hard on every workout and focus on lower HR workouts. 
  • These 3 guys from recent podcasts also trained many of their miles at low HR, at a very comfortable pace.
  • Josh S with a 2:28 marathon at age 23 goes to the extreme by running only about 2-3% of his runs at higher HR, the rest all at conversational low HR. He called it out clearly: “You don’t need speedwork. I can think of many examples of very quick runners who do effectively almost no speedwork”. So you hear it directly from the source, improve your marathon times by slowing down!

Analyse your fitness and fatigue levels with Elevate for Strava

  • I had heard of Elevate for Strava, but personally never used it.  It’s a free on donation basis, available for Chrome, Firefox and Opera.
  • Gives you access to a lot of additional data for your training
  • Train yourself properly by tracking your fitness, fatigue & form over time.
  • Avoid training overload or injuries and get ready for your harder training days and races. 
Elevate for Strava to measure fitness and fatigue levels
Great graphs with fitness and fatigue levels.
Strava Elevate to see training volume per year
Training volume per year and per specific time periods vs previous years
  • I will be using this for my own training cycles. If you end up using this yourself, you might want to consider making a donation to the developer.

Tapering is very important to improve your marathon times

  • Reducing your training volume before a race is important to hit a marathon in peak shape.
  • What I found interesting is how Jason explained that before a marathon with a 2-3 week taper, you probably lose about 10% of your fitness. But you end up in a training stress balance of +20 to +25%
  • Too many athletes out there don’t taper enough, don’t focus on the small amount of fitness you lose, but take a step back and look at the bigger picture. The improvement of stress balance will have greater outcome on race day. 

Measuring aerobic efficiency with heart beats per mile

  • Jason briefly mentioned he measures his progress by looking at the heart rate beats per mile. He uses the website FETCHEVERYONE.COM to get this data.
  • You can create an account and upload your running data (also free, with voluntary donations from happy users).
  • For example, I uploaded a recent training run and saw my beats per mile was about 1100.
  • Then I went back to my Boston marathon and noticed some miles with just over 900 beats per mile on the first miles and downhills, then higher on the uphills and later in the race.
  • A MAF test on a running track is great to measure your progress over time, however it’s also nice to see your beats per mile on different terrain, hills, races etc.
  • When you run the same route several times (and write down temperature / wind / etc) nice to compare beats per mile improvements, flattening or going backwards in training. 
  • Lots of great other data tracking and articles on this website to improve your marathon times.

Heat training with many layers of clothing

  • Many benefits, training to reduce your body temperatures, improving sweat rate, developing sweat glands, increase VO2Max, etc.
  • You never know what weather on race day will be. Even on cooler races, heat training can be beneficial.
  • I’ve often sat in the sauna, but haven’t done many training runs with a lot of layers of clothes on.
Excited to experiment with this! Still have to figure out what to wear 😀

Limiting caffeine intake

  • Jonathan Walton cut out coffee all together, he noticed a difference of a lower heart rate. During training and racing, I’d like to keep my heart rate as low as possible. For my next training cycle I will be cutting out my current 2 to 3 cups of coffee a day to test this difference myself.

Importance of record keeping

  • Jonathan Walton mentioned this very clearly, then Josh and Jason mentioned the same thing as well.
  • Tracking what you are doing in training and racing, what goes well, what doesn’t go well and how you respond to this
  • Different approaches work for different runners. Tracking this makes easier to see what is and isn’t working for you. 

I am curious to hear from you, what was 1 of the key takeaways for you from these recent podcasts? Anything stood out to you that you will apply to your training and racing to improve your marathon times? Let me know in the comments. 

You might also enjoy:

You can find me, Floris Gierman here:

2 Comments

  • Hi Floris,

    Very solid summary post from the last podcasts’ learnings. I definitely will track my progress also using the tools you mention in this blog post.
    I encourage everyone to listen to the interviews and put the methods into practice.

    Good luck in your marathon preparation!

  • Nice work as always

    After watching Jonathon’s interview, i realize that age is just a number and I still have 15 years of running left in me, if not more. Thanks a lot for finding such success stories. This gives one hope that If we put the much needed work, great things are bound to happen. Thank you Flo

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