5 Interval Training Tips for Beginner Marathon Runners

Yes, the marathon is an endurance event. But it doesn’t have to be a long, slow endurance event.

You can go faster than you think.

Proper interval training performed at the correct times within a training schedule can increase speed, strength, and stamina (All the key ingredients to a successful marathon race!)

5 Tips for Beginner Marathon Runners

1. Remember it’s a workout interval session, NOT A RACE! Any good coach will give you guidelines for pace and heart rate. Follow instructions carefully and train smart. Running faster is not always the best choice.

2. Base Training. After an adequate base phase where you have been consistent with your weekly volume, complete 4 weeks of BUILD runs and light stride sessions. For example, run an easy 8 miles with the last 3 miles as a gradual progression increasing in speed, so you start at goal marathon pace and finish running the last 4 minutes at close to 10k race pace. It should feel fast, but remember 10k race pace is NOT a sprint. It is a gradual progression.

These workouts make you stronger and prepare you for the next phase of interval training. Strides are typically 20-30 second accelerations and are not all out sprints! They are a gradual progression in speed over the course of the 20-30 second interval, so you finish with the last 5-10 seconds at close to top speed; but again, it is NOT an all out sprint! Strides help you work on proper running bio-mechanics, and, in turn, you will be a more efficient and a faster runner. Remember it is ok to PRACTICE running, just like we do with swim stroke and bike pedal stroke.

3. Now for the fun. Next we do 4 – 5 weeks of light fartlek interval sessions. These include intervals between 10-20 minutes in duration and are done at half marathon pace to 10k race pace. No faster. Most runners run these as VO2 max workouts, and this high intensity running can cause injuries for some beginners. Keep the effort to 10k to half marathon race pace. To prevent yourself from running too fast, keep the rest interval to 1-1:30. An example would be 10-15 x 1 minute at 10k race pace or 5×3 minutes at between 10k and half marathon race pace with 1-1:30 recovery jog between. The second key run session for the week is the long run on a rolling course to make you stronger.

4. Now for the really fun part!  Next we do 4-6 weeks of marathon stamina runs such as threshold runs and tempo runs. Threshold training should be run at close to the pace that you could currently race for one hour. For most marathoners, this is generally 15K to 20K race pace. This should be the intensity at which lactate is just starting to accumulate in your muscles and blood. In terms of heart rate, lactate threshold typically occurs at 80 to 90 percent of maximal heart rate. A typical training session to improve lactate threshold consists of a 15-20 minute warm-up, followed by a 20-40-minute tempo run, and a 10-15 minute cool down. Another example could be 2×20 minutes tempo with 3 minutes easy recovery jog between. This workout allows you to keep the quality up and your heart rate high, but the small rest makes it less overwhelming so you can hold a pace.

5. Lastly, HAVE FUN with your training. Remember you are doing this because you love it! Good luck!

Are you ready to take your marathon training to the next level?

Do you want to PR in your next marathon?

Are you worried about injury with faster run training?