5 Essential Marathon Workouts

Training for a marathon is hard work, but that doesn’t mean marathon workouts need to be complicated. In an event where science and technology have radically changed the way that athletes fuel themselves and the equipment they use, training theories for the marathon have remained relatively unchanged since the 1980s. In simple terms, the more you run, the stronger and more conditioned your body is going to get.


Experienced marathon runners will understand that the biggest challenge in the build up to a marathon is finding the time to complete the necessary training volume. When choosing which marathon workouts to incorporate into your weekly training cycle, keep in mind that you should include at least one weekly workout that builds your lactate threshold and one speed workout that increases VO2 max.


It’s important to understand that running a marathon is entirely aerobic. It doesn’t matter if you’re Eliud Kipchoge or you’re shooting for a sub-6 hour marathon, this fact doesn’t change. Your heart rate and will stay well below your maximum for the entire race. The goal for marathon workouts is to make marathon race pace feel as comfortable as possible by developing your aerobic capacity.


According to legendary trainer Renato Canova; In order to achieve your best race-day performance, you must spend time running at or around goal pace for long periods of time. It’s a meek theory – but the more you practice running at your goal marathon pace, the better you will get at doing it. As obvious as it seems, many runners spend a lot of time running faster than marathon race pace for sessions and significantly slower than race pace for recovery runs. Canova believes that in order to run your best marathon, you need to progressively extend the distance that you can run at your goal pace in training.


With that in mind, here are 5 marathon workouts specifically designed for advanced marathon runners. For newbie and intermediate marathon runners, these workouts can be tweaked for distance and intensity to suit any level of marathon runner.



1. The Long Run


Key Marathon Workout - The Long Run


To get good at running the marathon you need to spend a lot of time on your feet, sounds pretty obvious right? It doesn’t matter which Marathon Training Program you read, the Long Run is inevitably the staple of every marathon training plan, from every coach.


The most common question is; how long should the marathon long run be? Most coaches agree that there isn’t a significant increase in training benefits after running for more than 3-hours. The majority of physiological stimulus occurs between 90-minutes and 2-Hours and 30-minutes. The slight training benefits that may be gained by running for more than three hours in the lead up to a marathon are far outweighed by the risk of injury.


Some may not consider the Long Run to be a session as such. For most, it doesn’t fall in the traditional definition of a ‘session’ because you’re not changing shoes, stretching, or warming up. But if you’re serious about running a good marathon, you need to change your thinking – the Long Run is the most important session that you will do each week.


So, next question, how fast should you do your long run? For marathon runners, this is where the long run needs to be treated differently to the traditional ‘middle-distance runner’ long run. There are three common variations that should be incorporated into your marathon preparation.


The Easy Long Run


As the title suggests, the ‘Easy Long Run’ is about spending time on your feet and getting your body used to the muscular and neural fatigue that you will experience on race day. Some runners like to work off heart rate for this, but to keep things simple, add 25% on top of your goal marathon pace.


Long Run Goal Pace: Marathon Pace + 20%


Progressive Long Run


The ‘progressive’ or ‘fast finish’ long run incorporates a hard session and a long run into a single workout. Ease into the run, gradually increasing the pace every 30min, the aim is to complete the final 30min at close to marathon goal pace. You shouldn’t be straining to pick up the pace, as your body warms up throughout the run you should start to feel more comfortable at the faster pace. Touted by legendary Italian trainer Gabriele Rosa as the key to many of his athletes’ success, runners should practice the feeling of an ‘all-out effort’ for the final 10 minutes.


Long Run Goal Pace: Start at Marathon Pace + 25%, finish at Marathon Pace for final 5-10km


The Fast Long Run


The fast long run is one of the most physically taxing workouts in the marathon cycle. The goal of this workout is to practice feeling comfortable at race pace. Have the same dinner the night before as you plan to have the night before your race. Marathon workouts such as the fast long run are a great opportunity to practice your hydration and fuelling strategy for race day.


Long Run Goal Pace: Marathon Pace



2. 10x1km Intervals


Marathon Workout - 1000m Intervals


Over speed training is the key to feeling relaxed at marathon race pace. 1km intervals improve aerobic efficiency and the ability to process and get rid of lactate that is accumulated when running above aerobic threshold. This is one of the shortest marathon workouts that you will compete in the lead-up to race day.


It is recommended that the sesion be done on a flat, measured loop on the road or on an athletics track. The goal isn’t to ‘empty the tank’, instead, focus on becoming efficient and relaxed at speed.


Start the session at half marathon pace aiming to increase to 10km pace or faster for the second half of the session. Keep moving in between reps, if you’re doing the reps on an athletics track; jog 200m in between each interval, if you’re on the road then jog for approximately 1-minute between.


Goal Pace: 10km to Half Marathon Pace


Recovery: 3:1 Work to Recovery. Ie. If you’re running 3min per interval take 1min jog recovery. If you’re taking 4.30min per interval take 1.30min jog recovery.



3. Tempo Run


Marathon Workout - Tempo Run


Similar to the ‘Fast Long Run’, the Tempo Run is about subjecting your body to the same stress that it is going to feel on race day.


Tempo runs are the bread and butter of any Marathon training program because they achieve the #1 goal of training: increasing the ability to run fast before slowing down. Tempo runs straddle the pace at which your body works anaerobically. As you become fitter, the pace that your body perceives as fast or ‘lactate threshold pace’ will increase.


There are two main types of Tempo marathon workouts that you will need to do in the lead-up to your next race.


Faster than Marathon Race Pace Tempo Run

Aim to feel comfortable and in control at faster than marathon race pace. If you run too low and you won’t make enough lactate to practice buffering it, if you run too fast the workout will become anaerobic. This is one of those marathon workouts where you should feel ‘comfortably uncomfortable’ — a fast, but maintainable temp.

Length: 8km-12km

Marathon Workout Goal Pace: Half Marathon


Marathon Race Pace Tempo Run

Long tempo runs are the most important workout in the marathon training cycle. Long tempo runs can be done at virtually any point in the marathon training cycle. We recommend placing more emphasis on them in the final 8 weeks leading up to race day. Aim to increase the pace and intensity of long tempo runs in the lead-up to the marathon. The Marathon Pace Tempo is also a good opportunity to practice fuelling and taking drinks while working at goal race pace.


Length: 12-25km

Goal Pace: Marathon Pace



4. Hills Repeats


Key Marathon Workouts - Hill Repeats


20-30 x 1minute Hill Reps at 8-15% gradient is a favourite amongst African runners. Featured in training programs from legendary trainers Jos Hermens and Renato Canova, continuous hill repeats are an integral part of strength training for a marathon runner. Unlike traditional hill sprints where the emphasis is on the uphill, marathon hill training places emphasis on keeping a consistent pace on the up and down hill. If it takes you one minute to run up the hill, it should take you roughly one minute to run back down.


The aim of this session is to run each uphill segment at a hard, controlled pace so that you are able to maintain a steady pace on the downhill segments. Remember, continuous hill repeats are about conditioning your aerobic system – make sure that you’re not finding yourself in the red zone on the uphill sections.


In addition to the aerobic and strength benefits of hill repeats, continuous hills are also a good way of conditioning your legs for the kind of punishment that they can expect from 42.195-kilometres of road running.


Length: 1-2minute Hill at 10-15% gradient

Workout Time: 40-60 minutes

Goal Pace: Maintain the same pace on the downhill as the uphill segments



5. Tempo Intervals


Key Marathon Workouts - Tempo Intervals


Tempo intervals are a great way to incorporate volume and speed into a single, time-efficient marathon workout. These intervals allow you to run at threshold pace or faster for several extended blocks in a single workout. By breaking up the tempo into three or four smaller segments, you can run up to 60 minutes at at a fast pace. Tempo intervals are also advantageous because the rest periods between hard intervals provide a mental break and an opportunity to re-fuel and hydrate.


Find a surface that will be similar to the surface you’re expecting on race day to complete the workout. If you’re preparing for an undulating marathon, find an undulating loop that will mimic race day conditions. Concentrate on feeling relaxed and below threshold pace for the session, it’s important to feel ‘within yourself’ for the first half of the session, if you’re feeling good, pick it up on the final two efforts.


Length: 3-4 x (3-5km intervals)

Marathon Workout Goal Pace: Half Marathon Pace


These marathon workouts provide a good mix of training stimulus and enough variety to keep things interesting in the lead-up to your next marathon. The key to performing well on race day is conditioning. The more time that you can spend doing recovery runs, race pace efforts and long runs, the better. Need some extra support or want some more coaching tips? The Long Run Online Running Coaching caters to runners of all levels.