An Inside Look: Training for the 2017 Boston Marathon, Part 2

March 16, 2017
My favorite 15-mile loop in New England – Image (c) Chris Kovalchick, 2017 all rights reserved

By Chris Kovalchick

A warm Saturday in February allowed me to get out there with my favorite training partner – Image (c) Chris Kovalchick, 2017 all rights reserved

Hello again, Bedford! We have moved into March and it has been a rather interesting winter on several fronts. We saw some difficult days for training in the month of February due to a 5-day sequence of snow mid-month, as well as some beautiful days and even some which were quite warm.

Nevertheless, as I detailed in Part 1 of this series, such is the beauty of training for the Boston Marathon. The elements are but a part of the challenges a runner accepts and embraces. Every year there are one or two runs which I look back on which define the training experience for that given year – only time will tell what this year’s chapter has in store.

Last month, I outlined the first block of my training – the base-building phase. Now I will move into the next phase – speed. To introduce the speed phase, let us first examine how this phase fits in my overall plan (base-building, speed, strength, taper).

On a simplistic level, you can categorize any endurance sport such as running, cycling, or swimming into 3 areas – frequency, volume, and intensity. Frequency is how often you exercise (e.g. 7 days a week); volume is how much time you spend on a single day of exercise (e.g. 1 hour per day); intensity is how hard you exercise in a given session (e.g. running 6-minute miles vs. 12-minute miles). Many experts in the field generally agree that you should only be increasing in one of those areas at a given time to prevent injury. For example, if you are running 4 days a week for a total of 30 miles per week at an easy pace, it would be foolish to suddenly start running 7 days a week at a very hard pace.

With that in mind, while my primary goal for base-building is to set frequency (I run 7 days per week) while building up volume (85-90 miles per week), the aim of the speed phase is to begin introducing hard efforts while maintaining my frequency and volume. This is where I will start to dial in my goal marathon pace for April, in addition to adding a day of sub-marathon pace work designed to work on my speed. While racing a marathon is an aerobic activity which primarily recruits the use of the slow-twitch muscle fibers, I will benefit from working on the fast-twitch muscles which I will utilize towards the end of the race when my glycogen stores are depleted and I am trying to hold on to pace and even accelerate.

Below is a typical week for me, taken from the week of February 6-12 (93 miles total). The workouts which I have incorporated are on Tuesday and Thursday, and are the cornerstones of the speed block.

Monday 2/6

  • 11 miles, easy (7:03/mi.)

Tuesday 2/7

  • Track – 3 mi. warm-up, 6 x 1 mi. @ 5:30/mi. pace with 400 meter recovery, 3 mi. cool-down (13 miles total)

Wednesday 2/8

  • 15 miles easy (7:15/mi.) on the marathon course (Kenmore – Newton Centre and back)

Thursday 2/9

  • 3 mi. warm-up, 6 mi. @ goal marathon pace (5:55-/6:00 per mile) 3 mi. cool-down (12 miles total)

Friday 2/10

  • 10 miles easy in snow (7:25/mile)

Saturday 2/11

  • 10 miles easy (again) in snow (7:26/mile)

Sunday 2/12

  • 21 miles @ 85% goal-marathon pace on simulated course (6:55/mile)

On Tuesdays, I introduce some work on the track around my half-marathon pace. There are various ways to incorporate track work into your training program, and I prefer to start with mile intervals and gradually increase the distance while decreasing the number of repetitions week after week (e.g. the following week, I ran 2-mile intervals but only 3 repetitions). Part of my motivation for baselining off of the half-marathon pace is in preparation for a tune-up race I will run on March 19th, the New Bedford Half Marathon down on the south coast of Massachusetts. It is one of the most competitive half-marathons in the country, with over 150 runners completing the course in under 1 hour and 20 minutes in 2016.

On Thursdays, I focus my workouts on dialing in my race-day goal pace for April 17th. In this particular week, I ran 6 miles at goal pace.  I will gradually increase this distance in 1-2 week increments until I am running 10 miles at marathon pace in a single workout. One of the interesting things which non-runners find hard to believe is that in no workout over the course of my training plan will I ever run the full 26.2 miles at my goal marathon race pace – that’s what race day is for! (note: I will talk more about this in a later article on the taper block).

Another staple of my training which I maintain all the way through the entire cycle is the mid-week long run of 15 miles on Wednesdays. I have found over the years that consistently incorporating this run into my regiment is key to building the strength and stamina necessary to race the marathon. One of my favorite routes for this distance is right here in our backyard – a very simple loop with three left turns (after the cut-through past Fawn Lake), this route is especially reflective in the early morning hours before the traffic picks up on Route 4.

In a few weeks, I’ll be back with a review of how my tune-up goes in New Bedford and more on the true heart of the marathon training program – the strength phase, or as I refer to it often, the gauntlet. See you out there and stay warm!

Chris Kovalchick, who credits the hallowed training grounds of Bedford as a key cog in his running routine, serves on the Bedford Trails Committee and is a Land Steward for the O’Connor Conservation Area.


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