“Why should I do speedwork if I plan to run a long slow marathon?” Eddie’s question makes sense. Why does everyone tell him to do speedwork if speed is not his goal?
My Answer: Because speed, strength, and endurance are actually closely related. How does this make sense? If you are a little bit faster, then you are a little bit stronger. If you are a little bit stronger, then it becomes a little bit easier to run longer.
My oversimplified technical explanation: It has to do with adding muscle. When you have more muscle fibers, then the impact of your weight in running is then distributed over more muscle. This makes the job a little easier for each muscle fiber. Each muscle fiber does a little less. So, if each muscle fiber does a little bit less with each step, then enduring a longer distance becomes a tiny bit easier. Hence building muscles through speedwork increases both strength and endurance.
You still have to run some long distances to train your newly added muscle for the long race. In the end, however, a little more speed work should mean that it takes fewer really long runs to build up the endurance you need.
For some of us, the goal is to run a long, fast marathon. Speedwork obviously helps with our increased need for speed as well as helping the endurance aspect. This is in agreement with the basis of the book Runner’s World Run Less, Run Faster. It is the idea of quality miles as opposed to a large quantity of miles. A high number of miles can do wonders, but it can also wreak havoc on a runner’s body. Hence, we replace a certain portion of our really long runs with a smaller number of miles of speed and/or pace work. In the end, we are still just as prepared for the marathon or ultra.
In my own experience, I ran my first half-marathon with no runs over 10 miles. I ran it in 1:20:48. What was my training? The cross country season of my senior year in high school. I had only a few weeks after the season before I ran the half. I trained almost exclusively at 5 miles or less with a 7 miler once or twice a month. I did track work once or twice a week. I raced 5k cross country courses once a week. It was less quantity and more quality. My speedwork over the previous years made my 6:10 pace look relaxed. It was my cumulative miles over the previous years combined with the strength through speedwork that helped me do so well. Quality over quantity.
What does all this mean to Eddie?
For the Eddies & Bettys out there that are satisfied with a long, slow marathon: if you do some moderate speedwork in training, your long slow marathon may be just a little easier and a little more enjoyable.