I learned many tips from my marathon coach, Hugh Cameron, who guided me during my elite marathon years, from 2002 to 2006. The one I remember most is the Execution Run, partly because the name is so intriguing.
Hugh would have us practise these awesome but gruelling runs with distances anywhere from 25 to 42 kilometres. We would do most of the run (about 90 per cent of the total distance) at a tempo 10 to 15 per cent slower than goal marathon pace.
The first few kilometres would test our patience running so slowly, a crucial tactic for marathon race day. As we progressed, we would get physically as well as mentally tired, simulating what we would experience on race day. Finally, for the last one to three kilometres, we would “execute” faster than marathon pace, seeing how fast we could go on our tired legs. It’s an epic workout.
For less advanced marathon runners, I recommend a modified version of this run, with a total distance of 25 to 32 kilometres. Let’s look at an example of a 30-kilometre run.
Keep to a comfortable, conversational pace for 20 kilometres. Don’t go out too fast, a common mistake for distance runners. After 20 kilometres, pick up speed until you reach your goal marathon pace and maintain it for seven kilometres, remembering to stay relaxed with good leg turnover and relaxed breathing. Here is your chance to really get to know your race pace, especially on semi-tired legs. Then, increase your pace by about 10 seconds per kilometre (or more) for two kilometres and see what you can do. Finish with an easy one-kilometre cool-down.
To get the most out of this workout, do all the preparation you would for race day. Get lots of sleep for a few days prior, drink water and juice frequently throughout the day, and eat well with a slight increase in carbohydrates. It’s a good opportunity to test your race-day hydration and nutrition, so bring the drinks and gels you plan to use at your marathon.
This is an excellent marathon prep run: It makes sure you’re on track with your training, gives you a good idea of your projected race time, and simulates how you might feel on race day.
But be warned: This is a very taxing workout. Take it easy in the days leading up to and after it. Do one or two of these runs, at least four weeks apart in your marathon program. Do your final execution run at least four weeks before race day to ensure you are well rested for the main event.
Nicole Stevenson is a running coach and the ninth-fastest female marathon runner in Canadian history. She is a long-time competitor in the Canada Running Series.