How To Run Your 1st Marathon – Using Pickups

A few years ago my sister in law asked me to help her train for a marathon. The lady in question, who we will call Doris, had been an asthmatic as a kid but had changed her diet and no longer used an inhaler. She had never been sporty but wasn’t anymore overweight than the average 30 plus lady. The motivation came from her University friends whom she met up with every year. They always chose a different location and as they were all sporty folk who ran regularly this year they decided to meet at the New York Marathon. They assured Doris that in a year she would be able to train from zero to marathon runner.

So we had a year. The first thing we did was make running or exercise a daily habit. Training long one day and short the next. When we started this was a few miles one day and a brisk walk the next. This built up as the months went on to running every day. Doris’s fitness was improving massively. The only snag is that she was plodding along quite slowly. This is fine except that means that it’s going to take a while to run 26 miles, plus the longer you are running, the more tired your body is going to get. Now Doris is new to running and hasn’t built up a big endurance base, so she can’t cope with intervals or speed work, plus they would likely become a grim experience and take the pleasure out of her running. So, we started to incorporate pickups into her longer runs.

By pickups I mean increasing the pace by just a bit. It’s not a sprint and certainly for no more than 25% of your run. In an hour of running you might do:

• 5-10min usual pace
• 1min faster
• 5-10min usual pace
• 2mins faster
• 5-10min usual pace. Feeling good?
— Try 4min faster
— Struggling a bit? 1min faster
And so on!

What happens is that your nervous systems gets used to turning over the legs a little quicker and you might find that when you think you are running at the same easy pace as were before, you are in fact running a little bit quicker! As the weeks and months go on, your easy running pace becomes a little quicker in all your runs. In Doris’s case it meant that instead of looking at taking 5 hours to do the marathon, 4 hours looked possible.

The other thing that Doris did was not run for too long in her long runs. As she wanted to keep running an everyday activity, we decided that a two and a half hour run every other week with a two-hour run in between was far enough. We did our best to prevent an accumulation of fatigue and the end result was a 3-hour 37-minute marathon in Manchester a couple of years later (Doris was saved as New York Marathon was cancelled that year and the Manchester marathon was shortened!).

To descrease your times over long distance, give pickups a try!

Charlie @ Northern Runner Newcastle

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