By David Chalfen
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Additional resources for Improve your marathon and half marathon running
At the two extremes of coaching we would see at the very simplest level a totally self-contained, poorly informed runner who does all his training ‘by feel’ with no knowledge of the relevant training practices. At the most complex and precise we would find the Olympic champion, who would have a professional coach, probably funded by the National Governing Body, to pay close attention to him on a daily basis. The coaching set-up would be backed up by sports doctors, scientists, a nutritionist and a psychologist, and each time the athlete took part in a major event someone would have recced the event details on an athlete’s behalf.
However, most experienced athletes and coaches think that it takes about ten to twelve days to get the full benefit of a training session. It follows therefore that when looking at a target race and planning a taper, particularly for marathons, you should go back about twelve days beforehand for your last key and race-specific training session. After this, the training focus should be on maintenance and avoiding detraining. If you look at how an elite athlete trained for a big race you should often see a big, hard, specific session about ten to twelve days out.
Typically, the benefit would be greater at the outset and would reduce as the athlete becomes more experienced, knowledgeable and starts to get closer to their physical limit. This hypothetical 1 per cent is the ‘added value’ that comes on top of what the athlete may be doing based on their own ideas regarding issues such as increasing mileage, structured sessions and strength and conditioning. If you do the maths on a four-year cycle, that 4 per cent at 7 minutes per mile, at race pace, gives about 17 seconds per mile, so about 3 minutes in a half-marathon and 7 minutes in a full marathon.