Specific Aerobic Support for Marathon Training

aerobic support for marathon running

One of the skills of coaching is to find the right balance between each type of training for each athlete. As I continue this series of blogs looking at modulation and different types of training I will today focus on one part of that puzzle which I think is often neglected amongst longer distance runners (Half Marathon and Marathon Runners).

Specific Aerobic Support

In essence Specific Aerobic Support is hard running a pace slower than target race pace and outside of what we call Specific Endurance Training (training at very close to the pace of the race).

The objective of Aerobic Support running is really self explanatory by its title – we are trying to develop the aerobic and endurance capabilities necessary to allow us to perform at our target level.

There are different levels of aerobic support from general to specific – these are very much transient and we do not have a set boundary between one form of training and another. I use the term Aerobic Support training to convey any type of run whereby the objective is to increase the athletes endurance at speeds slower than race pace.

In a well trained runner this can mean anything faster than an easy run or a regeneration run where the objective is recovery or general fitness.

Beyond this easy running we move into what many people term ‘Steady’ running or ‘Moderate Running’ and this is where I start to use the term Aerobic Support.

Faster than this but still slower than race pace falls ‘Specific Aerobic Support’ which is what I want to focus on here.

Specific Aerobic Support running

Specific Aerobic Support running is running at a pace slower than Race Specific Speed but which is fast enough to have a direct influence on Race Specific Speed.

These are the workouts which make us strong enough to perform the race specific workouts and give us the endurance to perform these workouts successfully and to maintain our desired speed throughout the entirety of a race performance or race specific workout.

In shorter distance runners this is a very normal pace to train at. For an 800m runner this might be workouts at 3k race pace during the winter season. For a 5km runner it might be a tempo run at HM pace. These are standard workouts that most runners would be careful to include in their program order to enhance or maintain their aerobic abilities. However, in my experience many runners aiming for half and marathon events neglect this type of work.

Many marathon runners tend to run fast workouts (Speed Support, Specific Speed Support), Race Pace Workouts (Specific Endurance) and a lot of mileage (Aerobic Support, General Resistance) But there is often a large gap in paces between the Specific Endurance/Race Pace workouts and the speed of the general mileage.

For me this is bad practice and sells the runner in question short. If you have a large gap between your race simulation type workouts and the pace you run your long runs and other general mileage then you have two potential problems.

First of all you may simply not be strong enough to perform the Specific Endurance Workouts you have planned – meaning that inevitably you will also not be strong enough to maintain your planned race speed throughout the duration of the marathon race (how many elite and club runners slow significantly in the latter stages of a marathon?).

Secondly you may be working too hard on these types of workouts and exerting too much of an effort meaning that you are unable to recover adequately from said workout and do not heap the rewards otherwise available. This can lead to a breakdown in performance before you even make it to the start line.

The solution to this issue in many cases is an increase in Specific Aerobic Support training.

The exact speeds that you should run to achieve Specific Aerobic Support will vary from runner to runner (as a general guide the speed will increase and move closer to race pace as the runner becomes more accustomed to this type of run, and someone inexperienced will garner the same stimulus and improvement from a slower run) but for a marathon runner Specific Aerobic Support Training is likely to take place between 10-25seconds per km slower than target race speed.

As example for an high level National standard male runner who is looking to run a marathon at around 3’10”-12”/km (2hr 13/15 Marathon Speed) This would mean running workouts or parts of workouts at speeds between 3’20”-35”. This is a pace bracket that is often ignored in favour of either very fast or much slower running.

Some even go so far as term this type of running as ‘Junk’ milage saying it is neither fast nor slow and therefore a waste of time. The term ‘Junk mileage’ should only be applied to running which does not not achieve a purpose and my strong opinion is that running in this area has a clear and importance purpose and is therefore most certainly not junk.

The exact use of running these speeds must be assessed and judged by athlete and coach but for purposes of example here are a few circumstances where a runner may find themselves running at a Specific Aerobic Support Pace.

1. Progressive Runs

Finishing a ‘normal’ distance run in a progressive manor with the last few km’s at close to race speed.

2. Fast Long Runs

Beyond improving general resistance slow paced long runs have little connection with the ability to run fast for 42kms. A far more effective long run would be done at Specific Aerobic Support paces.

3. As part of a long endurance workout combining Specific Aerobic Support and Race Specific Speed

IE – 10-15km @ Specific Aerobic Support Speed (rec 5′) 10-15km @ Target race Speed (N.B Renato Canova will on occasions with very highly trained runners repeat this workout am and pm in the day same day in what he calls a ‘Special Block’)

4. Recovery Periods in Specific Fartlek Workouts

In longer race specific fartleks (which unsurprisingly we call ‘Specific Fartlek Workouts’) such as (for a highly trained marathon runner) 8x3km @race speed or faster w/1km – the recovery km can be run at Specific Aerobic Support speed.

For the above mentioned hypothetical male marathoner this might be 8x3km in 9’20”-30” w/1km recovery in less than 3’40”/km (As you develop your fitness the goal of subsequent workouts is often to improve the time of the recovery not the time of the interval)

These are just a few examples of how Specific Aerobic Support can be incorporated into a training program. As with all types of runs there are myriad ways of implementing the theory and this is something that each coach will have his/her own way of doing. However, regardless of where in your program you use it – you ignore Specific Aerobic Support running at your peril!