The Top Ten Ways to Set a Marathon PR

By Rick Morris

Do Long Runs Every Other Week

Your long runs make up the cornerstone of your marathon training. They develop your body’s ability to run non stop for over 26 miles. Do you long runs consistently throughout your training program, but keep in mind the fact that a long run is a very difficult and strenuous workout. Your muscles rebuild and grow stronger during recovery periods. If you do a long run every week your muscles never fully recover. The quality of your subsequent training runs will suffer, you risk developing over training syndrome and your performance level will decrease. Limit your long runs to one every two weeks.

Gradually Increase Your Long Run To 23 or 24 miles

Many training program suggest that you limit the distance of your long run to 20 miles. You can finish your marathon with a longest training run of 20 miles but you probably won’t run a PR. Twenty miles is only about 77 percent of the marathon distance. You still have a full 10K to go! That’s over 6 miles that you have not trained for. If you want to be properly prepared to set a new PR and avoid slamming head first into the wall, extend the distance of your final long run to 23 or 24 miles.

Use Multi-Pace Training

Running lots of slow easy mileage will do a good job of building your endurance and promoting the fat burning ability of your body, but it does little else. To run a PR you also need to improve your lactate turn point, your VO2 max your vVO2max (velocity at which you reach your VO2 max), your running economy and your running strength. That can only be accomplished by including multi pace training runs on a weekly basis.

Strength Train

A 3 hour marathon runner takes around 32,000 steps during the course of their marathon. If that same runner could extend their stride length by just one small inch and decrease their foot plant time by just 1/10th of a second they would improve their finishing time by about 8 minutes. The best way to accomplish both of those items is through strength training. Stronger, more powerful and more elastic muscles will allow you to run with better economy, spend less time on the ground and extend your stride length.

Include Goal Pace Running

Slow, easy long runs, faster than race pace interval training and high quality lactate turn point training are critical for marathon success. But don’t forget to include race pace running. Include race pace running in your long runs. A good way to do this to increase your speed to goal pace during the last phases of your long run. Start by doing the last 2 miles of your long run at race pace. As you progress through your training plan, increase the percentage of your long run done at race pace. Your last long run should be 50% easy (the first half) and 50% at race pace (the last half). This type of long run will prepare you to run at race pace when already fatigued, just like in your actual race.

Train Specifically

One of the rules of training is the rule of specificity. This rule states that your training should mimic your goal as closely as possible. If you are training for a marathon with a lot of hills, you should include a lot of hill training. Is your marathon going to be in very hot weather? Try to include training runs in a similar temperature and environment. If your marathon is a trail run, do some training on trails. If your race will be on a very hard surface such as concrete you should do some training on a similar surface. Prepare your body for what it will encounter in the race and you will be sure to run your best.

Hydrate Properly

Hydration is an important subject many marathon runners ignore. Be sure you hydrate not only the proper amount but also with the proper liquids. It is important to stay properly hydrated. Dehydration will decrease your performance level and can also lead to serious heat illness. Start the race well hydrated. During your race drink at each hydration station. During high heat races it is especially important to pay attention to your hydration level. It is also very important to drink a sports drink containing sodium instead of plain water. Drinking plain water throughout the race can dilute your blood and lead to a serious condition called hyponatremia. If possible find out what sports drink will be used at your race. Use that same brand when you train. That way you will avoid the gastric upsets that can occur when you are drinking a formulation that you are not accustomed to.

Improve Your Fat Burning Ability

The key to marathon running is conserving your stores of carbohydrates. When you run out of carbs you reach a level of fatigue that makes continuing very difficult – in other words, you hit the “wall”. Your bi-weekly long run will help your body learn to burn fats more efficiently. You can help this process along by doing a special long run once every four weeks or so. The goal of this long run is to deplete your body of carbohydrates and force it to burn carbs for energy. The evening before your long run do a hard workout of around 60 minutes.

Do not eat after this workout and do not eat the morning of your long run. This will ensure that your body is low on carbs. Do a long run of about 10 to 12 miles. Consume some sports drink just before you start and during this run. This will mimic the same low carb conditions that you will face in the last part of your race. Your body will be forced to become more efficient at burning fat for fuel. Be sure to do this workout either on a treadmill or on a loop course just in case you become hypoglycemic. Don’t do it on a long out and back course.

Train Your Brain

Before and during your race, visualize yourself gliding smoothly across the ground. Imagine a light, quick stride. Think of your muscles being strong and efficient. Create an image of yourself flying across the ground and passing over the finish line. Positive images such as these have a tendency to be self fulfilling. If you think positive thoughts, positive things tend to happen. If you think negative thoughts or dwell on the pain, negative physical effect will surely follow.


This one is critical. You must taper properly to run a marathon PR. A marathon training program is very intense and strenuous. Your body needs at least two weeks of decreased training volume to recover and strengthen for the race. You should do your last long run no less than two weeks before your race. During your two week taper gradually decrease your training volume while maintaining training intensity. Use the last two or three days before your race for total rest. No running or strength training. A proper taper will insure that you body is at its peak for your race.