If the "typical" age-group runner were to look at the workouts I post on my training group's blog they would either say the workouts are "too easy" or "too intense." It's always the extremes of the continuum, rarely if ever anything in between. Come out to the track and watch the group go through repeats, and you're more likely to doubt the benefits. 'Nobody,' you would say, 'can improve on that simple a plan.'
The plan rewards patience and consistency: short-distance speed work to focus on the anaerobic system, longer distance repeats to improve the lactate threshhold, long distance runs to develop aerobic and mental fitness, topped off with a few easier efforts here and there. There are no secret workouts, no gimmicks or gadgetry I foist on people; I do tend to get down on the athlete within the first month or so about their shoes, usually after I hear "hey, Coach, I have an ache in my..."
I'm not a control freak who wants to turn every athlete who shows up on Sunday morning, Tuesday evening, or Thursday evening into a "hobby-jogger" "tri-geek" "harrier" like me. Almost all adult athletes have a firm grasp of their strengths, weaknesses, limitations, goals and priorities, so I serve as much as a sanity check or sounding board as I do a provider of workouts. If the athlete has gaps in their plan of action then I feel like it's my role to help out. I'll either refer to materials and resources which have worked in the past, or to seemingly good ideas which failed miserably when I attempted execution.
The relationship is not "one size fits all." Some of my athletes only work with me once a month during an easy jog around the beach. We talk about the mental side of running (and it is true - running is 50 percent physical and 90 percent mental); I provide encouragement and a little humor. Rarely if ever do I need to "spank," because they've done the spanking well enough on their own.
One of my more-active athletes recently missed his desired marathon performance by nine minutes. In spite of his disappointment I had to tip my running cap in his general direction, since he ran about the same time I've done for my best marathon performance.
So, as we stood in the parking lot and talked about the race experience - he ran one of the marathon majors, which adversely affected his race execution - we also talked about some of the other potential barriers to a good marathon performance.
Slow training=slow racing: When we are both working on short(er) track repeats I am more likely to have my heart rate monitor strap handed to me. The most recent 5K he ran, all other factors being equal, would have predicted a couple of minutes faster than his goal time.
Let's remember that term: "all other factors being equal."
He got plenty of long runs - including the "ten the hard way" run with me one Sunday which was the "filling" to his 20-mile "sandwich" run. Trouble was we did more runs at the long run pace and not enough efforts at race pace, which in his case would have been about a minute-per-mile faster.
Family functions+race=focus on everything else: Marathon training - in fact, training for any endurance event - is a selfish activity. As the day approaches the race needs to be looked at like "a day at the office." Without suit and tie. You want to shoehorn a shopping trip, a sightseeing excursion, or a really cool "thanks for supporting my training, honey" dinner when you're in town during the last couple of days before the race? Not a good idea. Sitting on the couch at Barnes and Noble with a cup of Starbucks sounds much better, especially when you spent a hundred bucks in race entry fees and a thousand miles in training. Have we forgotten the term "taper" already? Move the special occasions "to the right" on the calendar, to the recovery days after the race. Sure, you will walk around like a wooden-legged zombie, but it makes a great conversation starter with the waitrons.
P.O.A.&M. or O.U.S.O.B.: Everyone knows all the pithy lines about preparation...failing to prepare is preparing to fail...prior planning prevents poor performance...and so on. Know exactly where your starting corral is relative to the starting line, the first and last five kilometers of the course, and as many of the aid stations as possible. Study the terrain, the turns, the tarmac and the temperatures. Leave nothing to chance.
While in the corral take a look around at your fellow runners. If a lot of them are wearing headphones it might be a good idea to move forward of them, if at all possible. See a lot of matching singlets and tops? The best way to keep from fartleking and swerving away from the "six-abreast-singing-kumbaya-red-rover-my-foot" rambling groups is to get in front of them IMMEDIATELY. Carry your own (throwaway) fluid bottle so you don't get hung up in the first two aid stations on the course. Trust me. You'll thank me later. If you don't the medical staff most likely will.
If you've made it through the marathon training fit, healthy and prepared to run your best race, don't make the mistake of looking at it as another race. There are no guarantees of the next starting line, so make the ones you get to count.