I've made many mistakes in several of my ten marathons. Chief among them has been my tendency to start out too fast, i.e. my not appropriately pacing myself in the first twenty miles to take into account my physical shape and level of conditioning for the event. This begs the question of how I can determine my appropriate pace! An excellent technique to do so is copied below from a Runner's World article by Amby Burfoot which explains the "Yasso 800" method:
When physicists discover a new subatomic particle, they claim the right to name it. Same with astronomers. Locate a new star out there in the way beyond, and you can name it anything you want: Clarence, Sarah, Mork or even Mindy.
I think runners, coaches and writers should be able to do the same. And I'm going to take this opportunity to invoke the privilege.
Last fall I discovered an amazing new marathon workout. Amazing, because it's the simplest marathon workout you've ever heard. (And simplicity in marathon training, as in physics and astronomy, is much to be prized.) Amazing, because I'm convinced it actually works.
In truth, I didn't find this workout. It found me, through the person of Bart Yasso, our race services manager here at RUNNER'S WORLD. But Bart's not much of a proselytizer, while I sometimes am, so I'm going to seize this chance to name the workout. I'm going to call it "Yasso 800s."
Bart and I were at the Portland Marathon last September when he told me about his workout. He was training for a marathon later in the fall, so two days before Portland he went to a nearby track and ran Yasso 800s. "I'm trying to build up to ten 800s in the same time as my marathon goal time," he told me.
Huh? Half-miles in 2 or 3 hours? I didn't get it.
Bart saw that he'd have to do more explaining. "I've been doing this particular workout for about 15 years," he continued, "and it always seems to work for me. If I can get my 800s down to 2 minutes 50 seconds, I'm in 2:50 marathon shape. If I can get down to 2:40 (minuses), I can run a 2:40 marathon. I'm shooting for a 2:37 marathon right now, so I'm running my 800s in 2:37."
Suddenly things started to make sense. But would the same workout apply to a 3 hour marathoner? A 4-hour marathoner? A 5-hour marathoner? It didn't seem very likely.
In the next couple of weeks, I decided to check it out I played around with lots of mathematical equations and talked to about 100 runners of widely differing abilities (from a 2:09 marathoner to several well over 4 hours), and darn if the Yasso 800s didn't hold up all the way down the line.
Now, this is a remarkable thing. Anyone who has been running for a few years, and in particular trying to improve his or her marathon time, knows that training theory can get quite complex. You've got pace, you've got pulse, you've got max VO2, you've got lactate threshold, you've got cruise intervals, you've got tempo training, you've got enough gibberish to launch a new line of dictionaries.
And now you've got an easier way: you've got Yasso 800s. Want to run a 3:30 marathon? Then train to run a bunch of 800s in 3:30 each. Between the 800s, jog for the same number of minutes it took you to run your repeats. Training doesn't get any simpler than this, not on this planet or anywhere else in the solar system.
Bart begins running his Yasso 800s a couple of months before his goal marathon. The first week he does four. On each subsequent week, he adds one more until he reaches 10. The last workout of Yasso 800s should be completed at least 10 days before your marathon, and 14 to 17 days would probably be better.
The rest of the time, just do your normal marathon training, paying special attention to weekend long runs. Give yourself plenty of easy runs and maybe a day or two off during the week.
But don't skip the Yasso 800s. This is the workout that's going to get you to the finish on time.