[Editor’s Note: Thanks to Coach Jim Partridge for submitting a question for Jack. Q: “In early marathon training, like 5 months before, which is better to focus on? VO2Max or Lactate Threshold work? (assuming ~50mpw volume mostly easy miles).”]
The answer to this depends on what running has been done prior to the current 5-months of training for a marathon. If this is a beginner in the sport of running, then the early couple months of training should consist mostly of easy running with some comfortable 15-second strides (2 or 3 days each week). Next, would be to start doing some Repetition workouts, no faster than a current VDOT would suggest. If no VDOT to go by, Reps could be comfortably-fast 30-second runs (at about current estimated mile race pace) or some comfortably-hard 30-second uphill runs. Always make Rep recovery jogs last about twice as long as the Rep.
I prefer doing the Interval (VO2max) sessions next a couple times per week (4-6 weeks), then go to one Threshold session, 1 Long run, and 1 run at Marathon pace each week (4-6 weeks). In general, I prefer doing the Interval training earlier in the season than Threshold work.
If this is a runner who has been doing some running fairly regularly, then I would suggest early in the 20-week program for 4-6 weeks, run Reps (200 and 400s) twice per week, which also may include sessions of uphill runs that last about as long as a flat road or track would on 200s and 400s. Each week also get in 1 Long run and all other days are Easy runs that accumulate desired weekly mileage.
For the next 4-6 weeks in the schedule, in addition to a Long run each week, it would be good to start VO2max (Interval) workouts (twice per week). Intervals mostly around 3 to 4-minutes with roughly equal amounts of time spent on recovery jogs. The Interval workouts can be measured distances for VDOT-determined speed or fartlek efforts, such as “hard” runs of 3 to 4 minutes with equal-time recoveries. Another good Interval session is to do a “step-count” workout which, after a 10-minute warm-up, is as follows:
Counting right-foot falls run 10 steps fairly hard, followed by 10 steps jogging, then 20 hard and 20 jogging, 30/30, 40/40, on up to 90/90. Then repeat the 90/90 effort and go back down: 80/80, 70/70, … to 10/10. This workout takes about 20 minutes and can be run over any terrain as distance is not a factor, just number of steps taken.
After 4-6 weeks of Interval work, in addition to the weekly Long run, start doing the Threshold work. I prefer alternating steady Tempo running and Cruise Interval workouts. Finish all Threshold workouts with 4 x 30-second strides. Continue with the weekly Long run and 1 or 2 Threshold sessions each week, until 1 or 2 weeks prior to the race. 7 days pre-race date do a typical Long run, then 2 Easy days and then 4 x 1-mile at usual Threshold pace, followed by final 3 days of relatively moderate Easy runs (not longer than 30 minutes on the final couple days before the race). Do not go out too fast in the marathon. Best to try to run the second half of the race faster than the first half. Or should I say run the first half slower than the second half.