Like many runners, I remember a time when I just ran the same pace all the time. Meaning, I didn’t do any speed work. I had two running gears—easy and race pace. I trained for my first three marathons by running all my runs at nearly the same easy pace and I was content.
I ran my first marathon as a bucket list item. I ran my second marathon because I got into the New York City Marathon through the lottery (a dream come true). Then I ran my third marathon because I was addicted to those long slow distance runs.
My only goal for those races was to run 26.2 miles and not die. I had zero expectations about running the distance in a specific amount of time. Crossing the finish line of those races gave me complete satisfaction.
On a group run during my first ever summer of marathon training, someone told me I could “easily” run a qualifying time to get into the Boston Marathon. I packed that statement away for nearly ten years before deciding I wanted to do more than just finish marathons. That’s when I added in speed work for the first time since high school. Two marathons later after adding in speed work, I snagged my BQ.
Should I have added in speed work before then? Absolutely. Was it necessary? Not so much.
Speed Work Or Long Runs? Depends On The Goal.
If you are running marathons just to finish them, then long slow distance runs are more important than speed workouts.
If you have a goal time you would like to achieve and you have established a cardio base long enough for the long runs, then speed workouts are most important, but you cannot skip long runs.
In general, long runs are more important than speed work. If you don’t have the cardiovascular base fitness obtained during the long run to support speed work then you’ll likely will not have the endurance needed to execute speed workouts appropriately without getting injured.
If you want to be fit as a fiddle and run marathons but don’t care about your finish time, then you should by all means include speed work. Speed work will improve your cardiovascular fitness level and break up the monotony of running at an easy pace all day every day.