These weeks workout Wednesday is marathon specific super compensation blocks. This are some of the hardest, and most effective, workouts I have ever done. These workouts should only be done once or twice during a training cycle and should be done during the specific phase as they are the top of the block cycle and one of the last steps in building your race.
In terms of training I break things up into three phases. Fundamental phase for the start, this phase is optional if you are quite fit. Next is the special phase where you focus on building your threshold and mechanical strength while starting to shift the workouts to match your goal event. Finally is the specific phase where you focus the vast majority of your workouts on building your specific effort. I do not make a hard distinction lines between the three phases they each sort of meld into each other. So there are points where if you asked me are you in specific or fundamental training and I wouldn't be able to say definitively. I'm just in mid transition and some of the workouts have progressed fully to special and others are still in the fundamental stages. Now this can be taken to far. If you are getting within 4 to 6 weeks of your goal race and you are not clearly and completely in the specific phase and your training isn't easily identifiable as specific work you are not setting yourself up for the race success you deserve.
Some workouts are done only in a certain phase or if they are included in the other phases it is strictly as a fitness maintenance workout with no goal of increase part of your fitness. Other workouts are done across the phases, this is the case with super compensation blocks, they are just adjusted through the phases to accomplish adjusting goals. In short early on in a training cycle the goal of the workout is to build the strength to do harder workouts in the next phases and it is in the final phase that the workouts are finally targeting specific race performances. I will in the coming weeks do post on the matching fundamental and special phase blocks that build up to these marathon specific blocks and I will do blogs on blocks for other events as well, so fear not if this workout isn't the type you need the others are coming.
The idea behind all super compensation blocks is that you do two hard but not incredibly hard workouts in the same day. Either of these workouts done alone in a single day would be hard but not your hardest. Doing two in one day is really quite taxing. The key to this and all blocks is that you do take the day or two before them a bit lighter than you would before a normal workout and even more so that you really go easy in the days after to fully absorb the effort. If you don't recover from this carefully it is just a great way to break yourself down and end up at best exhausted and underperforming and at worst hurt and not competing. This holds true even if you feel great doing the session or the days after.
A cautionary tale to make my point. If you read Bob Hodge's old logs on his website http://www.bunnhill.com/bobhodge/Races/races84.htm he talks about running the Houston Marathon as a workout in his build up to the 1984 Olympic Trials. He needed a qualifier and used it as a 3/4 effort to avoid having to impact his training too much. Running quite easily he ran a 2:17 low. It felt easy so he really didn't curtail his training at all afterwards. However ever so steadily from that point on he started to get very run down and beat up and by the time the trials came around a full out effort only netted him a 2:18 time. Now I realize a marathon isn't a super compensation block, well except that it is. We just don't all have the chance to get in a good marathon at the exact right time of our build up, or have the discipline to keep the effort below full out in a race situation.
Still the basic concept is the same break yourself way down in a way only a huge volume of work can do. Than take it easy for a bit to fully recover and absorb a huge amount of improvement from a single session. Still even if the session is easier to do in the form I'm going to describe it is not much less dangerous and if you don't respect it you will get burned by it.
The workout itself. In the morning you head out and do a light warm up. Then for most people you do a 10k light tempo at only 85 to 90% of marathon pace. This is not hard at all. Frankly it is just here to tire the legs a bit and burn up some glycogen. Next after a short rest you do 10 to 15k at marathon pace. I generally do 10k. In fact I couldn't imagine doing more than 12k but I have seen examples of people going as long as 15k. Any which way you do it the first session is now done. You will be tired but not broken. A short cool down and it is time to wait for the PM session. For athletes who really struggle with running out of glycogen in the marathon, i.e. hitting 'the wall' around 20 to 22 miles. I have heard it suggested that you avoid carbs between the AM and PM session and only eat veggies. I'm ok with that but have never myself done that.
In the PM session you simply repeat the morning session. As you warm up for the PM session you will be certain you can't possibly finish the session but you will be ok when you get into the hard efforts. Profoundly fatigued yes but able to keep pushing on. So you must keep pushing on.
For athletes who still find they are not able to finish a marathon strongly you can eliminate the 10k at the slower pace and do 15k to 20k at marathon pace for the whole am and Pm session. This is much tougher as the volume is similar to the regular workout but you are doing 3 to 6 more miles at marathon pace in place of the 10k at the much slower pace. I'm not a great workout guy myself and I very much doubt I could do better than 15k at mp and repeat in the PM but again I have seen training logs of other athletes who have done 20k at mp in the am and than again in the PM.
This workout is soul crushing. You will have breathed heavier in workouts but you will not have been more tired at the end. It will leave you tired for days. However if you do respect it and allow yourself to fully recover you can make a breakthrough in your fitness with a session like this.