29 Apr, 2013

Wonder Workout or Marathon Miss?

Wonder Workout or Marathon Miss?

The standard marathon is the globally recognised standard of distance running, with your running ability and level judged by your current and best times for 42.2km, not to mention your qualifying batch for the big ultra’s here in South Africa. So wouldn’t it be great if you could accurately predict before a marathon race what shape you’re in and what time you’re capable of running, which in turn would allow you to plan your race pace and strategy accordingly? Well, according to respected American running coach and writer Bart Yasso, you can do just that by running 800-metre intervals on the track once a week.


While that may sound a bit far-fetched, it does appear to work for some runners, who all swear by Yasso 800s. Here’s how it works:

?         Take your marathon goal time in hours/minutes and convert this to minutes/seconds. For example, if your marathon goal is 3 hours and 30 minutes then convert that to 3 minutes and 30 seconds.

?         Try to run 800 metres (two laps of a track) in your converted time (3:30 in this example).

?         Recover after each 800 by jogging or walking for the same amount of time (again, 3:30 in this example).

?         Start with three or four repetitions in the first week.

?         Continue with Yasso 800 workouts once a week and try to add one more repetition each week until you reach 10 repetitions.


Bart explains how he came up with the Yasso 800 concept: “I was training for a marathon one year, so went to a nearby track and ran 800s, trying to build up to ten 800s in the same time as my marathon goal time. I found that if I can get my 800s down to 2 minutes 50 seconds, I'm in 2:50 marathon shape. If I can get them down to 2:40, I can run a 2:40 marathon, and this has always worked for me.”


He says that runners should begin the workouts nine to 10 weeks before their goal marathon. The first week you do four 800s. On each subsequent week, you add one more until you reach 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, do your normal marathon training, paying special attention to weekend long runs, and give yourself plenty of easy runs and at least one rest day per week.



The question is, does the same predictor principle apply to a four-hour marathoner, or a five-hour marathoner, or even a six-hour marathoner? After all, running 800 metres on the track in six minutes just doesn’t sound likely as a marathon gauge, does it now? But this is the remarkable thing about Yasso 800s: Countless runners of varying abilities have said that it does actually work for them. However, there are just as many runners who say that Yasso 800s do not give a true prediction of their marathon time, and that in most cases they ran the marathon considerably slower than the Yasso 800s indicated they would.


The critics of the Yasso 800s point out that a marathon relies on stamina and aerobic fitness, with marathoners running below their VO2max and lactate thresholds, whereas shorter distance speed work relies on anaerobic fitness, where you push yourself VO2max and lactate limits. In other words, you are trying to determine your performance potential at a long-distance stamina-oriented event by doing a much shorter, speed-oriented workout. They also point out that other training programmes and pace calculators say speed work should be faster than the pace suggested by the Yasso 800s, while tempo runs should be slower, so Yasso 800s don’t really fit into what is generally considered standard marathon training.


Another criticism is that a flat track workout does not take into account the nature of a marathon course with hills – especially the typical South African marathon route – nor the much greater fatigue factor in such a long distance. Therefore, even with the proper marathon training, being able to complete 10 Yasso repetitions doesn't guarantee that you'll finish the marathon in your goal time.



So the conclusion many reach is that Yasso 800s make for a killer workout that will leave you both gasping and exhilarated – 10x800m is quite some challenge, both physically and mentally – but it is not a miracle marathon time predictor. At least, not for everybody.