Do the hard interval sets in the latter stages of marathon training, says Coached’s Ben Pulham

Last Thursday had marked the second to last training session together with Coached and the Under Armour Run Crew.

For the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon (SCSM) fast coming up on 3 December, Coached and Under Armour Run Crew had teamed up on a 16 week training programme leading to the marathon.

Coached is a heart rate training programme for marathoners and triathletes, led by former professional Kiwi triathlete Ben Pulham.

Intense and hard session

The session was a very intense one. After a one lap warm up at the Singapore Sports Hub 100 PLUS Promenade, we were given 800m sets to do in our hard heart rate zone, with just 40 seconds of rest in between sets. It was the hardest ever session that I have done with Coached on this training cycle so far.

So we were all panting and exhausted by the end of the session. This is normal according to Ben, in his de-briefing afterwards.

Said Ben “When I did these type of sessions during my racing days, I literally had my eyes rolling out of my head to maintain the pace that I had run during my first set. And they are ridiculously hard if you do them properly.”

These sessions bring up your fitness fast

He added, “They bring your fitness level up very fast, though. The body responds to speed very quickly so that is why I am so particular about building an aerobic base because you can literally do a couple of these hard sessions and your fitness level can come up dramatically if you have a strong aerobic foundation.”

Ben also added that if you have a strong aerobic base too, then you will recover much faster from the hard stuff in between sets.

He said, “The other reason why I always encourage runners to slow down is because when you slow down, you properly develop your aerobic base and when you have a strong aerobic base, you do the hard stuff and can recover at a far faster rate. 40 seconds is not enough for you to recover fully from a hard set; that is why these type of sessions get harder as you go along as you are not having enough rest between reps.”

He continued, “But if you are aerobically fit, then you recover at a faster rate than someone who is not, and that improves the overall quality of the set and allows you run faster at each of the reps. So this means that you will get the full benefit of really intense stuff, like the set that we did just now.”

Training is gradual 

Ben explained too that training is gradual. He said, “Moving into the next session , we only have a couple of weeks left to the marathon and all of the work is done, for the most part. We will do another hard session next week and then the last session will still be intense but easier.”

He continued, “As you can see, the training programme is progressive. The way you train your body is gradual. If you come straight to the hard stuff, and you do not have the fitness to support it, then you are at a very high risk of sustaining injury or falling sick. So the goal is to lay down a really strong aerobic base so that when you do the hard stuff then you can do it justice and really hammer it.”

To Ben, the easy stuff is to build the aerobic base first and develop the body’s fat burning and lactate clearance ability. He said, “You do that by running slower than what you think you need to. If you run the slow sessions at a slow pace, then you will have the ability to recover well in between sets during the fast training, which is very intense because we are running at a maximum sustainable anaerobic pace and training your anaerobic system.”

He added, “But if you were running in the grey zone that is, doing the easy stuff not easy enough, then doing the hard stuff hard, the output would not be as good as it had been if you had run the easy stuff easy. Take that as a lesson moving forward; there is nothing you can do now for the Singapore Marathon if you had done that, but I strongly urge you to take that on board for your next race because it will make you into a better runner and lower your chances of getting hurt.”

Millions of people get injured from running

Ben pointed out that in the United States, out of the millions of people who run, 80 per cent of them suffer running injuries every year, so he added that the odds of getting hurt are in fact, quite high.

He added, “And the more haphazard you are about your approach to training and the less you pay attention to the details, the higher are your chances of sustaining an injury.”


After a hard session, Ben also urges runners to recover well from them.

He said “You did not get better from the hard session. You just broke yourself down and your bodies are worse for it now. The good stuff will happen when you go home, have a good meal with lots of veggies and rehydrate and have eight hours of sleep. That is where the body gets to work to recover from the session that we just did.”

Continued Ben, “So do not skimp on the recovery. We are in the final weeks now and this is the hardest part of the programme. So pay attention to your recovery and if you do, then your body responds faster and at the SCSM come 3rd December, we will all run well.”

Ben addresses runners at the session.

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Photos are from Facebook/Under Armour.

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