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Marathon Training

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6/14/02

Karen, I’m glad to hear that you got into MCM and of your recently improving race times.  You asked for my comments re your goals and training plans, so here they are.

 

Concerning the goals you have set for MCM....they are perfect!  As you know, your recent race times equate to just about your realistic goal of 3:05. In fact, your 10m race, which is more useful than 5k’s for "predicting" a marathon time, indicates a time of 3:03:30.  Your 5k times demonstrate that you have the aerobic capacity (VO2max) to support your goals.  And the 10m time shows the same for your LT.  With the training regimen that you have planned, I wouldn’t be surprised to see you surpass your “ultimate” goal.

 

Concerning your training plans....in a word, excellent!  Your plan has all of the elements of a complete, well balanced marathon program.  I do have a couple of relatively minor suggestions/comments.  Let me just ramble here and maybe you can pick something out that might be useful to you.  It’s probably going to get kinda long.  :-)

 

(1) Total mileage.  45 mpw since Nov is an outstanding base.  I assume that you plan to increase that to an average of 50+ during the next 4 months with peak weeks of 60-70.  The way to do that kind of mileage on one-a-days is by running 6 days/week.  I do think that an off day each week is important to give your body and mind a brief respite from a very challenging training regimen.  I always took off the day before my weekly long run.....and I do mean completely off....not even any weight work.  Sometimes, I would also take off the Monday after a Sunday race, especially if the race was 10k or longer, and enjoy a pizza and beer dinner instead of an evening run....that was solely for mental, not physical, training purposes.  ;-)

 

(2) Long runs.  I like your plan to run 20-23 miles every other week from as early in your program as practical.  The more of them you do, the more total mileage you will rack up in your overall program and the stronger you will be on race day.  The most 20+ mile runs I ever did in a 16-week program was 11.  But, that was with no speedwork in the program at all....the long runs and weekly mileage that reached 70 miles were the only hard elements of that training cycle.  Usually, I would include four to six runs of 20-24 mile runs in the 14-week program that I used in my first running life and 6-8 of them in the 16-week program I used in my second running life.

 

I would not increase the length of the long runs to 18 miles on the cutback weeks.  I like for them to be no longer than 70-75% of the previous week’s long run.  Thus, a max of 14-15 miles the week after a 20-21 miler or 15-16 miles following a 22-23 miler.  Cutback weeks are to give yourself a mini-break to let your body recover from and consolidate the gains it has made from all the hard work of the peak weeks, while still continuing to train.  That’s why the long run should be reduced by at least 25% and total weekly mileage by about 15-20%.  OTOH, I also see nothing wrong with occasionally running back-to-back peak weeks, including consecutive weekly long runs of 20+ miles, before taking a cutback week, if you are feeling especially fresh and strong.  I used to do that at times.  That’s one way to add intensity to a program and still follow a hard/easy routine, with the emphasis on the hard.  I just wouldn’t make a regular habit of it without building up to it as a routine regimen over a few training cycles.  BTW, I also like to schedule races to fall at the end of cutback weeks, if possible, although many of my races also came at the end of peak weeks, often on Sunday after a Saturday long run....that’s when I REALLY appreciated a Monday night pizza and beer treat instead of a run.  :-)

 

(3) Speedwork.  A 2:1 mix of cruise intervals and VO2max workouts as one of your weekly “quality” sessions is good for marathon training.  That should be adequate to continue the development of your LT and maintain your aerobic capacity, while permitting you to focus on strength training with a second hard session each week.  One footnote here....when you race, let races of 8-10k or longer replace a set of cruise intervals and 5k’s replace a VO2max session.

 

(4) Midweek strength runs.  You plan to combine two training elements that I usually separate into two different sessions....a midweek, medium long run and a weekly strength building workout.  I believe strongly in a midweek, medium long run of about 2/3 the length of the previous weekend’s long run at an easy pace.  They are great contributors to total mileage, which I consider to be a major element of quality in a marathon program.  (I’m probably not as radical as Sparkie about that, but I do believe strongly in the benefits of high mileage.)  I also consider a medium long run to be an easy day even though it can reach 14-16 miles because I kept the pace easy.  I usually ran them on Wednesday.  Then I would do a separate strength training run the next day.  You plan to combine them.  That’s OK.  Many people do.  It’s a matter of personal preference.

 

I like your choices for strength training....hill repeats and fast continuous runs.  I would suggest a greater mix of hill repeats, like every other week instead of every third week, for the first half of your training cycle.  Then, switch to every third week for the second half of the cycle.  In other words, a 1:1 mix of FCR’s vs hills for the first two months, and a 2:1 mix in the last two months.  The lifting involved in hill repeats helps to build muscular strength, as well as running strength.  Doing more of them in the early phases of a training cycle helps all of the other training elements.

 

(5) Weight training.  I’m a firm believer in working both upper and lower body.  Some people believe that running is all that is needed for the legs.  I disagree.  Running certainly conditions and tones most leg muscles.  But it doesn’t stress and strengthen all of the leg muscles.  Further, except for running hills, it doesn’t develop leg muscular power like weight bearing exercises do.  I think that a variety of leg weight exercises (extensions, presses, squats, curls and toe raises) helps to make a better, faster runner and reduces the risk of injury.  Of course, I’ve stated my views on the benefit of upper body weight training to a runner several times on the forums when talking about running the last part of a race on your upper body.

 

I think that twice/week weight training is adequate.  Three times/week is even better, as long as it doesn’t leave you with dead legs and interfere with the quality of speedwork or long runs.

 

(6) Easy runs.  Here’s the area in which you asked for my comments....thought I’d never get to it, didn’t you?  :-)

 

There is an old adage about easy runs....it isn’t possible to run them too slowly, but it’s easy to run them too fast.  What’s too fast?  Aaaah, answering that is the problem.  In my opinion, it depends on what else you are doing in your program.  For instance, running short easy runs at brisk pace in a low mileage 5-10k program or during a base building phase of training is certainly less risky than doing the same in a high mileage marathon program.

 

Like cutback weeks, easy runs are intended to provide opportunities for your body to “take a breather” from the intense stresses of a marathon program, while still permitting you to get training (endurance) benefit from continuing to put in mileage....it’s called “active rest”.  Certainly, a short 6-miler at MP is going to feel “easy” to a competitive marathoner in training, even if it comes in the middle of an intense training program.  But, is it really easy?  I would be concerned about the totality of the stress that your body is accumulating.  After all, running two of your weekly “easy” runs at MP, in addition to a long run and two other quality workouts, leaves you with only two truly easy days/week....your third easy run and your off day.  I think more “easy” days than that are needed in a marathon program.  I believe in training hard, but I would encourage you to try to get your running partner to slow down a little on the days that you run with him.  How much slower?  At least 30 sec/mile slower than MP.  I think that 7:30-7:45 would be a good range for you to be in.  Having a training partner is great!  I used to have a couple of them in my first running life that I could count on for most of my runs.  But, we were all running at the same level.  The only downside to a training partner such as yours is when s/he is faster than you and doesn’t adjust easy training to your level.

 

We all know that a marathon leaves us with microscopic muscle fiber damage that requires recovery.  And we also know that most of the hard work in a marathon program is in the training, not the race itself.  Well, all of the hard work and physical stress of marathon training also damages muscle and tendon fibers.  Not to the extent of a marathon race, of course, since we don’t run the combination of pace and distance in training that we do in the race.  But, your body still needs time to repair damages following a hard training effort.  Usually a day or so is sufficient.  Thus, the hard/easy concept of daily training.

 

I will confess that I used to do my easy and long runs a little faster than most training guidelines recommend.  They were about 15-30 sec/mile slower than MP, which is about 15-30 sec/mile faster than the Merv calculator specifies.  And, occasionally, I would do an easy 6-miler at MP or faster, especially on a crisp fall evening.  But, I didn’t make a habit of it.  Of course, I also experienced an accumulation of stress that eventually led to a couple of running-life-ending injuries.  In retrospect, I suspect that I didn’t program enough rest into my long term program, even though I alternated marathon and 10k seasons and took two 2-4 week R&R breaks each year.  The rest that I think I failed to build in was probably due to running too many runs just a little too fast.  They felt great at the time, but the stress accumulation over several years took its toll.  That’s why today I recommend that the easy and long run pace should be usually 1-2 minutes slower than 10k race pace or 30-60 min/mile slower than MP.  Exceptions are OK, but they should be exceptions, not routine.  Bottom line...do as I say, not as I did.  ;-)

 

(7) Racing.  I think that frequent racing, especially in the 8-10k range, is one of the most beneficial things a marathoner can do.  They are great developers of all elements....LT, aerobic capacity, strength and economy.  And, since you can recover from them quickly, they interfere minimally with the flow of a training program.  The problem, of course, is that they aren’t readily available to many marathoners today.  I agree 100% that the 10k time trials that Bill suggested are a very, very useful alternative.  It’s a great idea!  They probably won’t be quite as fast as in a race environment.  But, the difference is almost negligible in terms of training benefit.  I would strongly urge anyone in marathon training to run a 10k time trial every 3-4 weeks in lieu of a LT workout when 10k races are not available. That would be preferable to substituting a 5k race instead.

 

(8) Another footnote.  We are talking about two hard speed/strength workouts each week.  On top of all the long runs and high mileage, that can get to be a hell of a load. The totality of it all will be more than you have done previously. You can expect to feel a bit tired at times. If you feel yourself getting too tired or overloaded, and that might happen as you get deeper into the training cycle, the first things to cutback on are weight training (from 3xweek to 2xweek) and speedwork....not strength runs or races.  I usually wound up doing a combination of two hard workouts (speedwork, strength run or race), plus a long run, in about 2/3 of the weeks in a training program.  The other 1/3 of the weeks did either a speed workout or, usually, a strength run, but not both.  In fact, I used to plan my program that way at the beginning of a training cycle, then I would adjust up or down based on how I felt as I progressed through it.

 

(9) OK, one last footnote.  I started by saying that your MCM goals are perfect.  And they are....for the present.  They reflect where you are now.  If your race was this weekend, they would be exactly the right goals.  However, the training schedule that you plan for the next 4 months should advance you further.  You should plan to run a couple of 10k-half marathon races in September/early October, especially one 3-4 weeks before MCM, to re-calibrate your goals.  I would not be a bit surprised to see your goals drop by another few minutes.

 

Well, if you have made it to this point and are still awake....congratulations!!  Or get a life!!  ;-)  I apologize if a lot of this was very elementary.  I don’t mean to be condescending.  It’s just that I sometimes find it easier to just ramble and say too much than to try to be succinct.  It’s the way my wacky mind works.  :-)

 

Jim2