The last month of marathon training

If you’ve arrived at this point in your marathon training without injury or illness interrupting your training you’ll be feeling pretty good about the marathon that awaits you. With 10-12 weeks of quality marathon training in your legs you should certainly be feeling fit and well trained and almost ready to put the training into action on race day.

The last month of marathon training are still an important period with some solid training followed by a taper period. During these last 2-3 weeks of heavy training the long runs are still vital for continuing to build endurance but also to five you the confidence that you’ll be running your best on race day. We recommend to continue running your long runs with race pace work throughout them. This can easily be achieved by adding some race pace efforts during your run or finishing the run at race pace. These could look like 4 x 5km during the run at race pace or the last 10km at race pace. Using your last two long runs of your marathon training with these type of work will give you confidence that can run your race pace when you fatigue during the marathon. Marathons inevitably become very difficult over the last 10km, there is huge advantage by being trained and ready to give your best when it matters most.

Mileage over these last few weeks of heavy training should still be consistent with what you’ve managed to build to this point. There is no real advantage in building further at this point but a risk of injury close to the race. A smart decision is to maintain the mileage that you’ve achieved so far and be confident that you’ve done work. There is no substitute for the aerobic miles you’ve worked hard on putting in over the course of the last 10-12 weeks.

This last four weeks is a time to transition away from building strength and move further into building speed. This can be as simple as making your hill sessions shorter and your interval session more challenging. By this stage in your marathon training you are feeling strong and don’t need to build more strength, working on your speed and more importantly being able to fast as you fatigue. Interval sessions at this point should challenge you with short intervals, short recovery and more reps. Work hard in these sessions to give you the speed benefit before race day.

Once these last few weeks of hard marathon training is completed it’s time to taper. It’s an individual choice on how long this needs to be. For a marathon two weeks is generally considered optimal but many people decide on a one week taper and this is fine. If you choose a shorter taper recommendation would be to not run your last long run within the last 10 days of the marathon. At this point you don’t need the training, you need to absorb the training and rest before race day.

Taper’s can be a difficult time for runners who have been training hard and don’t feel like they need to rest. As we get closer to race the nerves and anxiety are heightened and this can add to the feeling. Tapering can be helped if you continue to run to your normal plan but lower the mileage. If you are used to running six days a week you probably still can, just cut your runs in half and continue about your normal schedule.

During your taper use sleep as a training tool and don’t set an alarm in the morning. If you run early in the morning your body clock likely is set to wake early anyway. Let yourself rest and run after you wake naturally, if this doesn’t leave you much time so be it, you could use a rest day anyway.

The last month of your marathon training is a great time to reflect on how far you’ve come from putting in 2-3 months of hard work. You are almost ready to run a marathon, something most people never get to experience. Enjoy every moment of the journey along the way.

 

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Marathon Training: The halfway point

You’re at the half way point of your marathon training program, so where should your training be and how should you feel? If you’ve completed all or most of your key sessions as designed you’ll be feeling fit, strong and motivated to get to the marathon start line.

Long Runs

With 7-8 long runs under your belt you will have developed a good endurance base and strong aerobic capacity. Running for over two hours at your long run pace should feel comfortable and dare I say relatively easy. This is why we run weekly long runs so that running for long periods feels comfortable. At this stage in your training you should have built to your maximum long run time or distance, your base endurance training is almost completed. One of the great feelings from regular long runs is the bodies adaptation to endurance. As the body adapts to regular increases in the long run distances, the distances that were difficult early in your marathon training now feel easy.

Over the next 5-6 weeks before a taper you can add some quality marathon specific training to your long runs. These can consist of race pace efforts during a long run. A favourite session is on a 30km long run to include 4 x 5km at race pace in the middle of the run with a 1-2km recovery between each. You can easily structure a long run session on a similar theme but add race paced efforts during the middle or finish the long run this way and really build your resistance to fatigue at your race pace.

Hill Sessions

Half way through the marathon program you will be strong from regular hill sessions. These sessions have given you the leg strength to be able to feel stronger as you fatigue during your longer runs. This strength will be vital in the later stages of the marathon when running gets tough. Over the next 5-6 weeks hill sessions we recommend continuing completing hill sessions weekly and ensuring a strong body on marathon day.

On top of the long runs and hill sessions, the two most key base marathon fitness sessions the interval and aerobic runs you’ve completed will have assisted in building a really strong fitness base. As mileage has increased over these 7-8 weeks as has a solid aerobic capacity. People whose marathon training has gone to plan to this point could quite easily run a good marathon this weekend.

The second half

For the second half of the marathon training you will most likely want a 10-14 day taper at the end. If you are on a 16 week marathon cycle this leave six weeks of training before the race taper. From this period you can focus more on race specific training and less on building your endurance and strength.

The three key sessions won’t change too much but the focus shifts slightly to long runs that incorporate race pace, intervals that are shorter at a slightly higher intensity and hill sessions that are shorter. The focus in this period will give intervals the priority over hills. This is reversed from the first half of training when building strength was a great priority then speed. This is because your strength base is now built and we shift to getting ready to running your fastest on marathon day.

Remember you don’t need to become a faster runner to run a faster marathon, you need to stop getting tired and run your best at the end of the marathon. Therefore long runs should be run throughout the training program and will always be the most valuable run of each week.

If you are feeling this way at half way then you should be confident that you are on track for the marathon start line and  a good performance. Stay motivated and keep working hard and you’ll achieve your race goals in your marathon.

 

Runners: Stop getting tired

 

“Distance runners don’t need to get faster, they just need to stop getting tired” – Matt Fitzgerald

When most runners think about improving their performance over any race distance they think about how to get faster. What we really should be thinking is how do I stop getting tired during races. This thinking and Matt Fitzgerald’s quote is synonymous with the way elite runners approach their training. It is mostly not about becoming a faster runner, it is about getting through an event reducing the effects of fatigue on your running performance.

Most runners suffer nerves or anxiety before a race, however not usually nerves at whether we can run the desired pace. Nerves before a running performance are often directed at the pain and suffering that runners go through as muscle fatigue sets in. It is not the speed we are running that is the problem, it is being able to keep running that speed as we tire that runners need to improve.

Your goal pace in the marathon for instance is not that fast for you. However it is extremely difficult and painful to continue at that pace at mile 24. The only difference is you are physically and mentally fatigued.

How can you stop getting tired?

If you want to be able to perform at your best practise makes perfect. If you want to improve your running, run more. Simple advice,  but there really is no shortcut to improvement.

  • Consistent long runs

If you want to give yourself the best chance at running well as you fatigue then consistent long runs are essential. Legendary running coach Arthur Lydiard used to have his 800m and mile runners complete 20 mile long runs every Sunday. These were completed at an aerobic pace and designed to have the runner build endurance. Elite 800m runners are no different to elite marathon runners in that they don’t need to become faster, they need to stop getting tired when they hit the home straight in a fast run 800m race. Quite simply, if you want to minimise the effects of fatigue during the business end of your next race you should be running an aerobic long run weekly.

  • Aerobic mileage

Aerobic mileage means running at a pace that builds the aerobic capacity, this means low intensity, low heart rate running. If you want to improve your running, run more at an aerobic mileage. It is not the weekly interval session that will make you tire less but the repeated aerobic mileage. Increasing your aerobic mileage and sustaining this over a period of time will give incremental improvements. These will be difficult to see in the short term but over time the improvements will be able to be measured. If you need to skip a workout for whatever reason it’s better to skip the interval session and run the aerobic session. Remember, you don’t need to get faster, you need to stop getting tired.

These are two simple ways you can train your body and mind to make a small change in your running training. Almost every one of us has been guilty at some stage of running our easy runs too hard, shifting your mindset to believe you don’t need to get faster can change this habit. If you run your easy runs at a lower intensity you will recover quicker and be ready and motivated for the next run allowing you to run more often.

When you go into a race knowing you’ve done enough training you will be better equipped to deal with everything a race throws at you when you get tired. You may not ever become a faster runner, you don’t need to, just stop getting tired.

 

 


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Goals of the first month of marathon training

 

A month into your marathon training program how should your fitness have progressed? A standard marathon program duration is usually 14-16 weeks giving you basically three months of training and a two week taper before your race.

In this initial month the goal should be two fold;

  • Increase your endurance
  • Increase muscular strength

This first month or even longer can be considered your base phase of training where you work on these two goals. We have spoken in depth about increasing your mileage to increase your endurance, this is a fundamental goal in the base phase of marathon training. You can build your mileage and endurance through regular aerobic workouts and stretching your long run time each week.

During the first month of the marathon base is the time to increase muscular strength, incorporating hills into training is essential for this development. Ensuring you complete your weekly hill session as well as running regular aerobic runs over hilly terrain should be increased during base training phase. This increase will build strength for when you do longer or more challenging interval and tempo sessions later in the training. Simply put running more over hills at an aerobic pace will develop both your endurance and strength.

If you use Strava or another online site to log your mileage you can focus on two metrics. Monitor your weekly mileage and elevation run. Your Strava profile will measure your last 4 weeks of running, focus on increasing this number during this period of training.

While the focus is on endurance and strength in this phase running a weekly interval session should still be completed. As part of the three weekly sessions it is recommended that an interval workout is run every week. During the base phase you can run longer intervals, the goal of intervals is usually to increase speed. However running a longer interval will give you an endurance pay off as well and teaching the body to be able to run fast as it fatigues. Being able to run fast through fatigue is a vital component of developing endurance for the marathon. At some stage in the marathon you’ll be asked to dig deep and stay on goal pace and these longer intervals and long runs are where you’ll teach yourself this skill.

After this first month of training you should be feeling comfortable with running the increased mileage you’ve developed. From here the recommendation is to continue to build the endurance through increasing long run distance, strength through hill workouts and more focussed speed through shorter, faster intervals. However you will need to recover from the harder workouts and you can run your aerobic runs on flatter terrain and possibly slower than the previous phase. After eight weeks of marathon training you should be reaching close to your maximum distance of your long run and be ready to build speed and strength to get you through the marathon. the value you’ll get from a quality base phase of marathon training will help you get through the hard training thats ahead and to the finish line of the marathon.

 

 

How to increase mileage without increasing injury

 

Recently in these pages we talked about the benefits of increasing your weekly mileage and how doing this can improve your overall running performance. For most runners a small increase in mileage in the short term will not greatly increase their chances of injury and if this increase turns into a consistent training variation the benefits outweigh the risk of injury.

The main injury risk associated with an increase in mileage is increasing beyond your capabilities. Therefore you should structure your mileage based on your recent running volume. Going from 40km per week to 80km in a week will have very little benefit if you cannot sustain the increase and need to go back to 40km after a week or two.

The best method of increasing is to develop a plan that will allow you to increase gradually and then sustain the new weekly volume. The easiest two strategies are;

  • Increase your easy runs by 5-10 min
  • Consistent long runs

Almost every runner can make 5-10 minutes more in their daily schedule to increase their run. This is fail safe plan against injury for most runners as the extra mileage will hardly be noticed. Only strategy needed is a commitment to get out the door for 5-10 minutes.

Long runs should be run consistently for any long distance runner, they are the staple run for improving endurance over time. Make time in your schedule every week to run long regardless of the period in your training program. The distance or time of these long runs can vary based on your ability, running background a goal races. Easy rule of thumb is to make your long run 25-30% of your total weekly mileage.

How rapidly you should increase mileage can vary from runner to runner. If you are new to running you will need to be patient, the body will take time to get used to the increase. If you have a history of injury then you should be cautious, this does not mean you can’t increase mileage but monitor yourself as you increase mileage. Remember the benefits will only be delivered if you can maintain the increase for a period of time, be patient.

If you are an intermediate or advanced runner with little history of injury then you can push greater mileage with confidence. Increase mileage to a point where you can maintain the increase for 3-4 weeks without suffering fatigue or burnout. If you do feel you are starting to burnout then you’ve increased too quickly and may need to plateau or decrease.

Incorporating regular rest days into your schedule will help you avoid burnout or fatigue. We recommend not planning rest days and using these when you feel you need to rest. This helps you avoid burnout and injury as you rest when the mind or body says no, and run when you are motivated, ready and willing.

When you increase mileage you should be attempting to create a new normal for yourself that over a period of weeks feels normal. Therefore you should only increase to what you feel you can capably sustain. If you achieve this you certainly give yourself a better chance of remaining injury free.

You’ll get great benefits over time by increasing your mileage, you’ll get even greater benefits over time by remaining injury free and enjoying your running.


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Running hills, Yes please

Running hills regularly is one sure fire way to improve your marathon result and almost all aspects of your running performance. Regular hill workouts will give you gains in strength, speed, endurance and injury prevention. Every runner will benefit from running hills no matter whether you started running last week or are a seasoned veteran.

Hills are a member of the three key sessions we recommend runners run each week. If you want to be a self coached runner and keep your training cycle simple, run a focused hill, interval and a long run each week mixed with aerobic recovery runs.

Whilst most marathons are run on flat courses designed to offer runners a chance at a fast time, the benefits from regular hills give you the chance to improve even further.

Hill Workouts

We are here to talk about hills today and why they should be a regular part of your training schedule. There are many ways to add hill running specifics into your runs but three simple and easy to additions are;

  • Hill sprints – Short explosive effort uphill followed by a downhill walk recovery. These are usually 10-15 second efforts and can be included at the end of an aerobic run.
  • Hill repeats – Run the hill with a focus on a medium hard effort followed by a recovery run down the hill. Varying the length, gradient and number of repeats can add variety to this session.
  • Hilly Tempo runs – Choose a hilly terrain and run a focussed tempo session over a hilly terrain for 45-60 minutes. To aide recovery during the run you can run the uphills harder then the downhills.

Running hills regularly builds leg strength specific to running which helps every aspect of your running. This gives you benefits of speed and endurance that are vital to improving your performance over every distance. Being stronger gives you a better chance to avoid injury.

If you are training for an upcoming marathon you should be running a hill repeat or hilly tempo at least weekly, particularly in the early phase of the training when you are building strength and your aerobic base fitness. Later in your program you may want to run sessions more specific to your goal race, but for at least the first eight weeks hills should be a weekly part of your life.

If you want to make hills part of your training schedule commit one day each week for hills. If you are new to hills start with hill sprints at the end of a run. When you feel ready add a more challenging specific hill session to your week, to start pick an easier hill for repeats before moving to steeper or longer hills. This session may just become your favourite session of the week.

 


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Stop planning your rest days

 

Most runners would agree that rest days are a valuable part of the training process as they are allow you time to recover from the stress that running causes on your body and mind. The frequency that rest days are used will vary between runner’s ability and experience. Elite runners may rarely take a rest day whereas a beginner runner may need 2-3 each week.

How you structure your running can be beneficial to get the best out of the training. For that reason we recommend to stop planning rest days into your training schedule. For most runners rest days are needed but every runner’s life is different and things can happen that stop you running. When this happens, take a rest day.

Planning to run every day and resting when feel you need to is a better plan. If you have pressures from work or family life that get in the way of running then take a rest day. If you start to feel a niggling injury and feel you need a day off, take a rest day.

Advantages to not planning rest days

  • More flexibility for when you run
  • Less pressure to run when you can’t
  • Less likely to run through pain
  • You’ll run more miles and improve

Quite simply things can get in the way of running and when they do you can take a rest day. When rest days are unplanned you have more flexibility around when you get out the door to run.

When your rest days are unplanned you have the ability to look after yourself when a niggling injury happens. Take a rest day get the body right and run again the day after. For this reason you’ll be less likely to run through pain and do further injury to yourself.

What culminates from an unplanned approach is you are able to run with more regularity and when you run you are motivated to run. When rest days are planned your structure is rigid and you can’t afford to take a rest day when the need arises. Keep them unplanned and you’ll run more and be more motivated on the times you run. This will help you run more mileage in the long term and this will improve you as a runner.

The most effective way to structure your weekly training is to plan days for your three key sessions   – these being your long run, interval session and hill repeats. These should be planned for days that give you the best chance to complete them, if things get in the way then being flexible and changing them is fine. Try not to run these sessions on consecutive days though. The remainder of the week will be scheduled for aerobic or recovery running and when a rest day is needed take it and adjust the week accordingly.

An unplanned rest approach takes the pressure off you to get out the door when time constraints, life or injury gets in the way. After all it’s supposed to be fun. Enjoy your running


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The benefits of increasing running mileage

“An unaimed arrow never hits it target”

This is also true when it comes to running and a structured plan to get the most out of your running mileage is important. Increasing running mileage helps develop your aerobic capacity so you are better able to handle harder sessions and also run faster over longer distances. Increasing running mileage helps you translate times over shorter distances to longer races. Theoretically if you can run 20 min for 5km you should be able to run a 3:15 marathon, however this doesn’t always happen and building aerobic capacity over time is what can make this a reality.

Benefits of more mileage

  • Building your aerobic capacity

Building your aerobic capacity means building your endurance. The most important factor in becoming a better distance runner. Most running programs feature a lot of aerobic running with harder workouts littered through them. Building aerobic capacity is the number one thing you can do to improve your running and the best way to do this is to increase your mileage at an aerobic pace.

  • Increasing running efficiency

Improving your aerobic capacity will like help you run more efficiently, meaning you’ll be able to run further or faster using less energy. The more you run the better more efficient runner you’ll become. Increasing running is not the only factor in improving running efficiency but certainly one.

  • Prepare you for fatigue in race

When you increase your mileage you deal with fatigue regularly when you train. Your weekly long run even when you are not in a preparation phase for a race is the best run to prepare you for race fatigue. You’ll be better prepared to deal with challenging periods of races when you’ve done greater mileage.

  • Build resilience and mental toughness

When you’ve done the hard work in training you are better equipped to deal with tough patches in races and become resilient and mentally tough. When it’s time to dig deep in a race it takes mental toughness to convince yourself you can still run your best. Mileage in the bank helps prepare you to be mentally tough.

  • Race faster

Quite simply the result of all the benefits listed is better racing results.

How to increase mileage

  • Have a structured plan

Think about the time you have available to run and structure your training around this time. Give yourself the best opportunity to fit running into your schedule.

  • Consistent long runs

Even when you are not in a race preparation phase you should complete a weekly aerobic long run. The most valuable run you will do to increase mileage and your aerobic capacity.

  • Increase runs by 5 – 10 minutes

Increasing your easy runs by 5-10 mins may give you 1-2km per run more which adds up over time. Will it really affect you if you set the alarm 10 minutes earlier.

  • Run an extra day per week

If you can fit an extra run into your schedule if you can. Keep this run as an easy recovery run rather then a rest day. The miles will help you in the long run. If you can’t fit another day in thats ok too.

There is no magic number on miles that every runner should be doing, this is individual and there are too many factors to list.  However almost everyone has the ability and can benefit from a small and measured increase in miles. Run well.


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3 Tips to improving your running performance

When looking to improve your running performance small changes can make a big difference. Here are three well tried tips to improve your running performance before your next race goal.

Mileage Matters

If you want to improve running one of the easiest things to do is increase mileage. Being able to run further in a race preparation will give you great benefits. This does not mean you need to run more hard sessions and the recommendation is to avoid these. Running more should be more running at an aerobic pace to build your aerobic capacity.

A few ways you can increase your mileage are;

Increase your easy runs by 5 – 10 min. If you run four easy runs per week this may mean you add 5-10km to your weekly mileage which doesn’t sound a lot but over a 16 week marathon preparation this could add 160km of aerobic building running to your fitness. Can be as easy as getting up 10 min earlier or not looking at your smartphone notifications that you’ve accumulated overnight until after your run and get out the door running earlier

Run an extra day a week or run twice a day. If you currently four days a week add a day and run five. If you have an opportunity in your schedule to at times run twice in a day, go for it. These extra miles you’ve run will be valuable when they add up. Only do these if you have the time in your schedule though, there is no need to force yourself out the door. It’s supposed to be fun and if it’s not then use the time to rest more

If you can use any of these ways to give yourself a small increase in your weekly miles they will help you over the long term.

 

Get Stronger

The pace required to run a 3 hour marathon is not difficult, for most runners the pace of 6:52 min/mile is a fast jog and easily manageable. What is very difficult though is running this pace for 26.2 miles and it takes strength to do this. Being able to run at a fast perceived pace when the body fatigues is what makes running difficult.

Building strength so that the body can perform at a high level through fatigue is often neglected yet vitally important. To improve strength we suggest a weekly hill repeats session and a strength program of both body weight and explosive weighted exercises.

Hill repeats are part of our recommended three key sessions that every runner should do weekly to build strength. Trying to run these on the same day each week will build them into a habit, that when repeated will become a part of your routine. Be ready to change up from time to time when life gets in the way. To get the best results this should be a hard session so do them when the body is well rested and ready to be stressed.

In terms of strength programs its best advised to consult a personal trainer in your area to recommend a strength program for you that incorporates running specific weight training and ensure you use the right technique to perform these exercises. A strength routine of 1-2 times a week should give you a great benefit to your running.

Correct training paces.

Speed work or interval sessions are supposed to be difficult. They are meant to challenge you so be prepared to run them hard.

Whether you aim to hit a certain pace or use perceived effort as a measure of intensity is up to you but be prepared for them to challenge you. If you intend to hit a pace use an online calculator to give you the correct paces to hit and go after them. These are designed to build speed, so they need to be specific to your ability and run accordingly.

Running interval sessions based on perceived effort will allow these to be purely individual but you’ll need to be honest with yourself when applying this effort. Be prepared to work hard and give your best effort.

Running these regularly will build speed and the ability to run a faster pace then comfortable when fatigued. Training at the correct pace for you gives you the best way to improve your speed quicker.

Until next time. Run well

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How to prepare for preparing for a marathon

Whether you are new to the marathon or a seasoned marathoner searching for a new personal best, being prepared for the training to come is essential. For some preparing for a marathon will simply mean increasing your mileage to prepare for the 42.2km on race day. While for others it will mean increasing mileage further than you’ve ever run and this may seem daunting. Here are three tips to do prior to your marathon training beginning to give you the best chance at a successful marathon training load.

1. Prepare to adjust your mileage

Whether you regularly run marathons or are preparing or your first you are likely to not be regularly doing marathon specific training. Being prepared to increase your mileage is important.

Is your body ready to cope with more mileage? With most coaches and runners structuring a 14-16 week marathon program you can use the 2-4 weeks before this begins to assess where your mileage is and begin to increase. Try and understand whether you are ready to increase your mileage. If you aren’t be mindful for the first half of the program and be cautious with every week that the total mileage or the long run gets significantly longer. The old rule of not increasing weekly mileage by more than 10% still applies and can be used to monitor. The weeks before the program begins are ideal weeks to set small goals to ensure you are prepared for your marathon preparation to start.

How will your life cope with an increase in mileage? Another aspect of preparing for a marathon is that you will likely spend more time running. Are your family and work life ready for the increase and how will you fit the extra time in

2. Prepare for your training paces

This tip is for those looking to run their best time in a marathon. In the weeks leading up to a marathon preparation to gauge where your fitness is currently and then prepare your interval or tempo workout goal paces around this current fitness levels.

In the weeks before your marathon preparation starts you can run a time trial over whatever distance you feel comfortable with 3-5km is perfect to gauge your fitness. From here you can use this time to enter into one of the many running calculators on the internet and gauge your times. In our opinion the McMillan Running calculator is the best available as it will give you individual training paces specific to your goal.

Using this information can be a great place to assess where your fitness is and what you need to do to do your best in your marathon.

3.Figure out your schedule

Whether you are accessing a quality running coach or self structuring your training having a schedule that fits into your life is crucial. To give you the best chance at your marathon fitting in the key workouts is important.

Scheduling how many days you plan to run and which days you will do your key workouts will give you the best shot at success. Making sure you have a plan in place for when you will run your long run and harder sessions each week. And also having a plan to reschedule if life or weather or other factors get in the way. Committing to and completing these sessions each week should be part of the schedule.

Figuring out your schedule is a vital piece of the puzzle to get you ready to run your best marathon.

 

 

There are many other things that form the pieces of a marathon preparation, these are just three that you can do prior to your scheduled training starting.

If you have any questions or comments on your own marathon training leave a comment.