Sunday, 1 February 2009

Yeovil Times Marathon Training Articles

This series of articles appeared in the Yeovil Times over the winter of 2008/9

Part 1 of 6 ‘Getting started’

Inspired by the heroics of our Olympians and the sporting soap opera that is Paula Radcliffe record numbers of people are taking up running and setting their sights on completing famous races like the London Marathon in April, or closer to home the Bath Half Marathon next March. Whether you are aiming to raise money for a local charity like St Margaret’s Hospice or just want to challenge yourself to get fitter and achieve something new, running is a great way to go about it.

Over the coming months this column will cover the basics of running. From getting started through constructing a simple training plan, nutrition, preparing for the marathon and finally to some top tips for race day itself.

So whether you are sitting at home looking at your London acceptance letter or just thinking that some fun, cheap exercise is a great way to beat those credit crunch blues then read on.

Getting started really is as simple as putting on some trainers and heading out of the door. And to increase your chances of being successful here are four steps which all aspiring runners should follow.

1. Set some goals.
Dream big. We have so much more potential than we often realise. So dream big. What do you want to achieve in six months time ? Imagine yourself having just completed that goal. How does that feel ? Now write it down. Looking back at this piece of paper through the winter will help remind you why you are doing this.

2. Get some proper running shoes
While you can run in almost anything, and famously Zola Budd ran the L.A Olympics in bare feet, a good pair of running shoes is the only investment you need to make to run. Getting the advice of a specialist retailer like Tri UK in Yeovil is worthwhile to ensure you have an appropriate pair of shoes. Of course, if you want to buy lightweight waterproof clothing and GPS devices to measure how far you have run there is no limit to what you can spend !

3. Start running
That first step can often be the hardest, especially if you have never run before. So here is a great way to start. Get out the door and walk for one minute.

Easy ! Now run for one minute. The speed should be comfortable, so that you can talk while running. Walk again and keep repeating up to 30 minutes total exercise. 3 times a week would be ideal. After repeating a few times start to increase the length of the running segments. Before you know it you will be doing 30 minutes continuously and ready to start a training plan.

4. Run with a buddy
As with any change we make to our lives the most difficult part is keeping momentum. We’ve all seen it before with New Year’s resolutions. They go great for a few weeks then we slip back into old habits. The same can be true with running, with enthusiasm dropping off as the dark nights take over and the Christmas party season hits full swing. The best safeguard is to find a running partner. With two of you on the journey together you are far more likely to succeed. Its no coincidence that the worlds top runners train together in large groups. Running is also a great way to meet new people and local running clubs such as Yeovil Town Road Running Club cater for all standards of runner.

So there you have it. Lace them up and get started.

Part 2 – the challenge of the marathon

Judging by the numbers of you I am seeing running round the streets of Yeovil at the moment plenty of you have taken the plunge with starting training for the London Marathon. If you got rejected from London then a great local alternative is the Taunton Marathon on 5th April. This month we are going to look at the basics of a successful training programme and a few tips on surviving the festive season.

So what makes the marathon such a challenge and how do we best prepare for it ? You may have heard about the mythical ‘wall’, that point in the marathon where people slow down dramatically. This happens because the human body stores enough fuel in the form of carbohydrate to cover between 15 and 18 miles. More than enough for your average iron age hunter-gatherer to pick some berries and snare a wild pig but not enough for modern man to
complete a 26 mile marathon. So the training for a marathon is all about making that fuel last longer.

We do this in two ways. By running regularly our muscles get stronger, we lose some body fat and so our bodies need to burn less fuel to cover each mile. That ekes out our reserves to 20 miles or more. And then the best bit. By doing long training runs we teach our body to burn fat, lots of it. Fat is something that even the leanest elite athletes have enough stores of to run several marathons and this gets you to the finish.

So there are 18 weeks until London which looks like a lot and will fly by so here is how to use the time wisely. The last 3 weeks before the race you will be reducing your training in what we call the taper and the March article will be dedicated to this. That leaves 15 weeks for training. You need 12 weeks to do the long runs required to prepare you for the challenge of the marathon which means just until another month to get into the habit of running regularly before the real marathon training starts. And that month includes the pitfall that is christmas and new year.

The holiday season can be a time when those good habits you have started to build up during november go out of the window. Whether its parties, visitors or having the kids at home from school you need a strategy to keep running. So a good place to start is with some negotiation. Agree with the important people in your life when you are going to be running and stick a list of times/dates on the fridge.

The holidays also give you a great opportunity to run in daylight and that means being able to get off road and run in some new places such as Nine Springs and Ham Hill Country park.

And there is still time to put in a word to Santa for some help from the professionals. If you want a good book which tells stories about many different marathon experiences culminating in training plans for all standards from 5 hours to 2hours 30 mins then go for Marathon Running by Richard Nerurkar, the last British man to win a championship marathon. If your preference is to start from the theory of training which links into detailed training plans then Daniel’s Running Formula by Jack Daniels (the coach not the whiskey maker) is the book for you. Both are very readable and widely available.

Next month – the marathon long run, how long ?

Part 3 - the marathon long run.

If your holiday season was anything like mine then your marathon training didn’t go quite according to plan with chesty coughs and too much food getting in the way. If you did manage a trouble free period of training then you are ahead of the game so well done.

With 14 weeks to go until London now is the time to get down to serious training and that means focusing on building up your weekly long run.

Remember from last month that the marathon is all about making the fuel last long enough to avoid hitting that infamous wall.

The long run is the most important training run you will do because it teaches your body to burn fat which makes your precious carbohydrate reserves last longer come race day. The second effect of the long run is that by ‘emptying the fuel tank’ your body actually learns to store more fuel if you eat properly when you finish the run – more about this in a minute.

So how do you go about the long run ? After all, even for experienced runners, the prospect of running 26 miles in just over 3 months time can be quite daunting but the good news is that there is a tried and trusted approach which will get you there. Remember the last 3 weeks will be saved for the taper so 14 weeks training is actually 11. Keeping a couple of weeks in reserve in case of illnesses, family weekends etc means that you actually have 9 long runs and here is how you can approach it:

1. Focus on ‘time on your feet’ and follow the principle of adding a bit at a time. So starting with 60 minutes you add 15 minutes each week and by the beginning of April you will be able to run for 3 hours, the maximum recommended training duration.
2. Keep the speed manageable. If your goal is 4 hours for the marathon that is 9 minutes per mile. So your long run should be between 11 and 10 minutes per mile. You want to finish tired and hungry rather than completely exhausted.
3. Run with other people. Both Yeovil Town Road Runners and Crewkerne Running Club have organised long runs some weekends so check out their websites for details.
4. Drink water during your long run. You may want to run several loops or have a family member meet you at pre-arranged points with water and spare clothing – this is also a great way of getting the family involved as part of Team You !

So you have finished your long run what now ? The most important task is to rehydrate and refuel. The body best stores fuel immediately after exercise has finished. So get some complex carbohydrates into you within the first 30 minutes e.g. wholemeal bread, potato, pasta. If you have run on Sunday morning and need to wait a while for Sunday lunch then still have a snack in that first 30 minutes to start the refueling and repair process. Trust me you will still enjoy your lunch an hour or two later.

While a long soak in a hot bath may seem appealing the long run does microscopic damage to the muscles which heat can make worse. The choice of professionals like Paula Radcliffe is a dip in an ice bath. While this might be taking things a bit far a few minutes of cold shower water on your legs can prove remarkably invigorating.

Part 4 – Speed training

You know that marathon time is approaching when the days are getting longer and you can start your evening run with the last of the daylight. The excesses of Christmas are just a distant memory and you are starting to feel fitter from the consistent training that you have been doing this year. Last month we looked at the Long Run, vital for building the stamina required to tackle 26 miles. This month its time to turbo charge that new found fitness with some speed training.

Why do speed training ? After all the marathon is all about endurance. Well, running considerably faster than you need for the marathon will do several things. Clearly it will leave you gasping for breath and quite tired if you run fast enough. This is because you can’t get enough oxygen to the muscles to maintain speed. Your body responds to this embarassment by making your heart bigger and stronger and increasing the amount of blood in your arteries.

The outcome, more oxygen going to the muscles which means a fitter, faster runner. This is the human equivalent of adding more horsepower to car’s engine !

Speed training needs to be approached in small bites. A great way to start is by running fast for 1 minute. This should be about the speed that you could maintain for 10-15 minutes continuously before having to stop. After the fast minute, jog slowly for 1 minute. Then repeat until you have run 6 fast efforts.

By the end of this you should be breathing hard. The human body adapts quickly so you need to add more fast running each week. Once you can do 10 sets of one minute fast increase the duration to 90 seconds and then eventually 2 minutes, remembering to take an equal time of easy jogging after each fast run.

If you are looking for an extra challenge you can run some or all of the fast segments uphill. Mudford Road, Bunford Hollow, Lyde Road are all great for adding this extra twist.

A few weeks with a weekly speed training workout and you will feel a different runner, literally. Your other runs at normal speed will feel so much easier than before. Which leads us into the second type of speed training, Marathon Pace training. On your long runs you should be running slower than you plan to run in the race. So you need to educate your body what race pace feels like and teaches it to burn your precious sugar stores economically.

If you are aiming for 4 hours that is approximately 9 minutes per mile. So to practice race pace, warm up and then run for a mile you goal pace. Then take 5-10 minutes of easy running before repeating. As with the fast speedwork the idea is to add more miles at race pace each week as race days gets closer.

On Saturday 28th Feb I will be holding a free coaching clinic at Tri UK, so pop along after midday and get your questions about speedwork and other training answered.

And finally a great way to simulate the marathon experience is to run a half marathon during march. The idea behind this is to give you some confidence by covering half the marathon distance at your target pace knowing that you still have time for more training. There is the added benefit of running with people around you and getting to practice taking drinks on the run. Indeed, if big running events are new to you getting one under your belt before London is a great idea and will make you feel more relaxed on the big day.

Part 5 – the taper

If there is one part of preparing for a marathon that causes endless confusion and heartbreak it is the taper. In fact taper is a slightly misleading word, I prefer to talk about peaking for the marathon. This means taking a very different approach to your last 3 weeks training before race day. Gone are the long runs and hard speed training and everything is focused on producing a peak performance on the 26th April. That means reducing training, rehearsing race pace and fueling up.

The biggest error made during these last few weeks is to test your fitness. I’ve seen people do a 20 mile run the week before their marathon to ‘test themselves’ and feel great. Then 7 days later they struggle round the marathon and wonder what hit them ! Read on and all will become clear. So why do we peak ? The months of hard training for a marathon leave us with microscopic damage in our muscles. Small tears which take more than a few easy days to repair. And while racing with this level of damage might not compromise a 10km race it bites you in the later stages of the marathon.

So 3 weeks of reduced training allows you body to fully repair itself.

This principle also applies to getting the full benefit of your training. Remember, training breaks the body down, recovery is what actually makes you fitter.

And generally it takes 10 days or so to get the full benefit of a training session. So hammering one of last month’s speed training workouts in the few days before a big race is only going to tire you out, not make you fitter. This could also be a good time to get a massage from a local sports masseur like Hannah Manton though leave at least a week between massage and racing, especially if you are not used to it. And finally after all the hard training the body will be depleted of carbohydrates and probably a bit dehydrated too. So easing back allows you to re-stock the stores. You can even measure this by seeing a small increase in your weight during race week. I usually add a couple of pounds as my muscles load up with carbs and water. That's a good sign !

Peaking principles in the last 3 weeks:
1. last long run 3 weeks before the marathon
2. 3 weeks to go run 75% of your usual weekly training mileage.
3. 2 weeks to go reduce this to 50%.
4. race week run 25% plus the race.
5. ensure that your running shoes are worn in rather than worn out.
6. rehearse your race pace - short repeats of say 1km are good for getting used to the rythmn.
7. eat/drink as normal, the decreased training will mean you are topping up your carb stores.
8. practice drinking on the run and if you are going to use the official sports drink then buy some and practice with that as well. The same goes for energy bars/gels.
9. practice your race day routine at least once (wake up time, eating race day breakfast, warm up, running at race start time wearing race day kit and plasters/vaseline to stop chaffing).
10. practice visualising success, whatever that means for you.

So how can you expect to feel as you come to a peak ? For a start, be prepared for some aches and pains to emerge when you reduce your training load. This is the cumulative fatigue of your training kicking in and with 2 weeks to go you may feel very tired. And then by the last week you can enjoy the anticipation of race week when you are like a caged lion, prowling round the house and ready to go.

Next month – race day

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