How do you reach your next level marathon training?
For me personally most of my run training hasn’t changed much since these restrictions have come in. Mainly because almost all my training is based from home and the runs are by myself. One of the issues with these changing in life is the lack of goals. I have always had a running goal going. Usually some race in the future that I’m aiming for. At the moment we don’t know when any of that’s going back.
Times when I’ve had problems in races and training is when I have neglected consistency.
Now training is lots of easy runs, strength work, some tempo runs, the occasional MAF test and long runs. All while getting my Achilles back up to scratch. I still need to be careful not to aggravate the Achilles tendon.
I have a goal. It is to earn the next cycle of training.
Training is now going to go out to 8 or 9 day blocks. I need to be able to complete that training block without any issues cropping up. Without causing injury, without my Achilles flaring up or getting sick. I need to be able to handle and absorb the training.
The structure is to have 2 cycles of 9 days of very similar training. These will be my hard weeks. The first cycle is a step up in training, but the second should be a small extension. After which I will take an easier 9 day cycle which will focus on recovery and testing. This training should build me up, not tear me down.
This provides close goals. They are only 9 and 18 days ahead, so are achievable. The goals aren’t extreme. It’s to get through the training without it breaking me down. This forces me to look at recovery and consistency in training. I’ve got to do the daily workouts. I’ve got to be disciplined in the intensity. Take it easy when I should. Push it hard when I should.
Earn The Right
Earn the right to increase your training next week.
This week you have to be able to absorb, handle and adapt to the training you’re doing. If you pay attention you already know whether you are or not. If training leaves you stuffed for the next 3 or 4 days and you have to miss some training sessions you haven’t earned the right to train at that level. So do what it takes to build yourself up earn the right to train hard people and running.
The steps I’ve taken in my Achilles rehab.. In particular insertional Achilles tendinopathy. Some guidelines which may help you with your achilles troubles.
One of the problems with the Achilles tendon is as you get older it can get a lot weaker. Running alone will not provide the strengthening required.
What’s made my case harder is it’s an insertional Achilles tendinopathy. Where the Achilles joins the heel you start involving the bone and bursa. The bursa is a fluid-filled sac that usually creates a bit of glide and cushioning. This becomes inflamed and you end up with bursitis. This will create further damage.
In the acute phase of injury the most important part is don’t cause further damage. So I stopped running, took the load off it avoided stretching the Achilles. Kept it elevated and used iced the injury for 15 to 20 minutes about every 2 hours with 2 days worth of oral anti-inflammatories.
Tendon injuries require loading to get better. After we get past the first 2-3 days of the acute phase there are 2 key points to follow:
applied load to strengthen the tendon
don’t cause anything to aggravate the injury
One of the biggest problems with an insertional Achilles injury is when you stretch it pulls the tendon across and presses up against the bursa. Any stretching we usually do for our calves will likely aggravate the injury. Doing calf exercises where you drop the heel down below level will stretch the tendon.
Limiting movement and stretch of the tendon while applying load is the early plan.
How do we do that?
You have 2 main muscles in your calves .
The gastrocnemius which is the main muscle that goes from the tendon itself up across the back of the knee and joins just above. You strengthen that mostly with a reasonably straight leg. The other muscle is the soleus, which joins below the knee. To target that we need to take the gastrocnemius out of it. So you need to do the exercises with a bent knee.
The isometric protocol I used was an isometric calf raise straight leg and an isometric calf raise bent leg. The plan was to increase the load every week on the proviso that 24 hours after a training session I didn’t have increasing pain. There could still be some discomfort but not an increasing pain from the previous day.
The aim was to do these exercises at least once a day, preferably twice.
Loading initially was holding 30 seconds with 30 to 60 seconds rest in between. Do that for a week then increase that to 5 times 1 minute with 30 to 60 seconds rest. Progress to 3 x 2 minutes with 30 to 60 seconds rest in between finally ending on 1 x 5 minutes.
After isometrics we moved on to the next level and start introducing some movements.
I kept the isometric training going but this time the training sessions started with some actual movement of calf raise both a straight leg and bent leg.
With body weight the aim was to do 3 sets of starting at 10 reps and building that up to 20 reps for each exercise. Taking 30-60 seconds rest between movements. The aim was to get it done almost every day, but I was happy with 5 days a week.
Next progression was to add extra weight to the loading. Using a barbell across the shoulder for the straight leg calf raises. Or across the knees for seated calf raises.
The Achilles’ tendon requires loading to improve. It takes time. Longer than we all want it to. Plus this post only covers the early stages. Beyond these first weeks you will need to start addressing power, elasticity and reactive strength. But that is for a future post.
For a look at earlier stages of my Achilles Injury check out the video below
I’m gonna take you through my current marathon base training.
There’ll be a few tips on how you can apply it to your own program.
What Is Marathon Base Training?
Most people think it’s lots of slow training. Keeping down the intensity and pushing up the volume. Lots of long slow distance work. To a point for some applications that might be the case. For me the point of base training is a bit different.
The Point Of Base Training
The point of base training is to develop a well conditioned athletes capable of optimally responding to the demands of competition specific training.
Training to train is getting fit enough to handle the really hard training that makes up your competition specific work. The better your base the harder you can train further down the track. The more gains you can make as you get closer to racing.
Marathon Base Training Outline
I set up my training in four to five day blocks. At the moment given my circumstances, doing a lot of extra work hours. In this new world of corona virus my work is flat-out. Extra night shifts and extra hours. I haven’t really got a pattern. So only looking 4 to 5 days ahead seems to be the best approach at the moment.
In those 4 to 5 day training blocks I’m trying to include:
a long run
a tempo run
strength (running specific)
strength (other stuff)
How these sessions fit into those days will vary with each block. It’s about the best fit each time. I’m gonna try and separate the tempo and the long run with 1 or 2 days in between. I could start with the long run. It could be the second session, or be the 4th. Whatever is the best fit in amongst the rest of life.
Keeping tabs on recovery and if needed I’ll stick in an extra easy day or recovery day between the training blocks. It’s a work in progress. These times are uncertain at the moment. At the moment I’m still able to run outside. That may change in the not-too-distant future. Isolation or lock down may get stronger. So this plan though allows me to adapt to the ever changing constraints forced upon us. It also is a good setup for other situations as well.
The tempo run is just my little bit of introduction into something a bit faster or a little bit harder. I’m going to keep it within a heart rate zone between 75 to 87%. Not too concerned about exactly where I sit in that range. Just going to run out on feel. Keep it at a steady consistent effort. An introduction to get my legs and Achilles tendon used to something a little bit faster. Pushing it any quicker than that will leave my Achilles tendon at risk. Faster running at this stage still leads to a bit of a flare-up. The basic approach with these tempo runs is to start out at 20 minutes and each time around will add about five minutes.
About every 2 to 3 weeks I’m going to replace that tempo run with a MAF test. It is the Phil Maffetone test where he’s talking about maximal aerobic function. For me being 42 years old 180 minus 42 that gives me a heart rate of 138bpm. The point for me is to run 8km at exactly that heart rate.
As my training progresses I should be able to maintain that exact same heart rate. How much I slow down from the start to the end of the run should reduce while the average speed of the run should improve.
I’m not following the Meffetone training program. I’m not limiting my training to below that heart rate. As such it’s a good reference point that I can go back over the years for my own training. It will give me a good guide to where my basic fitness sits.
Probably my favorite run is the long run.
The aim is to get in about two hours and maintain a heart rate between 65 to 75% of heart rate max. Pacing I don’t really care about. I’m hoping to keep an even pace from the start all the way to the end nothing much more complicated than that.
About every second long run I aim to increase the time out by 10 minutes. On alternative long runs I’ll stick to two hours. Giving the pattern of:
2:00, 2:10, 2:00, 2:20, 2:00, 2:30, 2:00…
Hopefully I can progress safely with this format. As long as the Achilles isn’t flaring up I should be able to.
Strength Training For Marathon Base
For strength training I’m going to do one key session. This is the session that I have will make sure I include every training block. It’s my run specific strength training. Currently concentrating on the calves, hamstrings and glutes. Predominantly leg work with core strength stability training. This is the primary strength training session. I will always include this. Skipping an easy run if needed.
A second strength session is listed as other. This covers everything that isn’t directly run specific. It can be just some fun stuff, upper body work such as overhead presses, pull-ups, more core work. Basically anything in order to stay fit for the rest of life and work.
Easy runs are dotted in between the mix of training. Ideally I’ll be running between 60 and 90 minutes, but I know how time pressures are at the moment. I’ll be happy with anything between 30 and 90 minutes.
Before a 6 a.m. work start I’ll be getting up at 4 a.m. giving about 30 minutes to fit training in. The pace of these easy runs is purely based on intensity. I’m going to keep the heart rate between 55 and 75% of heart right max. These easy runs will feel excruciatingly slow. They are so slow that I’ve turned off the pace data fields on my Garmin. I don’t need to know my pace. This helps with the intensity discipline that will allow me to get the ongoing training done. This is why including a semi-regular MAF test means I’m able to keep track of improvements around that first aerobic threshold. Improvement here I can indicate I’m setting up a good base.
Marathon Base Training Summary
The plan is pretty simple:
4-5 day training block to include:
This simplicity makes it easy to adapt according to different roster cycles and other commitments of life while I’m still able to run outside.
It’s quite doable nothing overly hard in the training. What becomes hard is being able to maintain that consistency over a long period of time.
How do you plan the first four weeks of training after you’ve had a long break from running?
This post will take you through my plan.
4 Week Running Plan
To start out with I’m working in four week blocks. The reason for 4 week blocks it tends to match my work schedule. You could do it in 3 or 4 weeks or even as a month. Something around that range would work. I’d say you need least three weeks to get an idea of whether or not the training program is working. Training takes a bit of patience as you don’t see the results straightaway.
I set up a four week grid:
days of the week across the top
weeks down the side
Key Runs: Intervals
Start with the main key sessions for this cycle. I’m using interval sessions. These begin with intervals 3 x 4 minutes as the set. Then I’m going to repeat this about every four days. They might jump out to 5 or 6 days depending on how my body reacts.
After a second 3 x 4 minutes interval run I hope to be able to increase the volume. I’ll do that by adding another 4 minute interval. Then in the 3rd week I’ll try to add another interval. Making for 5 x 4 minutes. I’m not sure how my body will take it. I might still be stuck at 4 x 4 minutes. This is the plan if everything goes as expected.
The goal during these intervals runs is to be able to run hard, but maintain the same speed throughout the first interval as well as the last. Of course hard still means hard.
Next up we’re gonna a secondary key session. That is the long run.
We’ll space it out away from the intervals a little bit so it’s gonna be 2 days after the intervals and 2 days before interval sessions. We’ll be starting at 60 minutes. After 2 runs we’ll extend out by 10 minutes to 70 minutes. Repeat again 4 days later. Beyond that I aim for another 10 minute increase to 80 minutes in the final week.
In the 4th week I want a bit of a break from the higher intensity work. Give the body a chance to recover. A chance to absorb the training and make the adaptations that are needed. If things go to plan two days after that 80min long run I may get in a 90-minute run there.
At the moment long is a relative concept. The long run is mindset at the moment. That mindset is to keep moving in a way that’s sustainable all the time. The long runs are guided by time and effort. That effort is easy.
Between all these key runs there is one thing left to do. Fill in the gaps. These gaps are easy runs. I’m going to make the first easy run up to a maximum of 60 minutes. Anything shorter is fine. Just fill in all the gaps over the next week Same again for the 3rd and 4th weeks.
We’re keeping the pace way down. So easy it should allow me to be fresh to push the pace on the intervals. It should allow accumulation of run volume relative to what I have been doing.
Why so slow?
Ironically it’s so I can do more and go harder. This comes back to polarized training. Make your easy, easy. Make your hard, hard.
Overtime that slow pace gets faster. You just need patience.
There’s one more part to these easy runs.
Strides, run throughs, striders, easy sprints or pick ups. Call them whatever you want. Basically they just some short sprints. About 10 seconds to a max 15 seconds where you are sprinting below maximum effort.
Don’t over complicate things. Don’t worry too much about rest. It could be anything from like 30 seconds, a walk back recovery, you can space it out by five six minutes or anything in between. If you start feeling the burn in your legs you’re running too long and too much. This isn’t about fighting through fatigue.
One more element that fits in this is strength training.
I’m aiming to put them on the same day as the interval session. For first week,
I was lucky enough to go away on holiday for the first week. Down at beach I didn’t have the usual access to the weights I do at home. So I used more body weight work. These sessions were a bit lighter, so I was able to fit 3 in for the first week.
Back at home hitting the weights the load was actually a fair bit bigger. Strength training comes back on the interval days and that’s the plan for the remainder. In the fourth week we don’t have any interval sessions so I’m going to put a strength session after that long run. If I’m going to push the distance out to 90 minutes on that Friday a moderate strength session on the day afterwards on the Saturday will be the plan.
Keep your easy, easy. You’ll get more from accumulating some volume at this stage than you will from pushing the paces too much. Staying easy on your easy and long runs you should be able to run faster and harder in the interval sessions.
If you’re not going to run every day, put more time in between the interval sessions. At this point you want the interval sessions about once after every three or four easier more aerobic base type running so if you’re running five times a week that’s probably going to be one interval session every week.
Remember these long runs aren’t really pushing the distance out-crazy. Overall the workload is going to be fairly even throughout. Just gradually pushing out the envelope a little.
Reach a fitness level to run a sub-3 hour marathon
You notice there isn’t a deadline listed in those goals.
Pushing a hard deadline on a sub- 3 hour marathon will likely risk my first goal of staying injury proof. Therefore I am open to however long is needed. It could be 6 months, or it could take over a year. I don’t know yet.
I’m seriously cutting back on my run volume. Long runs and high volume will be a quick way back to injury for me.
Guidelines for run volume include:
I have to be able to maintain good form for each and every run
The volume must be well within my capabilities
It is the running equivalent of stopping 2-3 repetitions short on a weight lifting set. Adaptation still occurs with until grinding yourself down into fatigue.
More Other Stuff
Less running leaves some extra time.
With this extra time I am dedicating it other training modaltities:
Prehabilitation / Rehabilitation
These will now be written into my training plan. Previously I have been performing these on an ad hoc basic. It didn’t work.
Less running and more other stuff means more variety. I am looking forward training that doesn’t entail mile after mile after mile.
I am expecting this change in approach will reduce the feeling of grinding day after day. It reminds of how I used to train for triathlons. You could partially recover from one discipline while hitting another hard.
I expect my training to be quite effective. More importantly it should be a lot of fun.
You want to be able to build up to a peak of at least 40km or 4 hours. This will ensure you develop the physiology to go really long. The magic happens after 3 hours.
Referring back to 16 Weeks to 100km Training Plan, you want this peak run to be reached by 12 weeks. We start reducing the length of the long run after this.
Is it worth going longer?
The short answer is… maybe
That maybe depends on your ability to handle the extra distance. If you can handle, absorb and adapt to the extra distance then go for it.
However, any of the following will rule out going further:
Carrying an injury
Still feeling fatigued beyond 2 days after a long run
Recent long runs have a dramatic slow down in their second half
You struggle to perform the other key runs
Some runners may benefit from 1 to 4 long runs pushed out to 50km or 5-6 hours. Don’t under estimate the impact these runs have. Make sure you get in some sleep, eat well and focus on recovery afterward.
How Fast For The Long Run?
This is specific for a 100km ultra marathon. When training for shorter distances, it will be a different answer.
Now we get back to the concept that the speed we race a 100km race is relatively slow.
Be realistic. How fast will you really average over a 100km race?
Write the answer down.
Most of your long runs should be around this pace.
Take aiming for under 12 hours to win the beer stein at Surf Coast Century. Giving 10 minutes buffer, 11hr 50min is a pace of 7:06/km or 11:21/mile. Most people in this chasing this time should be capable of a road marathon under 3hr 40min (5:12/km, 8:20/mile). In this example you want to make sure you are very comfortable at around 7:06/km over similar terrain to the race.
Is There Benefit To Going Faster?
You need to earn going faster.
To do so will require the following
At least 2 runs of 4 hours or more
Those runs must be completed at around 100km race pace
You need to feel comfortable in these runs
There is no big slow down towards the end
Going faster is best reserved for the peak phase of training. There are a few ways to approach this:
Start at usual pace then gradually and continuously increase the speed over the last 30-60min of run.
Start at usual pace then towards the end add 3-4 intervals of 10-20 minutes about 1 minute per kilometre faster than race pace. Take 10 minutes back at usual pace between intervals.
Negative split the long run with first half at usual pace and second half 15-20 seconds per kilometre faster.
These options look easier on paper. The pacing discipline required is hard.
Do you have the discipline to get the most from your long run?
Build your speed for a 100km running race. It might be easier than you thought. Including a tempo run for 100km training can give impressive results.
Working on your base endurance will get you most of the way for a 100km race. But we want to get all the way there.
What Is A Tempo Run?
The definition of a Tempo Run has varied a lot. Many treat it as a run around the anaerobic threshold. Even the definition of the anaerobic threshold is up for debate.
When training for an ultra marathon we take a different approach to the tempo run. It is not a set intensity. Instead it is more a feel that progresses over the training plan.
How Fast Should Your Tempo Run Be?
The intensity is under what most call the anaerobic threshold, and higher than your normal easy pace. Extra guides is it may be close to your marathon race pace. Erring on the slower side at the start.
For those of you using heart rate, we would choose around 80% of HR max if your anaerobic threshold is between 85-90% HR max. For those who use the Phil Maffetone formula we will take it as between 15 bpm below MAF heart rate up to MAF heart rate.
How Long For A Tempo Run?
It should approximately one hour to cover the course. Add a warm up and cool down on either side of the tempo effort.
What Terrain Is Best For A Tempo Run?
Pick a mostly flat to undulating course. You want to be to keep a constant effort. No big climbs or anything too technical that create a variation in effort.
Pick a course you can repeat each week. This is a good session to help mark progress.
How To Start Tempo Runs
In your first couple of tempo runs pick a pace that is only little faster than you standard easy running pace. It should feel sustainable for the full distance. You want to feel comfortable that it will only take some extra concentration to get through. Aim to maintain the same speed from start to finish, or just a very small increase over the full run.
If you finish the run like you didn’t quite do enough. You got it right.
This is the perfect run to practice good technique for an extended period of time. Keep your posture in check. Aim to find fluidity in your stride.
How To Progress The Tempo Run
Over the weeks the pace of the run should gradually increase. This should be from two reasons:
Improved efficiency, where your pace is faster for the same effort level.
Increase in effort level. As your body becomes conditioned, we should increase slightly the intensity we run the tempo run.
Try to run on feel. Record all the data you usually do. But don’t look at it during the run. Use it to compare how you felt with the results. Doing this over a few weeks will help hone your sense of pace. An important skill for race day.
Tempo Run Example
My own tempo run is as follows.
From my house I take a 3km easy warm up to the starting point of the tempo section.
The tempo course is almost flat, with a couple of very small and mild undulations. It is a mix of bitumen and concrete with nothing technical.
It follows an out and back course of 7km. Which I cover for two laps bringing the total to 14km. Which is about an hour or so of running. Two laps makes it easy to analyse how I ran after the run. I can easily see if I ran evenly or had negative or positive split.
The return home is the same 3km back home.
This approach is a bit different from most recommendations. It is effective. You keep progressing without burning out. Take this approach during your base building. Repeat for a few weeks. You will surprise yourself how much better you can handle your next level of training.
The point of Base training is to develop a well balanced athlete capable of optimally responding to the stress of competition specific training.
All peak training is dependant on the quality of base training.
Base training is where the majority of fitness gains are made. These gains are dependant on a consistent and progressive workload. This training may not be the coolest type of running. Without it we gives ourselves a higher chance of failure.
Consistency and Progression
If I could pick one element to focus on it would be maintaining consistency.
Doing what it takes to keep up a solid work load each week is paramount. I will back anyone who can put in moderate running every week over someone with a few big sessions but gaps in between.
The biggest killer to consistency is intensity. Beware pushing the pace. Err on the side of too easy and cover the distance. Allow your body to back up training days. Pushing on your limits forces more down time.
Progression in training should come from gradually extending out the running volume over the weeks. Nothing crazy, but keep running further.
Over time your normal running pace is likely to get faster for the same effort level. Let it do so, but make sure it is the same effort level. We shouldn’t be forcing the speed higher.
What About Speed In Base Training?
Speed is an extra in a 100km race.
Too much emphasis on speed work or high intensity running will take away from the race. Especially during base training for a 100km trail race.
We still need condition the fast twitch muscle fibres and connective tissues.
A good approach is incorporating a few strides in 2 easy runs a week. Run for about 10 seconds building to a moderate and comfortable sprint 2 to 6 times.
Strength training should form part of base training.
Lifting some heavy weights will stimulate the tendons and fast twitch muscles. While giving the body reprieve from the high impact of high intensity running.
Keep it to 2-3 sets of 4-12 repetitions. Avoid going for lots of repetitions (20+). Aim to address the main muscle groups and any area that you are lacking in.
For me the structure of a base training week would look like this:
Long Run 30-42km
Terrain Run 3 hours
Tempo Run 14km
If you are using this as an example to follow you may want to change around the days. For me each week will vary because I do rotating shift work and don’t follow a normal weekly pattern.
I try to avoid scheduling the bigger runs on weekends as my kids have their sport on these days. There is an element of creativity that goes into finding ways to fit it all in. That is worth a post all on it’s own.
See you in the next post as I break apart more of my training.
It sets up the ability to cover the distance. A proper base phase will have a direct effect on the Peak phase. We are better off to continue the base phase up to the Taper if we skimped on base training.
Base training is to develop a well balanced athlete capable of optimally responding to the stress of competition specific training.
The most important trait needed is patience. We keep most runs at easy paces. It is more important to cover the distance. Better to run further each week than to smash out some fast runs.
A Tempo run is listed once a week. This should be over one or two set courses. Begin with a pace just a little bit faster than your usual running pace. Aim to be a little faster each week. This should never be a lung searing, leg destroying effort.
Base running is supported by a good dose of strength training. Using the weight room to build improve the connective tissue, and give some stimulus to fast twitch muscle fibres. This should spare the body some of the impact that faster running brings.
The 3 key runs:
Long run of 30-42km
3 hour run on technical and steep terrain
4 weeks of hard training. We need to be fit, healthy and injury free.
This is where we push the envelope. Where our performance will go up and down. The training will challenge our ability not to quit.
The distance of the long runs will be pushed further. Combined with a few intervals of moderately faster running towards the end. Some fast intervals will also be introduced.
The 3 key runs:
Long run of 46-50km with some intervals 10-20 minutes
4 hours run on technical and steep terrain
VO2 intervals 4-6 x 1000m
Time to absorb all the hard work.
The Taper phase has 3 objectives:
Adapt to the previous training
Dial in race pace
To achieve this we will reduce the volume of the most runs by 75% each week. Intervals will be pushed hard up to 3 weeks out from the race. Fatigue will gradually lift. It is normal to feel sluggish as the body adapt throughout the taper.
Resist the urge to push out a long, hard test of fitness. Save this for race day.
16 Week Training For 100km Example
The following table outlines my progression of the key runs week by week. Which day each runs falls on will vary due to my changing roster and life commitments. In between all running should be easy and the will typically vary between 40-90 minutes.
Remember the following is a personal example and a guideline only. Everyone is different. My own circumstances may vary this plan.