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.
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.
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.
Welcome to a new year. New goals. New running program. Over the last couple of decades I’ve tried different approaches to kick starting my next training. In this post I share what I find to be my best way to start a running program.
The approach isn’t about exact mileage, paces or mix of training of sessions. Those all vary depending on upcoming goals and current fitness and health. Instead I look for an approach that sets me up hit my training consistently and hard. To get me beyond the initial burst of motivation.
Two principles make up this approach:
Refresh the mind
Prepare the body
Refresh The Mind
This is not taking a break. Instead I am chasing the enjoyment. Looking to lose myself in the process of running rather than focussing on times. It is a form of moving meditation.
There are 2 aspects to refreshing my mind.
All runs are based on feel. Some structure still exists in the form of intervals or repeats. On those runs I don’t worry about any exact times. Instead I run based on feel, looking to achieve the feeling rather than any number. The times are only a by product. If they turn out faster or slower than expected then it’s irrelevant.
If I feel like changing the planned run then I will. It really doesn’t matter as long as I’m still training and enjoying it. Every so often this approach results in some runs much faster than they feel.
Supporting the more relaxed approach I aim to run in places I enjoy. This is almost always on the best trails around me. This year I did this by making the most of the spectacular trails and beach around Anglesea.
Prepare The Body
This is mixture between hard training and allowing recovery. A wide variety of running paces, terrain and intensity is important.
I will train hard and fast in between different versions of easy. I’ll state again I don’t care about exact paces, but am looking to have the running feel great.
One aspect of training I avoid during this process are hard, long runs that grind me down and require a few days to recover from. Those types of runs tend to be counterproductive. They rob me of the snap and spring I look for. Any over load usually comes from pushing the speed up.
I’ll expect to be a bit sore from some training for a day or 2, but shouldn’t require anything beyond that. There is room to throw in a race, but nothing beyond 12km.
How I Started My Year Running
Camping with family and friends put me amongst some of the best landscapes along the coast. A mixture of hills, single track, bush and beaches made for the perfect playground.
Living in a tent without setting an alarm allowed my body to follow it’s natural circadian rhythm. This is a luxury to me. Life as a shift worker makes this a rare opportunity.
Most mornings I woke just before the sun. Running through the amazing backdrop of the sunrise across the sea and beach. The loose training structure went like this:
Struggling to train during the silly season? I find it harder. A mixture of increased demands on time, renovations, social stuff, kids not at school and all the miscellaneous extras Christmas brings makes it harder to fit it in running. Here’s my plans for the Christmas training block.
The Christmas training block takes me over 4 weeks from a week before Christmas through to the end of the second week of January. It is a time for friends, family, food, drink, mess, cleaning, packing, camping, holidays, food, drink, friends and family.
How does running fit?
Running is used to enhance my life. It helps make what is great even better. It helps me deal better with the not so great parts too. Running makes it easier to relax. I feel better generally and it is easier to be present in all moments when I get in regular running.
On the flip side I have the tendency to go too far. Running can be a great escape. But I have taken it too far in the past. I still chase big goals in running. Finding the balance between all aspects is often a challenge.
To make sure I get my running done I need to focus on my non-running commitments. It sounds counterintuitive. Procrastinating on the other areas in life means they will take more time. Which means they encroach on the running.
There’s no such thing as multitasking only task-switching. For me the most efficient way to get something done is to focus only on that. I’ll use this as good practice to improve my mindfulness skills.
Working hard on the necessities will give me more freedom for the fun stuff. Family, friends and running. I’ll block time to getting the tasks completed. This will create both the physical and mental freedom to start the following day with a training session.
Timeframes on the runs will be tight. Most runs will be an hour or less. The key sessions maybe a little longer plus a weekly long run of up to about 2 hours. Compared to the last few years these timeframes are short. Yet I know I will get more out of them.
Get More Out Of A Run
Being intentional is becoming a cliche, but it applies here. Knowing what I want to get out of a run and what it takes to achieve that is of paramount importance. By defining these two elements simplifies the run. It doesn’t make it easy.
All that is left is to go out and do what I need to achieve the run goal.
Boundaries To Stay Accountable
This creates boundaries that help keep the mind on track. No room to wander. No space to slack off for some extra recovery between repeats. No chance you get back those moments of dropping the pace.
Challenging is the fact the planned paces are faster than I typically have run over the last couple of years. The last 4 weeks have proven I can run those paces. Now I need to push them out and hold them for longer, more often and consistently. That is the hard part.
Running 7 Days A Week
Switching to a 7 day week for this training cycle has me feel somewhat like a normal person. Of course I’ll never quite get there.
Over the last four weeks I have experimented with my run training. I haven’t followed a normal training program. Instead I’ve tested how I respond to different types of run sessions. This has led to a new running plan.
Why Have I Experimented?
I have a goal to regain my running form from younger days. Looking to challenge my marathon personal best.
At 40 years old I cannot do the same training that got me there. The training I have been doing over the last couple of years won’t get me there either. Changes need to be made.
So I took some time to test the effect of different runs.
The higher volume, slower running that has been a mainstay of ultra marathon training has changed my over running style. Muscle imbalances have built up over time and my body is less able to handle fast running.
Anaerobic threshold runs raise my fitness quickly, but the down side is strong. My sleep quality gets effected. Three days later I tend to feel extra flat and struggle to run any quality for a couple of days
Fast running broken into intervals is improving all my running at all speeds. The greatest effect is when I keep the volume at a level that doesn’t bury me in the session. Where I feel like I can do at least one more repeat.
Less volume and more speed supplemented with strength training.
9 day training cycle:
Short and Easy run (30min)
Steady Run 45-60min
VO2 Intervals 400m-1200m with 3min recovery (total 2-6km of intervals)
Easy Run 45-60min
day off (sleep after night shift)
Long Intervals 2-4km at Marathon to Half Marathon pace with 5-2min recovery
Easy Run 45-60min
Long Run of 2 hours (slower than marathon pace, but far from a slow jog)
Easy to Steady Run depending on how I feel.
Mixed amongst this week will be strength training. Two dedicated session out of each 9 days focussing on legs and core. Upper body will be mixed amongst life, without a set session. For me this allows me to get more work in than if I try to set more specific times.
How To Run
Quality is the priority. Hitting the targeted paces in the right way is more important than getting in another repetition or running an extra kilometre. To a point the aim is to get the speeds right then follow up with volume as my body adapts. Both volume and pace will adapt over time. They play off each other. As a result I will review the program every 4 weeks.
This training program is backed by the concepts I have covered in following posts:
Base training for runners is more than lots of easy kilometres. Focus goes a long way. We need a good working definition of base training.
The point of base training is to develop a well balanced athlete capable of optimally responding to the stress of competition specific training.
Manage The Load
Care needs to be taken not to provide too great a stress. Too much intensity or high load can lead to:
increased injury risk
reduced immune response
early peak in fitness
No one wants to be injured or sick. An early peak in fitness can be costly for race day. Usually an early peak doesn’t reach the same heights as one you build up to properly. There is usually a performance slump following a peak performance.
Lots of easy miles is the most common approach to base training for running. If that is all a runner does in base training it neglects other important requirements needed to develop a well balanced athlete.
A balanced athlete is better able to handle the specific harder competition training.
Low intensity training does not develop:
the different fast-twitch muscle fibres
specific neuromuscular recruitment patterns for fast running
connective tissues ability to handle high loads of fast running
Low intensity is important as it does develop
ability to tolerate higher training volumes
increased capillary and mitochondrial density in muscle
ability to recover from harder training
Most of your running in base training should be easy. It does provide most of what we want from base training. It doesn’t give us everything.
The solution is to include all fitness requirements throughout base training. Include some fast high intensity running, mix in strength training and some form of plyometric training. Enhance static and dynamic flexibility. Develop all aspects that contribute to aerobic performance including pure endurance, speed and tolerance at around anaerobic threshold and ability to handle VO2max paces.
The trick is to be careful with the loading of both individual session and a full week’s impact. A good rule of thumb is a session shouldn’t take more than one day to fully recover from. You should feel capable of repeating the session 2 days later. Keep the volume on high intensity training relatively low. A little bit goes a long way.
This doesn’t mean all runs and training will feel easy. Expect to be hurting during some training. You should still be extending yourself. Remember the key to base training is while you are pushing out your boundaries, you are shouldn’t be exceeding them by too much. We are aiming to push up our fitness set point to a new level.
We still need a good dose of easy running. This provides many of the benefits we are chasing while allowing us to recover quicker. Easy running should be the majority of training. It is the mainstay of base training. We need to leave room for some other training.
How do you fit together your base training for running?