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.
My first week of run training went well. The first day of training started with an interval session:
3 x 4 minutes hard with a 2 minutes recovery jog.
Performed over undulating terrain this was my first real run. It was a struggle. So much slower than hoped. I’ve got a long way to go.
Finally back into my first week of training. I’ll tell you it feels good to be back running. I’ve lost a lot of fitness. If I’m really honest it’s not just since the melanoma that I’ve had time off. It’s more than two months with the injury before that. I hadn’t really put together a good training week for over four months.
Bonus for the first week of running we went down on holiday to Cape Woolamai on Phillip Island. It’s a beautiful location with amazing beaches, nature park, wallabies and views that are fantastic. I highly recommend spending some time down here. Click here for even more details.
First Week Of Running Principles
Truly back at square one. I’m keeping easy at super easy. This means feeling way too slow. Sometimes faster running feels easier. If I was running with someone I would definitely be able to hold a conversation with no trouble.
The training format is intervals followed by three days easy running. Then back again for intervals and another three days of easy running.
Getting a lot of the smoke haze coming in from the bush fires. With a bit of hindsight I probably shouldn’t have run. Starting a couple of those runs just as the sun was coming up I didn’t appreciate how bad that smoke was. Not until I got towards the end and had enough sunlight.
For the first week those easy days were all about 60 minutes. Limited to just covering some distance to get used to running again. No worry about pace. In fact I set up my watch so that all it showed was time. No pace, no heart rate, nothing about effort or even distance. That way I wouldn’t have to worry about how fit I used to be versus how fit I am now.
For the intervals. Starting with three by four minutes with two minutes recovery. That recovery is just a super easy jog. Those four minutes on are definitely not easy. The aim here is to run at a pace that I can maintain for all intervals right to the end. I went out too hard and couldn’t maintain that pace anyway.
The first week of run training went well. It’s so good to be back running.
The beauty of Cape Woolamai comes out better in video than it does in word…
How do you training when you can’t train? Making use of super slow reps while I’m limited in the exercise I can do.
At 3 weeks post skin graft I’m finally allowed to do a very small amount of exercise. Even though the graft is healing well, it is far from mature. I still have to protect it. I’m not allowed to do any leg exercise. Plus the stitches at the front of my right hip limit plenty of movements.
Limited in how much time I can spend up right before having to elevate my leg. I also have to avoid sweating. All training will be well within these limitations.
To stay within those limitations I am performing some upper body strength training. The session will be under 30 minutes. Weights will be kept extremely light.
How do I get the most benefit from this?
The answer is make each repetition super slow.
How Slow Are Super Slow Reps?
Well, super slow reps are way slower than is comfortable. As slow as 10 seconds up, and 10 seconds down.
Slowing the exercises down this much increases the time under tension which may provide an increased stimulus, Plus it provides the opportunity to improve the mind-muscle connection. Make those adjustments to technique to target exactly the movement and muscles that I’m aiming for.
The slow speed keeps the whole body effort lower, reducing the likelihood of a raised core temperature and sweating.
Taking the opportunity to work on something different and some corrective work. So I’m performing some work on my shoulders and upper back. Aiming to open them up. Remove the feeling of being closed and rounded forward from all the sitting and lying with my leg over the previous weeks.
2 sets of 2-10 reps, with a rest of 2-3 minutes in between.
The key is to keep some difficulty in maintaining in the final few reps, but not working hard through my whole body.
Rear deltoid raise with supination
Seated dumbell press
Later deltoid raise
Dumbell preacher curl
These exercises are better demonstrated in video, than in words. So I cover this in my following vlog:
Not the most extensive or intense training. This at least has me moving while keeping well within the limitations I have with a skin graft. Now I can actually start doing some exercise I feel happier.
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?
The body is inherently lazy. It is clever in finding ways to have you take the easy way out. When training towards big goals we need to get past this. Check your base point of training and redefine your easy.
Easy is a relevant concept. I’ve written about the power of easy runs before. Those concepts still hold true. There are different ways to make runs easy. Easy may be faster than we think.
Most easy runs will occur while recovering from a harder run. Either a long run or a set of intervals. So it would be normal to expect to feel sore or heavy in the legs. Perceived exertion may be significantly higher than the intensity truly is.
After running for many years it pays to check your habits every so often. I had fallen into the habit of making my easy runs so easy they almost no longer resembled running. Instead they had become better described as a shuffle. Too far removed from the technique I was aiming for.
Is this really a problem?
It is when it pulls you away from an efficient running technique.
This leads to a challenge.
How do you keep the run easy while raising the intensity to ensure better technique?
The answer is to remember intensity isn’t the only variable to determine the difficulty of a run. Keeping an easy run relatively short can allow you to up the intensity a little bit more.
Most of my easy runs were between 8-15km. In these I kept the intensity very low. While the movement at a low intensity aided I the recovery from harder runs, it was taking away from my technique.
Now I focus on technique during my easy runs. Ensuring proper knee lift, good leg extension and push off all the way through the toes. This raises the heart and breathing rates more. I am accepting this as long as I’m not reaching my anaerobic threshold and accumulating lactic acid. To keep the run still within the easy range I am dropping the distance down to between 5-10km. The shorter distance stops the run from taking away from the next of training.
The faster running and more complete technique is a little more difficult. They highlight where I am sore from previous hard training. Here the body and brain attempt to kick in the lazy habits. More concentration is now needed to override the inherent laziness.
On the plus side I am finding I feel fresher going into the harder runs. Faster running is feeling a bit more natural and dare I say it… easier.
How do you approach your easy runs?
Let me know