Starting Marathon Training (or, Get Off My Lawn)

Posted by

I’ve started marathon training for the Birmingham International Marathon in October.

I’m also still working on revamping this blog.

These two things go together because I’m intending to write a series on how I approach marathon training – which I hope might become a helpful resource – and I was hoping to be able to refer to that to explain why I’m intending to do certain things in my training.

Brilliantly, I haven’t actually written that series yet, because [TO DO: insert superb-yet-plausible excuses here]. Still, I have at least been working on some graphics for the new blog, and they look nice.

New header image
Digging out the old graphic design skills…

Anyway…

October might seem a long time away to start training for a marathon in April, but because of my run slump which I’m just getting over I haven’t done a lot of long runs. Ordinarily I like to keep myself pretty much marathon-ready – well, maybe not in tip-top PB shape, but not so far out of condition that I have to start training again from scratch. Not this time. I haven’t let myself slip this far out of shape in a while. I have a lot of endurance and range to try to get back.

At this point you might be thinking all I need is a traditional twelve- or sixteen-week marathon training plan, but I don’t ‘do’ traditional plans – which, really, is the point of this post, and of the marathon training series I’m intending to write.

Through trial and error and experience I’ve found that there are particular things which do and don’t work for me (and, I’d argue, for you too – though people can be extremely hurrumphy about anything that deviates from the usual ‘wisdom’, even though they’ve almost certainly never tried anything else). As a result, I actually disagree with a lot of what I see on traditional training plans, and I can be quite grumpy-old-man, get-off-my-lawn about this.

As you’re about to find out… 😀

DM:>START RANT

Command prompt, starting rant

By “traditional” marathon training plans, I mean the sort that have you running up to only twenty or twenty-one miles as your longest run, only doing this once, maybe a couple of eighteen-milers to go with it and everything else shorter, specifying that you run a minute-per-mile slower than your intended race pace, and with a classic two- or three-week taper. Not forgetting carb-loading from about a week before race day.

For me, that’s nowhere near enough miles, too slow, doesn’t train me adequately for the last six miles of a marathon, counterproductive because tapering actually causes me to lose fitness (yes, I can hear you hurrumphing at the back there, it does), and doesn’t do enough to prepare me mentally for marathon day.

So, yes – get off my lawn.

Instead, I just keep a few broad principles in mind and do my long run each week according to where I feel my weaknesses are and what I need to work on. No set structure.

In no particular order, here are the principles I’m working to:

  • Lots of miles, starting well in advance. As I say, I’ve slipped a long way from being in marathon shape. I’m starting now (I’m already three weeks in) and am going to spend the summer doing lots of long runs. Twenty miles or more, lots of times.
  • Running Full Marathon Distance in Training: The last six miles of a marathon are the most difficult. For me, the best way to train for those miles is to actually run them.
  • Fasted Running/Glycogen Depletion Training: Training the body to use stored bodyfat as fuel when liver/muscle glycogen from carbohydrate runs out (at around 16-20 miles – this is ‘hitting the wall’, ‘detonating’ or ‘bonking’) is essential at marathon. Fasted running trains it to do this.
  • Running at Race Pace: I’m going to be running slowly for my fasted runs, but I still need to train myself for the pace I intend to run on the day. Running everything a minute per mile slower than race pace isn’t going to do that. So I’ll be doing lots of my runs at race pace, so I can be comfortable with it.
  • No Taper: I won’t be tapering. Tapering doesn’t work for me. At this point I can hear more disgruntled hurrumphing, so briefly, here’s why. The body increases fitness in response to the training load we place upon it. If we reduce the training load, as we do when we taper, the body responds accordingly by reducing fitness. Now, this isn’t to say I’ll be running full marathon distance the week before the race. But I certainly won’t be doing a classic 18, 14, 10 miles three-week taper, or anything like it. (Actually, my plan is to run a twenty-mile fasted run the week before race day – I’ve done it before and it works well for me.)

Apologies that I’m a bit ranty about all this, but I really do think showing there are some alternative approaches is useful.

Especially when I see people complaining of ‘taper madness’, or feeling sluggish and tired during the taper (far better to keep on training and gaining fitness). Or the usual myths and fallacies, such as “The crowd will get you round the last six miles” (no, they won’t; your body, its fuelling system and its adaptation to the training you’ve put it through will get you round) or “You can’t lose/gain fitness in the last three weeks before a marathon” (of course you can).

DM:>END RANT

Spring sunshine selfie

Putting all this together, I’m going to try cycles of weeks where I build up the distance of my long runs, and I’ll alternate race pace weeks (where I fuel for each run) with fasted weeks. Hopefully, this should offset some of the workload and give me some easier weeks to go with the more arduous weeks, while still getting the miles in.

That’s the idea anyway. We’ll see whether I can stick to it – it’s easy to talk big right now; I might not feel quite so keen after a few weeks.

It isn’t a rigid plan though. If I begin to feel that, say, my pace is lacking, I’ll throw it out of the window and do more speedwork for a bit. If my stamina/endurance/distance is lacking, I’ll work on that. If I get a bit bored I’ll go and do some fast Parkruns instead. If I feel run-down, I might take a rest break. Whatever I feel I need, as long as I keep broadly to the principles above.

Also, this is all in an ideal world. But we don’t live in an ideal world, we live in the real world where things crop up and stuff happens. So if I have to come off-plan, if the above doesn’t work out for whatever reason, so be it. I’m not intending to race much over the summer, but even now there are several weeks which don’t fit because of races.

I’ll do what I can do.

And I’ll report back on how it’s all going.

(And I’ll try not to rant too much.)

D.

9 comments

  1. Hi David, are you writing up all your training runs and what you have eaten? Also to get your body to use fats, do you have a low carbs & no saturated fats diet for more than six months to train your body? I did that before London Marathon last year. Very tough and food wise it got very boring eating the same things day in & out. I also worried that I wasn’t eating enough!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I may not write up each and every run, but they’re all available on Strava and I’ll add a link to my Strava fairly soon with the new blog layout. My idea is that I’m going to write up a detailed series on how I approach marathon training (going into depth on the bullet points in this post) – then provide regular updates (weekly/fortnightly… -ish 😀) as I actually follow it through. I haven’t done low-carb high-fat (LCHF) and I’ve always been a bit sceptical… BUT I learned a little about this last year, and now I’m not so much. I have an article planned for that too. Lots of plans – I just need the time to write them all up!

      Like

  2. Also I agree with going to Marathon distance in training. For me it is more the mental barrier of “I haven’t done it before what if I can’t do it.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. When I was training for my first marathon I couldn’t see how it was a bad idea, but I stuck with all the popular wisdom and training plans that said absolutely not to. And when I came to run that marathon, and it was a disaster because I was massively under-prepared, and I was walking at eighteen miles, I made the decision to go full distance in training for the next one. So I did, and it worked. Physically and mentally there are big advantages.

      Like

  3. Great post and good luck with the training. I’m looking forward to following your training in the lead up to the Birmingham International Marathon. My PF is taking such a long time to heal, I’ve just emailed the race organisers to see if I can drop down to the half marathon. I doubt that they’ll say yes but it’s got to be worth a try.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, definitely worth a try – I would hope they could do this for you, as a number of other races can, especially with plenty of notice. Really sorry to hear the PF is holding you back so much. I think (hope) I have mine beaten – rolling with a tennis-ball, reducing/varying the load on my foot by mixing and matching footstrike, doing weekly foot stretches, and re-introducing heavy calf raises into my strength and conditioning routine all seem to have done the trick. Either that or I’ve just been incredibly lucky. I hope you manage to get yours beaten too. Good luck.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s