Marathon: Run Less, Run Faster

The "first marathon" training mindset

With winter marathons looming, runners are once again dusting off their running shoe and hitting the trails.

This year I'm lucky enough to be joining them, after taking a wee hiatus over the past couple of years from running marathons. In my hiatus I've explored more functional forms of fitness which has more latterly meant Crossfit.

The increased resistance training and more interval-based style of training has profoundly changed my mindset. You see, 2008 Sam got himself to the marathon start line by running somewhat like a donkey. At a gate. I would run "empty k's" falsely believing I would be better prepared for what is probably a distance more appropriately driven than ran: a 42.2km battle with both body and mind.

As the years ticked by I diversified the strategy somewhat and incorporated some more meaningful marathon training workouts like Kenyan hills and other forms of tempo training but still my focus was on mileage. As I spoke to more runners, I realised this high mileage strategy was quite a luring yet mis-guided concept for first time marathoners. On the personal front I would run a marathon or two a year with only marginal improvements in time, but still that same ecstatic feeling of accomplishment that keeps bringing a runner back for more.

In 2014 in large part possibly due to my poor high-mileage strategy my piriformis blew out, taking with it most of the sensation in my right leg and foot. I battled this for a few months, and misguidedly continued training so I could finish the marathon which further aggravated the situation.

of dolphins and walking

Post-marathon I took my physiotherapists advice and joined the rank and file of the 0530am swimming brigade at my local pool. These (mostly female) swimmers were older than I were in years and would quite often hobble into the pool often with assistance before miraculously transforming into these kind of svelte frolicking playful dolphins. They were welcoming and I even managed to score a number from one of the dolphins: Daisy. Daisy had lived in the area since before the "war" (I'm assuming of the Second variety). Forgive my digression.

In no part did the dolphins dissuade me from swimming, in fact the dull murmur of their chatter was quite comforting, but I just found the whole task of swimming laps boring and looking at the bottom of the pool wasn't "doing it" for me. So I took up what every young man aspires to do: walking. Not the kind where you get to don a cool set of boots, and maybe arm yourself with some ropes. Nope, the sort where you tear around the neighbourhood under the cover of darkness to avoid your well-intentioned neighbours offering you a lift.

adding resistance and variety

My walking days only lasted so long and before long I started to explore other ideas. I found F45 which was an interval-based training style which incorporated interval-based resistance and cardio training into a 45 minute session. The sessions were intoxicatingly addictive, and without really even realising it I had replaced running with F45, and thanks to the resistance training I could feel my leg again, as the muscles I had injured through running slowly started to regenerate.
I am now looking forward to my ninth marathon, and I want to take what I've learnt and apply it to my training.

I will not:

  • run "empty k's"
  • "forget" to roll-out/stretch
  • most likely ever look not like one of those identikit images the police release after a servo's been held up in the "official race photo" (seriously where do these photographers hide?)
I will:

  • incorporate resistance training in the form of Crossfit (thanks to the good folk at The Nox) to improve core strength, and explosive power in my legs and add variety to my program.
  • listen to my wife, the long-suffering Caro about nutrition, rest, and sleep.
  • run only three times a week for the next 16 weeks.

So is 48 runs enough to run a marathon?

I'm not actually too sure, but I'm keen to find out. I'm by no stretch of the imagination an expert in running, I leave that to the very good folks at Running Hot Coaching, who have an incredible wealth of knowledge in all things running.

But logic would suggest if you factor in less kilometres, but make them more meaningful, the results will vastly differ from what might be achieved by the "first marathon mindset". On a very basic level then for 16 weeks then it could be suggested that:

  1. 1 x per week factor in a varied tempo run
  2. 1 x per week factor in a long run that builds until the 13th week of training, and then tapers back. As your training plan progresses so should your time spent "at marathon pace" in these endurance runs.
  3. 1 x per week factor in some alternating hill work and track repeats.
  4. 2 x per week factor in some lower-impact cross-training in the form of swimming, resistance training, cycling etc'.
I have no doubt that training in this format will have not only have positive repercussions physically but also mentally. The idea of getting up 5-6 times a week for nearly 1/3 surely is enough to frighten most people out of ever running a marathon.

So how do you run less and run faster?

I am now of the firm belief that smarter training is required but also resistance training. Muscles require preparation to handle stress under load (your weight vs. 42.2kms) and if your muscles aren't prepared to handle that load, your bones and connective tissue will: which can lead to shin splints, stress fractures, and good old "runners knee".

So strength training is a vital component of your marathon training not only because a stronger core and legs will drive you to the finish line quicker, with reduced fatigue but also, and perhaps more importantly as an injury prevention measure.


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