Saturday, May 16, 2009

10 things I've learned about 'advanced' marathon training

I was posting on Twitter the other day about how I'm going to be ramping up to 70 miles a week to which runnrgrl asked why I was running so much. I thought it's probably a good idea to talk about what has become my marathoning bible.

Simply put, there's a heck of a lot of science and research behind what it takes to run a good marathon. Sure, there's experience and tapering, but there's also the reasoning why if you take a well thought out approach to training, you can build up to the race day with many things in mind.

When I was training for my first marathon in 2006, I stuck to the famous Hal Higdon program. I religiously stuck to the program and did all the mileage. After race day, when I hit the wall big time, I knew I had to step it up if I wanted to go beyond finishing a marathon to targetting more aggressive times.

In 2006, a lot of other running bloggers were talking about this 'Pftiz' or Pfitzinger training program. It seemed so daunting, from relatively high mileage to all this talk about a specific set of training routines. So the day after my marathon, I walked into a bookstore in Chicago, and sought it out, and that's when I bought the first edition of Pete Pfitzinger and Scott Douglas's Advanced Marathoning (See parts of it in Google). The title itself suggests it's more than just a marathoning book, which you'll find in droves in book stores. I think his preface says it all:

"What do we mean by advanced marathoning? Simply this: that many runners aren't content with saying, "I finished," They want to run the marathon as they do short races -- as fast as possible. That doesn't mean they're going to drop everything in their lives and do nothing but train, but it does mean they're committed to doing their best...

They go on..

"Competing in the marathon, as opposed to completing the distance without regard for time, requires thorough, intelligent preparation.... Advanced marathoning has to be based on more than common sense and running folklore. Advanced Marathoning, therefore, is based on sports science."

From using the program mostly for the last five marathons, I can boil it down to this in 10 things I've learned about advanced marathoning:

1. There is reason behind the excellence in marathon running: The funny thing about the book is it the actual training schedules fall at around page 137, which means you get 136 pages of science about why you should train differently about training for marathons. It teaches you about each type of training run and how it boosts a component of your racing. It talks about nutrition and hydration, about race preparation. My favourite section is the elements of training, from page 3 to 31, which are the most enlightening passage that explains how you can train yourself to be a better faster long distance runner. You'll finally understand what mitrochondria, glycogen, LT and V02, along with slow-twitch, fast-twitch mean to your marathon training.

2. Long distance matters, how you run them matters as well: I learned from this book that a 20 miler was importantly not only because it was long distance, but how you use it to train your body to use the energy stored and what pace you should intelligently use during these runs.

3. Tempos are important: I always thought that tempo runs and lactate thresholds has nothing in common, but I learned that they are the same, and that both types of runs are key in helping you maintain a strong pace. You build your LT, you build your ability to run faster for longer periods. Who knew that these training runs at half marathon pace (between 4 to 7 miles) were some of the more painful training tools, but some of the most effective.

4. Recovery is a key training method: I'm still learning this, but rest is when your body repairs itself to become stronger. Pfitzinger-Douglas plant plenty of recovery runs that MUST be run at the right slow pace.

5. Pace runs are key: Sure, it's fine to target a 4:30K marathon pace but until you're forced to do a 13 miler at pace do you realize that it's much tougher to do by yourself. These runs are key simulators for race day.

6. Races, in context of training, are vital: When I run races during my training, they have a real purpose. Some coincide with a scheduled LT run, so I run them at the appropriate pace (ie, a 10 miler slower than I'd usually race it), or a pace run (ie a 30K run in the middle of summer, all of it at marathon pace). Closer to race day, we're encouraged to go all-out, they give you previews of where your fitness was. During my heavy training I've set so many PRs at different distances, from 5K to 30K.

7. Striders, striders, striders: I used to see a 5 miler in my program and just run 5 miles. When I learned to throw in striders, it improved my running form and that technique became key in emptying your tank when you're tired at the end of a race. Pfitzinger-Douglas sprinkle them in all the time.

8. Trackwork should actually be work, not show-off sessions: The last 6 weeks or so of the program gives you lots of V02 work and you're encouraged to run them at a specific pace. Lots of people go out to the track to run as fast as you can but Advanced Marathoning (and other books I've read) tells you to find exactly the pace because that's what will build your oxygen intake... and ultimately let you run faster.

9. Mileage is key to endurance: For my first marathon, it was only the weekend runs that would be high mileage. When I did the 70 mile a week program last year, my peak week looked like this:

Monday: Rest
Tuesday: 10 miles (6 a.m., 4 p.m.)
Wednesday: 15 miles
Thursday: 6 miles recovery
Friday: 12 miles w 7 miles at LT pace
Saturday: 5 miles recovery
Sunday: 22 miles

Wow, I can't believe I pulled those weeks off. Other than the 22 miler, I had three runs of 10 miles or more. These 'medium long runs' are meant to to "reinforce the physiological benefits of your long runs". Simply put, running these long mileage make you a stronger long distance runner, no question.

10. An 18 week training program, well, is really 15 weeks: Cause you taper in the last three, thank god.

Last year, the 70 mile program brought me on the cusp of a 3:10 marathon. I didn't achieve that, but I did achieve faster 5K, 10 miler, 10K, 30K times. That block of training, I believe, made me a stronger runner. Lets put it this way, I ran 300 miles in one month last August. It's a lot of time on the ground, let me tell you...

I know there are plenty of faults... It's too much running, this 70 miler, not enough LT or pace work. I know the new book has some tweaks, like more quality work (LT, for example) and I'm going to give it a go.

This training cycle, I'm going to lean on the 70 mile program. I may be a bit more smart and use the Thursday recovery day to do other types of workouts, like maybe an extended stretching session or weights or just rest.

Bonus item I've learned. It's very possible to calculator your potential marathon time based on the V02 calculators. McMillan race calculator has been deadly accurate for me. So if you've already run a marathon, type in your fastest half marathon or 10K run and there you have the possibilities, possibilities left to be tapped by 18 weeks of training...


Arcane said...

I tried looking for the 2nd edition while in Boston but couldn't find it. I admire your commitment to the 70 mile program. I found my one week of 6 days/70 miles last year to be too much. I couldn't imagine doing that repeatedly over a month.

Arcane said...

Thanks for the offer, but I really only wanted to browse through it to see what was different. Chapters up here doesn't seem to carry them on the shelves but they do have it online.

Mel-2nd Chances said...

wow, i marvel at those of you whose body will 'allow' them to do it... i know i couldn't! :)

mike w said...

Any issue with injuries at that kind of mileage?

I had a friend on that program and he had to bail due to some repitive stress fracture injuries, despite being a seasoned runner. He says that he regrets not incorporating more stretching while taking this program.

Marlene said...

My husband intends to train religiously using this book for his first marathon this year. It's become a permanent fixture on my coffee table. I'm not ready for it just yet... maybe next year.

yumke said...

Hey guys, thanks for the comments:

Fran, the 2nd edition has expanded section on supplementary training (and shows lots of stretches and weight exercises). It expands on almost every chapter in the training components and has a section on tapering for peak performance. I think it's worth the money and hey, you can donate edition 1 to a budding marathoner.

Thanks, Mel, I didn't think I could even handle 55 miles years ago but once you do that, you can build yourself up.

Mike, marathon training is not like any other distance training below it. It's a huge investment in time and while you're making yourself strong, I can't doubt that it leaves you on edge, call it a perpetual state of tiredness/strength if you can believe that.

I think you choose your program basend on your own running habits. There is NO way I would recommend a 70 mile program (100+K) for even a year-long runner if they haven't put themselves through a 55 mile program (90K!)

I think you'd have to look at your training history. I had more aches and pains in 2007 when I was doing 55 miles than last year when I did three marathons and two training cycles. In my case, in 2007 I came of f a year of 1600 miles, and two years before that of 1500 and 1400.

You'll hear lots of runners our age, who have yet to peak, that your 20th 20 miler is much easier than your first.. It's so true..

Good luck with choosing your program (what are your goals?)

Marlene, you'll know when you're ready!Ggood luck to your husband. He's clearly speedy based on that half time. Which program is he looking at?

Anonymous said...

thank you for taking the time to go well beyond 140 characters. i'm very grateful for the insight and experience you've shared. i'm a critical point in making a plan and setting some goals and i need fact-based decision-making. i'll look for this book. i'm seriously interested in the science and physiology.