First Marathon Series: Part 4

Hansons First Marathon

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Now you have a philosophy in place and a plan to follow. Let the fun begin! As you get started, it can seem daunting, especially if you are a newer runner. You may seem like there’s no hope you can run 26.2 miles at a pace faster than you are currently running for 5 miles. That’s a common feeling but don’t get down on yourself. This would be a great spot for something cliche like “Every journey begins with a single step.” While true, I think we are beyond that. You need a way to look at this from a practical standpoint. Since I began coaching in 2006, I’ve learned a few things about people and trying to train for a marathon. So, here are the top five things I have learned (that we haven’t discussed already).

  1. Build general endurance before specific endurance
  2. Add days to a week before time to days
  3. Take yourself where you are at, not where you need to be in a few months
  4. Allow the time to adapt to what you are doing
  5. Be wary of old wives tales- Two in particular (10% rule, Have to get in a 20 miler)

Building your general endurance before your specific endurance. While it seems redundant, there is actually a difference. When talking about general endurance, I am referring to just being able to cover the distance without a set pace. When referring to specific endurance, I am referring to running set distance at a set pace. For example, maybe you have gotten to the point where you can cover 10 miles. However, if I told you to do that 10 miles at marathon pace, you might not be able to. Covering the 10 miles is general endurance, but covering it at marathon pace would be specific endurance.

The reason this is important is because our first goal with training is to simply build the amount of distance you can cover in training. This is by day, by week, and by month. The more ground we can get you to cover, the better your GE will be. If we focus on intensity first, or SE, then we limit what we can accomplish over the course of the day, week, and month. You can cover that 5 mile loop at 10 min/Mlb, but not 8 min/mile. We need to lay the foundation of handling easy mileage first, then worry about speed. What does this mean for you? Don’t race your training buddies regularly. Don’t race yourself on the same loop every day. Your goal isn’t to set a new Strava record every time out.

Add days your week before time to your days. Our end goal with marathon training is to get you to run at least 5 days a week. If you are running 3 days per week, then I would want to take  3-5 weeks and add a 4th day, then a 5th day. If you’ve been running 30 minutes on the original 3 days, we’ve still added an hour of running to your week, but we’ve take you from the three to the 5 days. Now, we don’t really have to add any more days the rest of the way and can focus on adding the volume over the rest of the cycle.

Take yourself where you are at now and not where you need to be in a few months. I get this one a lot. A runner will get a training plan, recognize where they are at,but see the mileage and the workouts that they need to be doing in 3 months and panic. This creates a lot of self doubt and can sabotage your training before you even get started. I recommend only focusing on the week or two ahead of you.

Before you know it, you’ll be doing more than you ever thought possible. When things do get tough, look back at where you started and how much you have improved. This can be enough motivation to spur you on.

Allow yourself time to adapt.

On average, it takes about 4-6 weeks to adapt to a new stimulus. What I see with runners, is they push this. Cardiovascular fitness improves pretty quick. You may take a couple weeks off and your first run feels like you’ve taken a year off, but by the end of the week, most of those feelings have subsided. You stop feeling awkward. You feel better even though you are running the same pace. Your body reacted pretty quickly. Now, bones, ligaments, and tendons are a different story.

Here’s a common scenario:

a high school kid runs track in the spring and then says adios to any sort of organized running for the next 8 weeks. When they start cross country in the fall, they answer coach with a “Sure, Coach!” When asked if they ran over the summer. So, Coach puts them in what they assume is a reasonable workload. The kid feels like they are wearing cement shoes the first few days, but starts to come around. Runs are getting easier and they push it a little more. All is good for the next few weeks. Boom! Down they go with shin splints, tendinitis, or the dreaded stress fracture.

Why? Things were starting to feel pretty good? The truth is that the three amigos listed above adapt at a much slower rate. For instance, bone can only be repaired at the rate new cells are made. The average bone cell has a life cycle of 90 days, so I’d breakdown rate exceeds repair rate, then it simply can’t keep up. Breakdown occurs and the inflammation process begins. Allowing yourself some time to adapt is crucial- plus it teaches you patience. Patience is invaluable in the marathon.

Lastly, be wary of old wives tales in running.

The main two I am thinking of is the old 10% rule and that if you want to succeed in the marathon, you have to run a 20 miler. Both of these have been around a long time, but the truth is, that they both try to oversimplify training. They say that this one variable is going to make or break your marathon. In reality, it’s everything that you are doing in training that will contribute to getting hurt, staying healthy, and not hitting the wall in the marathon.

Since I brought them up, let’s look at both of these myths a little closer. The main one is the 10% rule.

This rule is pretty simple- that a person shouldn’t increase their mileage more than 10% per week.

The idea behind it is simple- that we control the rate of loading on the bones and tendons of the legs. This goes back to what we talked about before- that physiologically you’d be fine, but structurally, your body couldn’t keep up with the training load and start to break down. On the other hand, if you are so conservative, you’ll never reach your goal. It will take too long!

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Let’s look at a common beginning mileage of 15 miles per week.
That’s 3 miles/5x per week.

So, to get to 30 miles per week by adding 10% per week, it would take you 8 weeks to do that. 2 month of tedious mileage addition! There’s got to be a better way. Here’s what I propose:

For under 15 miles per week, I think you can add up to 30% of your weekly mileage. Using our previous example, that would be 15 + 4.5 miles for a total of 19.5 miles. Let’s just round that up to 20 miles. Now, let’s jump the next week by 20%. So our 20 miles would mean an additional 4 miles could be run. That’s a total of about 24 miles for the week. Then, let’s say we jump by 15% the third week. This means 3.6 miles can be added for a total of about 28.5 miles. Now, the 4th week, let’s say we jump another 10%, or 2.5 miles. This puts us at 30 miles per week. Boom! We cut it in half and will be just fine IF, this is the big caveat, we spend that 4 weeks just focusing on easy running to build our volume. THEN, maybe we stay at that 30 miles per week without many additions. Maybe we add a little longer run in there or one marathon pace workout. The key is that, we focus on the mileage first, get to a point where we have the base to start adding workouts. In the second scenario, by the time 8 weeks rolls around, we now have been at the 30 mile mark for 4-5 weeks and have already added workouts. If we were less aggressive with the mileage, we would have taken 8 weeks just to get to a point where we were comfortable with the mileage.

The keys to this:

  1. Focus on only one aspect to start, or at least make sure you aren’t running intense workouts and increasing your mileage at the same time.
  2. The lower the mileage, the bigger percentage you can initially increase by. As mileage increases, the smaller the percentage your increases should be.
  3. This is for first time increases in mileage. If you have been running 30 miles per week, take a week off (lower mileage), then you don’t need to take 4 or 6 weeks to get back to 30!

Now, as far as 20 milers go, I have been talking about this for years and already have a lot of info out on it. Check out this blog post for a much more detailed discussion.

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