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First Marathon Series Part 5: Understanding Marathon Fatigue

When you run a race like a 5k, or even just doing speedwork, the discomfort is very acute. The lungs are burning and the level of discomfort is visceral. It’s not very pleasant, but you are aware of the “lactic burn” as it is commonly referred to. When training for these types of races, we have to space very carefully as to not overdo it, or to not become over trained. Some will even say to develop acidosis. Fair enough, and I would say this is true for 5k and 10k training. Maybe even up to half marathon training, depending on the person. But what about marathon training? Do these rules apply? Does the body react the same way?

The short answer is- it depends!

When I see a lot of newer runners start running and even new marathon runners (that have run shorter races) start to get into heavier training, there is a “whoah!?” kind of point. Is this supposed to feel like this? Am I coming down with an illness? Am I on the verge of being hurt? Learning to differentiate discomfort from training fatigue and becoming sick and/or hurt during marathon training is a skill that can literally make or break you.

You see, what I have found is that marathon training consists of a lot of vagueness and exceptions to the rules. It’s easy, until it isn’t anymore. If you are fresh during the last 6-8 weeks, then you probably aren’t training hard enough.

If you don’t feel like taking a nap as soon as you get up in the morning, you probably aren’t training hard enough.

On the other hand, if you broke your foot from running too much, then you obviously took it too far. Learning to know how it feels to be in that grey zone is where the magic of marathon fitness happens. My marathon mentors, Kevin and Keith Hanson, called it cumulative fatigue. Where you couldn’t pinpoint your tiredness or fatigue to one single workout, rather the culmination of workouts over the course of several weeks.

Cumulative Fatigue:

To me, there are two key components to developing Cumulative Fatigue versus being overcooked. The first is the timing where you are feeling the fatigue. If you are early into your marathon training or have more than 8 weeks to go, and you are feeling burnt out, then you are pushing too hard. Usually when I see this, it means that the person has done their workouts and easy days too hard, too often. A lot of times they have the attitude that if fast is good, then faster is REALLY good. Like I said, marathon training is easy- until it isn’t. There can be other factors involved too. Things like general recovery- hydration, nutrition, sleep, etc. Things we might have been able to get away with with lower levels of running will be exploited as we ramp up the volume.

We can talk about what to do in this case, but I have a previous podcast that covers this for us. You can check out HERE.

Overtraning:

The second thing I look for when discerning from CF and overtraining is performance. If someone is getting overcooked then performance will start trending downwards. It might start off with a poor workout, but will be followed up with a few more in a row, then it’s time to start looking at being past Cumulative Fatigue. When a person is at the stage of developing CF, they may not feel like doing a workout. They not be that motivated to do it, either. However, once they get warmed up and past the first mile, they settle in and realize that everything is just fine.

Now, the question will come up about differentiating soreness vs an injury. When to worry and when to just note that it’s part of training? There’s some quick things to help differentiate:

Soreness:

  • Both sides of body
  • In center part of muscle
  • Appears after a change intensity or volume
  • Improves after a warm up
  • Doesn’t affect form
  • Generalized

Warning sign of injury:

  • One side of body
  • Towards a joint
  • Appears daily
  • Worsens during a workout
  • Worsens or remains during day
  • Affects form
  • Localized

Knowing the difference is key to management.

The only other thing I would add is that if you feel like you have to take ibuprofen to get through a run, then you are probably already hurt. All the ibuprofen is doing is masking the pain. Without sensing the pain, you are probably only making it worse.

If you pay attention t0 the warning signs, you can take get a jump on it and hopefully prevent it from getting out of control.

A couple days off is a lot better than a few weeks.

At the end of the day, just keep an even keel. A bad day isn’t the end of the world and a good day doesn’t mean you are ready to get after that world record (yet). A day off isn’t going to make all you’ve worked hard for disappear. On the other hand, lots of pretty decent days will add up.

It’s like the old question on savings: would you rather take a $1M lump sum or take a penny and double it every day for a month.

My advice- take the penny and double it every day. You won’t notice much difference for the first 25 days, but dang that last few will blow your mind!

That’s it for this week! If you have liked this series, please consider taking a look at my book Hansons First Marathon, or the OG’s Hansons Marathon and Hansons Half Marathon. Thanks for reading and listening!

Running your first marathon: Part 3

Currently, LHR has a Facebook group north of 10,000 members. The vast majority of these folks are using, have used, or thinking about using one the HMM plans or a plan I created. Many times runners are asking for advice about how to adjust our plans to fit components of other coaches. Sometimes they are expressing their concerns about using our plans and looking for confirmation in their decision. The biggest concern is the long run, but that’s a topic all its own. For the sake of this discussion, this desire to fit pieces from other plans or worry about the plan they are choosing creates two main coaching concerns.

The first is this piece meal approach to putting a training plan together. Someone might take our plans as a template, but then add a little Hal Higdon, a dash of Jeff Galloway, and a sprinkle of Jack Daniels (or a shot- who knows). Then they’ll say, well I am following Hansons or LHR. The truth is, they aren’t following anyone. All of these coaches built their plans on a system and they work as a whole. What makes our long run work is what you are doing the other days of the week before the long run. What makes the other coaches successful is the structure of their plans. Now, if a person is an experienced marathoner and has tried a number of methods, then they do know what works for them. I am in no position to critique that. The big caveat however, is that works for them. It doesn’t mean that it’s going to work for you. For your first marathon, I strongly believe you find the philosophy that resonates with you the best and go with that. The next time around, then try another philosophy if you want.

The second concern I get comes from the apprehension about starting a plan. With our plans in particular, folks will focus on one area and say that it’s not a good program, but they don’t see the entirety of the plan. Unfortunately, newbies see that and then start questioning themselves and their decision to follow a program. Luckily, when they ask these questions in the Facebook group, they get plenty of reassurance. More to the point, what I have found with a lot of these runners is that their concerns are with following a plan, but then they also question another plan that they chose. What that tells me is that they are lacking the confidence that they can cover the marathon. It’s less about what plan they choose, but their own self doubt. The worst schedule to the biggest believer will probably be successful. The best plan to a non believer will probably end up a failure. Along these lines, people are quick to offer advice. While given with good intentions, I think is critical for the recipient to take it with a grain of salt. Again, what tweaks were made by one person, may not be the tweaks you need.

At the end of the day, I recommend doing some research. Take a few of the popular philosophies and check them out. Seek out Dr. Google and maybe buy a few books. On my site, there’s podcasts and tons of blog posts to start out for free. Then if you want a book, you can pick it up for $10 on Amazon, or something. You are already going to be entering uncharted territory, so don’t try to forge your own path yet. There’s lots of ways to get to the finish line.

After all of that, I can just tell you are begging to ask- “Luke, what’s your philosophy, then?” If that’s the case, then I am happy to tell you.

My marathon coaching philosophy is built around three areas:

  • Knowing what and why you are doing something in your training schedule. This makes it easy as a coach to have an athlete buy into a program. It also makes the path to self confidence much smoother.
  • Train to grow, not to survive the training. I see this so many times where an athlete trains aimlessly (without knowing why or what they are doing). They train so hard that they are ultimately just making it through the plan with nothing left for the race. My goal is to teach you (#1) and this helps you train to compete at peak level, not on fumes.
  • The 4 pillars of performance

    1. Balance in training.

      Touch on all aspects of training from easy jogging to speed development (relative to event) and even supplemental work.

    2. Appropriate intensity for a given day.

      By maintaining balance in training, we touch on all paces. There’s no need to “cheat” paces faster than they need to be.

    3. Consistency in training.

      A single workout doesn’t make your training segment and one bad day doesn’t take it all away. However, a bunch of pretty decent days will make you incredibly fit. Being inconsistent do to over-training, injury, or illness on a consistent basis means you are always trying to get back to where you were before you can move forward.

    4. If you can adhere to the first three pillars, the fourth will be easy. You’ll handle more mileage in a week, a month, a year. And more mileage allows you to hit all facets of training. Hitting all facets of training for long periods of time will take you to levels of performance you never thought possible.

 

That’s it in a nutshell. To read more about our philosophy, training methods, and training plans for the first time marathoner, please check out my book Hansons First Marathon: Stepping up to 26.2 the Hansons way. For more resources, coaching, and other books, then check out my site, www.lukehumphreyrunning.com