So, How Many Hats Do You Wear?

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Pensacola, Florida, United States
Husband. *Dog Dad.* Instructional Systems Specialist. Runner. (Swim-challenged) Triathlete (on hiatus). USATF LDR Surveyor. USAT (Elite Rules) CRO/2, NTO/1. RRCA Rep., FL (North). Observer Of The Human Condition.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Marathon Training - Not Only The Long Run

One day out of the training week - specifically, the belief how long that day should be - is at the heart of the most contentious debates about marathon training.

Why do some training plans have runs on the schedule which nearly approximate the race distance; others have long runs which go beyond, and some have lower long run mileage? 

I originally wanted to look closer at which plan most closely aligned to which type of runner, but that effort would be duplicative.  There are questions which do need to be asked, either by a running coach or by runners themselves, before even considering a marathon training plan.

First, go out and run for sixty minutes.  Multiply the distance run by the number of hours each week you have available without taking away from your family, friends and employer. If the number exceeds 60 most plans will work with a few adaptations.  

Then again, it might also be attributable to the fact you overlooked sleeping...don't worry, you'll need sleep soon enough.  

Or you aren't mathematically-inclined.  Or you're delusional.

If the number is between 45-and-60 you're probably realistic and time-constrained like the rest of us.  Again, there are plans which will work to get you to the starting line more-or-less ready to tackle the event.  

A runner with a "magic number" of less than 45 should either consider shorter-distance racing or place a podiatrist, orthopedic surgeon, chiropractor, massage therapist - and perhaps psychotherapist - on personal retainer.

Once you figure out you have enough free time (after informing your family that all weekend plans for the next six months are hereby CANCELLED) it's time to choose a training plan.  When choosing, it's important to consider how much of the training volume - and your state of mind - you want to be tied into the outcome of the weekend's long run.

Once you're hip-deep into the plan, say, 13 weeks in...that is definitely NOT the time to find out that the first of six scheduled three-hour (-plus) long runs leave you unable to function for a day-and-a-half and place you miles behind the training volume for the week.  That's when all you can hope for is to increase the duration/distance of the training runs during the week, spread the pounding of that three-hour run across the other five or six days during the week and bring the longest run back down to a more-reasonable two-and-a-half hours.  

Why two and a half hours?  Most of the published training plans were developed for or by elite runners, or their coaches.  The majority of them have learned from trial and error, from hard experience, the basic training principles.  The problem comes when the plans, like "spandex jackets for everyone," as the old song goes, are put out on the market.  Most self-guided runners, especially those who take on the marathon, violate the first law of coaching, "first, do no harm."  Some, like Joe Henderson, place a caveat on their training plan and assume the individual has undertaken a modest start, gradually increased their training volume over time, and have a sufficient base.  In his case, he assumes the runner can complete without injury a long run of ten miles.

Do you have the good sense to know how fast to run each workout?  All of a plan's training runs need to have a reason beyond the conventional wisdom of once-weekly, low-level orthopedic trauma.  The body needs to learn to run efficiently when fatigued, yes, but the challenge is to be able to go out and go out and do some or all of what you just did today tomorrow.  Even the easiest-paced marathon prep long run (50%-70% of max) as short as the 150-minute ceiling recommended by Dr. Jack Daniels has a training impact from which the body will not completely recover for a full day.  That three-hour(-plus) run will probably take the body two days to recover...what are you going to do in the meantime, outside of risk injury?  Is it to teach the body to learn to burn fat in place of glycogen stores which Dr. Timothy Noakes states are nearly-depleted at 20 miles?

Daniels, Luke Humphrey, Keith Hanson, Kevin Hanson, Greg McMillan and many other coaches are prescriptive when it comes to not only the long run, but also the training sessions during the week.  From personal experience, I can say training paces which are too fast during the week can be as detrimental to marathon performance as running the long run too slowly.  That's where different energy systems and muscle fibers are brought into play.

When it comes to marathon training it's not ONLY about how long the long run needs to be.  The questions which need to be asked before and during the entire training cycle include whether the marathon distance may be too much for the training time available. Secondly, can the training plan elements can be adjusted to match athlete strengths and shortcomings?  And lastly, how will the athlete know the body is ready for an change in training volume?

Michael Bowen is a training specialist and running coach who lives and trains in the Pensacola, FL area.  He works with runners of all ability levels, remotely and in-person.  His wife, Suzanne, and he travel frequently to New Orleans to participate in and support running events and triathlons.  He also writes two 'blogs, "If I Were Your Coach..." and "Red Polo Diaries."

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