My First Marathon: The Importance of Proper Training

By Zac Marion

Variety may be the spice of life, but it’s the bread and butter of running, the key to improved speed and performance. Unfortunately, most recreational runners do the same workout day in and day out. While the majority of your running should remain in the realm of endurance training, the addition of speed and strength workouts inject freshness into what may be a stale routine.

Variety will almost certainly improve your performance. The reason is common sense: Varied workouts teach your body varied lessons. The long run teaches endurance, track work trains “fast-twitch” muscles, hill runs teach strength, etc. A well-rounded mix of workouts will help you improve your running form, condition your body to handle the discomfort of faster speed, give you a sense of appropriate pace, and build your end-of-the-race kick to the finish.

There are several training exercises I would like to discuss which every runner should implement into their programs; easy runs, hills, cross training, tempo runs & interval training, rest days and long runs. Let me take you through my schedule as an example.

Monday: Easy Run– Easy runs are just that, a good distance run at 70-80 percent speed. This run works on your base and gets you warmed up and loose for the rest of the week. I like to use this run as a way to enjoy running and focus on my body. This is a great opportunity to work on proper form. Most of all, enjoy it!

Tuesday: Hill Training– This is one of the most beneficial exercises a runner can do to help increase speed. Hill training simulates resistance and strengthens hamstrings, calves, glutes, hip flexors and Achilles tendons which translate to power and speed. Hills are very aerobically demanding and helps increase your VO2 max, making you that much more prepared for sustained speed come race day.

One great thing about running here in Utah is that you can always find a good course with plenty of hills to run up. Keep your head up, lift your knees, shorten your stride, lean into the hill, pump your arms and utilize the ball of your foot instead of heel striking. If you prefer a treadmill, use an incline of 8 percent for 90 seconds followed by 2 minutes of flat to recover and repeat.

Wednesday: Cross-Training– After two days of running, I like to give my body a low impact day to help recover. My lungs are not as fortunate. Cross-training is a great way to condition different muscle groups, reduce the strain and overuse that leads to common running injuries and keep you from the boredom of running alone. Some great cross-training exercises include cycling, swimming (my favorite), calisthenics, light-weight high repetition free weights, and circuit training (crossfit).

Thursday: Speed Training– This is a must for anyone who wants to decrease their times and increase their speed. I use two types of speed training exercises, tempo runs and interval training. Your tempo pace is calculated as 20-30 seconds slower than your 5k pace. This pace should be “comfortably hard” but maintainable for the entire duration. Interval training paces depend on the distance you are training.

There is no beating the long run for pure endurance but tempo running is crucial to racing success because it trains your body to sustain speed over distance. Begin with a 2 mile warm-up at an easy pace then increase your pace to your tempo for the next 3-5 miles, followed by a cool down of another 2 miles at your easy pace. 1 or 2 repetitions is good for training.

Interval trainings are short distances of speed done repetitively with little rest and promote oxygen efficiency during distance runs. Distances most commonly done are quarter mile, half mile and mile repeats. 1/4 mile and 1/2 mile repeats are ran at roughly 30-45 seconds faster than your race pace followed by a 30 and 45 second rest respectively. Begin with 4 intervals and add 1 lap every 2 weeks until you are up to 8 laps. Mile repeats are done at 20-30 seconds faster than race pace and completed in intervals of 4 with a rest of 60 seconds between laps.

Friday: Recover/Stretching– Rest days are just as important as any other training day. While training throughout the week you are depleting your body’s glycogen stores and literally breaking your muscles down so that the body can repair them to be stronger. Your body needs a period of rest to repair those muscles and to restore glycogen levels. Taking a day off also helps prevent mental burnouts and reduces injuries.

If you are a real go getter and think that you absolutely have to do something for your rest day, yoga as a great option. Yoga has many benefits to a runner such as increasing flexibility and decreasing buildup of lactic acid. Read our most recent post on yoga.

Saturday: Long Run– The long run is the most important component of marathon training because is teaches the body to both mentally and physically tackle the challenges ahead you in your event. All the work you’ve put in for the previous week is what helps push you that extra mile or two than you were able to complete the week prior.

Be sure to pace yourself at roughly 30 seconds slower than planned for race day, or even slower if you aren’t feeling up to the challenge. The whole idea of a long run is miles, not speed. You are training your body to be able to utilize glycogen stores, process oxygen more efficiently and use new found muscle strength to take you to longer distances.

I like to use my long runs as not only a physical practice but also nutritional and clothing practice. Use this as an opportunity to find the right nutritional supplements, electrolyte supplements and hone in on that race day clothing.

Sunday: REST– Give your body a day to recover and get ready for another challenging week of training. If you don’t feel like you need a rest day at this point, you haven’t pushed yourself hard enough during the week.

Just as a Michelangelo uses more than one brush make his masterpiece, a great endurance athlete uses more than just running to perfect his. Utilize these training techniques and you’ll be amazed at the new heights your body can reach. See you at the starting line.

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