In order to handle the stresses of marathon training, you need to build strength and stability in your leg muscles and joints. Both beginner & experienced runners should build a base before beginning a marathon training program. Having a base will help prevent injury. Essentially, if you are a beginner, you need to introduce your body to the rigors of running, so your body knows what to expect and running won’t be such a shock to your system. For those that are experienced runners, building a base is critical to staying healthy and building confidence.
For beginners, on a weekly basis, one should be running at least 4 days, with a long run of 6 miles and averaging at least 20 miles. In my marathon training plan for beginners, I include a 12 week plan specifically for a beginner runner to build a base. Ideally, these 12 weeks are to prepare someone for a 5k race and allow them to be able to run for 30 minutes without stopping.
For experienced runners, building a base typically occurs between racing seasons. Depending on your race schedule, some runners complete base training twice a year. For intermediate or experienced runners, base training involves scaling back the intensity and running a lot of long, slow miles.
The idea is that this repetitive, low-intensity activity builds a strong foundation that will support the hard work of training and racing that follows during the rest of the year. However, as important as building a mileage base may be to your long term performance, it’s also typically the root cause of injury if done carelessly. A few tips can help you build miles safely and to best effect. Follow these steps to ensure that you, too, are fortified for the coming season.
A base period can last four weeks-or four months. I recommend no less than 2 months. For beginners, 3-6 months is the minimum to effectively build your base depending on your fitness level at the outset of the base building program. The 2 month minimum is because you shouldn’t increase your mileage by more than 10 percent every two weeks. I always coach that conservative, yet consistent training is most important. This practice helps runners of all ages avoid injuries. The more gradual you build your mileage base the better.
While in the base-building phase, it’s advised to stretch regularly and participate in strength training workouts consistently. As with your mileage, gradually add strength work. I also recommend cross fit activities such as stationary bike, rowing machines and elliptical.
Although, many elite athletes complete a six-week base period between the end of cross-country and the beginning of indoor track, the average runner has much more time to build their base. As you increase your mileage, I suggest following high-mileage weeks with a lower mileage week (approximately 10 to 15 miles less). Don’t do more than two consecutive high-mileage weeks. If you feel fatigued during your runs or feel some aches and pains, don’t hesitate to back off by as much as 30 percent for a week or even two to ensure recovery.
The primary purpose of base building is on aerobic mileage. However, once you complete week four of base time, running an occasional tempo or rolling hill workout will help to maintain your stamina and actually improves strength and anaerobic capacity. I counsel runners who are working on a multi month base building program to add a second weekly threshold workout 6 – 8 weeks into their program. If you keep the effort controlled (under 85 percent of your max), you will continue to maintain stamina without burning out.
During the base training, assuming you’re healthy, it’s important to get your long run up to 90 minutes. Depending on your pace, this is typically 9 – 12 miles. Ensure you run at least that long every two weeks. You can adjust up or down depending on how you feel. This will keep you accustomed to time on your feet.
Besides using the strategy of gradual mileage increase, the most important and often underrated component of any good running program is rest. Your body will most successfully adapt and gets stronger if you give it a chance to recover after vigorous workouts. As you build mileage, keep in mind that rest and recovery are essential. Just as with my 20 week marathon training plan, I believe it’s important to take a rest day every week. It doesn’t have to be the day after your long run (in fact, I like to run about 5 miles easy the day after a long run), instead it could be the day after tempo or hills. Oftentimes my business travel dictates when I take my rest days. Also, as with the marathon training plan, it’s good to insert a rest week (at least 20 percent lower mileage) as discussed above. The overall lesson to be learned here is to build miles very gradually, with plenty of stretching, proper nutrition and rest.
Why is 180 steps per minute the “magic number” for cadence? Evidently, legendary coach Jack Daniels counted strides of distance runners at the 1984 Olympics. He found that nearly all took at least 180 steps per minute during their races. 180 is the agreed upon number to minimize over striding, maintain forward momentum and reduce the impact forces on your legs.
The challenge that I and many other runners have is that cadence can be dictated by pace. If I’m running at a slower speed, it seems that it would be appropriate that I take fewer steps per minute. I think that your cadence for a 5k race should be slightly more than your easy run cadence. However, it’s still appropriate to target 180 steps per minute for your races.
Although most of the advice on this site pertains to marathon training. Optimization of cadence is important for runners at all levels. With nearly 34 years of running experience, I don’t consider myself a beginner, but this advice is for beginner, intermediate and advance runners who may be struggling with recurring injuries or simply looking for a way to improve their race times (5k to marathon).
Following is an exercise that can be used to optimize your cadence at various paces.
- Increase your speed by 1 minute per mile until you’re at 5k pace. During this process, you will be going through each training pace (easy, marathon, ½ marathon, 10k, tempo, etc). As you “hit” each pace, give yourself a minute to adjust to the speed and then count your steps for 30 seconds. Multiply by 2 for your strides per minute, then accelerate to the next pace level. As you reach each level, you’ll notice that your cadence likely increases.
- Take the cadence numbers for each training pace level and then add five percent to establish your goal cadence. For example if a tempo run is at 155, your goal cadence is now 163.
Years ago, I recall that Galloway wrote about this in Runner’s World. He provided details of variation of the above exercise that he called the “turnover drill.” This is easiest if completed on a track. Most high schools and many middle schools now have 400 meter tracks that are open for use by the public after school hours.
1. Easy warm up for a half mile or 5 minutes.
2. Start your run at normal training pace. Once you get your momentum going, start your watch. For exactly 30 seconds, count the number of times your right foot pushes off. Then multiply that number by two. This is your current turnover rate.
3. Jog slowly back to the start.
4. Repeat step 2, but this time, increase the number of right-foot push-offs per minute by two to five. Follow up with another recovery jog back to the start.
5. Complete at least two to four additional repeats. Each time continue to increase your push-offs until you’re not running comfortably anymore. Back off the increased cadence at that point, and do the same for remaining repeats. However, maintain the number of push-offs that allows you to stay relaxed while still using a faster turnover.
It will take a while for you to feel comfortable with the increased cadence through these turnover drills. Following are some tips to help maximize your benefit from the turnover drills.
Complete twice per week, more if you can. Most people find that only one weekly session provides minimal improvement. Anything more infrequently (once or twice a month) is essentially a waste of time.
Try to stay light on your feet. This one really helps me, but it takes concentration. As you count your steps, try to imagine that you’re running on thin ice or hot coals. Another analogy is to run “as if you’re on eggshells, When you touch very lightly, you will reduce the time between touchdown and push-off.
The more time you spend in the air, the longer it takes your feet to make a cycle. This is why long strides are not good. So you don’t want to simply land on your toes and bounce too much. If you are, you’re expending too much unnecessary energy pushing your body upward. If you’re having trouble reducing bounce, try shuffling by aiming for a foot clearance of an inch or less from the surface. When you become used to less vertical motion, ease back to your natural foot lift.
Shorten your stride if necessary. If you’re trying, but still unsuccessful to speed up your cadence, try shortening your stride length during the first 10 to 15 seconds of each repeat. Ideally, this should relax the leg muscles and encourage a faster turnover. Once your cadence has increased, you can gradually lengthen your stride to normal.
The adaptation process for this change to faster cadence will likely feel very different. Many people report that they have made the change, but they describe the change as feeling like their shoes were tied together. This is because their steps had become so much shorter and faster compared to how they were used to running. Such a change feels wrong. It may take a few weeks to adjust, but when you do and the adjustment becomes habit, your running will improve dramatically. I know of people that have increased their cadence and knocked off 20+ minutes of their marathon PR.
Staying physically fit is extremely important to remain injury free. Oftentimes, it can seem very difficult to add a fitness routine into your busy schedule. However, staying fit doesn’t have to be a challenge. This article describes some great ways to get fit.
When running, try to meet your goal distance. However, if you get too tired, walk for a few minutes and then resume your run. In our beginner’s training plan, I outline a 12 week plan for getting into shape. This plan involves a lot of running & walking prior to being able to finish 25 – 35 minute runs without stopping.
A key to maintaining your fitness level is to be consistent. Rather than running only 2 times a week, when it’s convenient, I recommend also including some cross training with eliptical, stairmaster or rowing machines. It’s very important that you develop the habit of practicing some kind of exercise on an ongoing basis. If training for a marathon, you’ll need to run 3-4 times per week and complete cross training at least 1-2 times per week.
To ensure you don’t get injured while completing running or cross fit routines, be sure you workout in good, stable shoes. Preventing injury will help ensure you can continue to workout and eventually reach your fitness goals. As you train for a marathon, you’ll start to build the miles on your shoes. Every 400 – 500 miles, you should check to ensure your shoes are not worn down (check the heal cup and also the padding on the insole). Inserts don’t last forever, no matter how well you take care of them. They get worn down in certain areas causing your foot to leave its own natural impression. If this wear continues, injury is almost a certainty.
As you can see, there’s a few pillars to getting and staying fit. Try to stick to your plan by completing the workouts as best as possible. Consistency is the key to ensure you stay on track. Mix up the workouts, to help maintain interest.
I’m at the two week countdown to marathon day and my confidence heading into the race is at the lowest point that it has been this training cycle. My major goal for last week was to get in a final, solid 20+ mile training run. Well, I ran 20 miles last Tuesday, and it was far from solid. In fact, it bordered on disastrous.
I’ve never had a good experience in a Spring marathon. Boston 2011 left me in the med tent at the end, and both previous times I’ve run the Vermont City Marathon resulted in me hitting the wall hard around the big hill at mile 15. I think the reason is twofold. First, my training is typically lousy through the winter (due to work and weather) and I enter the marathon buildup with an inadequate base. Second, I start the training cycle in cool weather and finish it in the relative heat of late Spring. I’ve come to realize that I am really sensitive to the change in temperature, and I need quite a long acclimation period before I can handle running long in warmer weather.
The plan last Tuesday was to get out as earlier as possible since the forecast was calling for the warmest day of the year so far. Unfortunately the morning wound up being busier than expected and I didn’t leave the house until around 11:00 AM with temperatures nearing 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Being the stubborn runner that I am, I opted to go for it anyway and set out for the 21 mile run that Caleb had put on the schedule.
My legs have felt dead for a few weeks now, but I felt ok at the start of the run. Not great, just ok. Given that it was going to be warm, I opted to wear a hydration pack and bring along a few gels. I planned to stop back home at about the midpoint for some sports drink, and the first 12 miles were fairly uneventful aside from the fact that I was tired, hot, and getting really hungry. I stopped at the house around mile 12 and had half a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and some Powerade. Shortly after heading out again things started to go badly. Here’s how I described the run on dailymile:
“This one was a complete mess. I made the epically stupid decision to run at mid-day on one of the hottest days of the year so far here in NH. By mile 14 I was reduced to a walk-jog mess, but was determined to get in the full 20 (finished the run at an average 9:37 per mile pace). In retrospect I probably shouldn’t have pushed it because I think I ran myself into heat exhaustion. Started cramping in places I’ve never cramped before after I stopped (neck, abs…) so think it was salt/hydration related and not just neuromuscular fatigue. Cooled off in the kiddie pool with some cold water, cramping the entire time, and it was intensely painful. Had some salty bouillon on the couch and fell asleep for about an hour, felt better when I woke up. Need to work on strategies for running long in heat, don’t ever want to feel like this again. On a positive note, the Saucony Kinvara 4 worked well, my feet are about the only part of me that doesn’t hurt :)”
So yes, miles 14-20 were a total mess. I’m pretty sure the heat was the major factor. I was caked in salt by the end of the run, and the cramping was quite unlike anything I’ve experienced before. Bad day all around, and not how you want to head into your taper. I’ve taken it super easy over the past week so I don’t totally wreck myself, we’ll see what happens…
So now I’m left to figure out how to approach the race in two weeks. My original plan was to just go easy since I knew I’d be doing a rapid and inadequate buildup, but a really solid 18 miler several weeks back got me to thinking about pushing it a little harder. That may have been my big mistake as things started to fall apart shortly thereafter. Not sure if I pushed the training too hard too soon, or if the heat is the really big factor. Probably a bit of both.
I’ve come back around to just heading into the race with a plan to have as much fun as possible. That’s how I approached Disney back in 2010 and it was probably the most enjoyable race that I’ve run. I’m not shooting for a PR (that was never part of the plan) so there’s no point in running myself into the ground and dealing with an extra long recovery. If the forecast is hot on race day I’ll need to go really easy since it’s clear to me that I’m still not ready to run long in the warmer weather. I’ve solicited some advice on Facebook about using S-Caps or Salt Stick and I think I may give that a try.
I’m reminded once again that marathon training is hard, and I’m trying to figure out what to do in the Fall in terms of races. I don’t think I’ll be doing a road marathon. I had a blast training hard for the half-marathon last summer (I like shorter and faster better than longer and slower on the roads), but I’m also suffering a bit of peer-pressure about running the Vermont 50K in September. Decisions, decisions…
On an unrelated note, my blogging has been minimal the past few weeks since I’ve had to prioritize packing up my office and lab, and tying up loose ends at the day job. My contract is up at the end of this week, so expect a return to normal posting soon. Tons of reviews to get through!
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One of the biggest challenges many runners face when training for a marathon is being able to put in the time necessary to adequately get in shape for the big race.
The first step is registering for the marathon. For a few years, I fell out of shape, because I wasn’t consistently training for any race. It wasn’t until I decided that I would run the Chicago Marathon in 2011, that I resumed my regular training (in the Fall of 2010).
I always remind friends and those that I coach that you can’t fake your way through a marathon. If you want to finish, you’re going to have to train. Since the last 4-6 miles can become an exercise in pain management, the secret is to have a good marathon training plan that consists of running or working out 6 days per week.
Following are a few ways that I ensure I get my runs in:
1) Make running a priority.
This is critical. I put running or working out daily at the top of my “to do” list.
2) Schedule your workouts in advance
If you make running a priority, then you will figure out a way to get your workouts into your schedule. Take a look at the week ahead and plan when you will have 45 minutes to an 1.25 hours to workout. You might need to run early in the morning on weekends when you have a busy schedule with your family. Oftentimes when I’m on the road with business travel, I workout prior to going to dinner with my co-workers. They understand that I won’t be a “happy camper” until I get my workout in.
3) Remember why you’re running
Running is your personal time. It’s important to you because it can keep you healthy, in shape and able to perform effectively. Running daily gives me more energy for all of my life’s activities.
4) Run with friends
Plan at least one run per week with friends. Sometimes it’s on the weekends. Othertimes it may be a track workout during the week. During the winter when the weather is lousy, it can be hard to motivate yourself. However, getting out is much easier when you have made a commitment to run with a group beforehand.
5) Bring your running gear when you travel. Don’t give yourself an excuse why you can’t workout. Besides, when you travel, it gives you the opportunity to see new things in different cities. When I travel to places like Utah, I view it as a chance to get in some altitude training. Last year, I got slightly lost in Park City, UT. I turned an easy 4 mile jog into a 7 mile odyessy that ended at a parking lot on a mountain road at 10,000+. So much for my easy day…..
Running & Racing
Running races during a 16-24 week marathon training plan is one of the ways to best prepare yourself for a marathon. Depending on what kind of shape you’re in prior to starting your training period, you should easily be able to run 1-2 races. I recommend nothing short of a 10k and I wouldn’t go longer than a 1/2 marathon. The reason you want to run a race is it will help you get the feel for preparing for a race or running faster pace than your typical training pace. They will also get you used to getting prepared for race day activities (waking early, eating before the race, getting to the start line, etc). Racing also gets you used to running with a lot of people. Besides, the experience, it’s fun. I love the post race entertainment and food.
Take a look at the following guest article. Coach Patrick discusses racing to win. I wouldn’t taper prior to the race. Instead, just mix the race into your schedule. I hope you enjoy the guest post.
by Patrick Reed
“Don’t you know that in a race, all the runners run, but only one gets the prize. Run in such a way as to get the prize.” ~ 1 Corinthians 9:24
Racing is where the distance runner dances. It is the weekly or monthly — maybe even just yearly — prom. It is the proving ground, the laboratory. It is instant youth and it is Play.
I used to love the game of soccer so much — even in my collegiate days — because it represented a complete cosmos, ruled by fairly just judges, and its parameters were as clear as white chalk lines. The object of this bounded life’s pursuit was evident, the rules were agreed upon — and inside of this world, captivated by it, all else in the universe fell away. The game became all of life itself — and outside of the game was irrelevant.
Of course, that worked pretty well until 4th year hit — and graduation loomed — and then suddenly arrived! On that commencement day, so far from the eternal destiny of the soaring black and white orb, striking the net with an elegance fit for heaven; on that day of new beginning, I became the tired runner staring at his shoes, sitting on the curb and wondering what happened. I guess I hadn’t trained hard enough. I guess I hadn’t any plan.
BUT — I knew what I loved. I loved to play that certain game.
And now racing has become that itinerant play. Itinerant by necessity. For only a few of us can play for our living — and then, I have heard, the play is not so much play any more.
So what does the Apostle Paul mean by “Run in such a way as to get the prize”?
Clearly this much and nothing more: Run to win. And what is it we aim to win? Is it the heaps of gold bestowed upon the forward thinking practitioner, who aligned himself adroitly for an easy destiny? Is it to get to the finish first at any cost? Dope, deceit or deviance — you choose?? Or is running to win not really about what we think winning is at all?
For it must be possible, says the theology which stands behind and supports Paul’s words, that every man can “get the prize.” Each only must “run in such a way…” What of this race where every soul can win? Is this the cheapest race — and is its prize, by the market’s definition, the most sordid and banal stuff?
No — emphatically NO!
And maybe, just maybe – your distance running addiction can aid you here in the way of the most elegant illustration. Each of us can indeed win in this game of life. Like the soccer game I so futilely longed to live within eternally, each life’s course is marked by clear boundaries and indeed has a just lawgiver and judge. Better still, the game is made for each of us – tailor made — and the gamekeeper wants, longs, dreams that we would win.
And only one thing is necessary: that we believe in the one whom He has sent. Namely, Jesus Christ – who died for you and me, that we may share in the new life he won in being raised from the dead on the third day.
To run to win — in this greatest race of all — is to believe. Nothing more and nothing less. All else is dross.
Run the race to win it — every day. I am racing right along side with you.
image credit: womanwithamission