Why Cross-Training Exercises are Important During Marathon Training
Completing a marathon is an impressive achievement. The journey through 12 – 20 weeks of training leading up to the race takes dedication, motivation and ultimately makes an athlete feel accomplished. Cross-Training exercises are important during marathon training because one of the challenges for many athletes training for marathon is to stay injury free. In my experience, middle age athletes who successfully achieve their goals also included some form of cross-training or Crossfit exercises in their marathon training.
When you buy something using the retail links in our stories, we may earn a small commission. Middleagemarathoner does not accept money for editorial gear reviews.
Typically, athletes want to do cross-training that compliments their main sport. So cross-training isn’t a substitute for running. However, to provide variety, help with recovery, build strength and help in injury prevention, runners can complete a number of cross-training or CrossFit activities during their training cycle. Be it running outdoors or doing a workout on CrossFit equipment at your home gym, you have plenty of options. You can always add difficulty to these workouts by including body weight exercises between each rep. Consider adding push-ups, sit-ups, planks or burpees and other applicable exercises from https://totalshape.com/equipment/crossfit-home-gym/. In this post, I will add a little more structure to these activities, as well as share different cross-training exercises runners should integrate into their marathon training plan to maximize the benefit of these activities.
Cross-training vs Crossfit
To be clear, Cross-training & Crossfit are 2 different activities and neither should be considered a substitute for long runs, recovery runs, hills, tempo workouts or other running activities included in marathon training plans. Instead, these “cross” activities are used to add variety and when completed properly, can help to improve an athlete’s power, speed, balance, coordination and overall fitness level. Cross-training can help increase endurance, cardio, and build muscles faster.
For middle age athletes, who may be more susceptible to injuries and the effects of overtraining, Crossfit or cross-training can be low impact workouts that give runners a break from the pounding of running. Crossfit is actually a branded fitness regimen that involves High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) plus gymnastics and certain Olympic weight lifting movements. Basically it’s a strength & conditioning workout that involves weights and other equipment to complete various pushing, pulling & squatting movements.
A Step-By-Step Program to Avoid Injury, Have Fun & Finish the Big Race – On Sale Now
I would caution any athlete that Crossfit shouldn’t be an activity they complete on recovery days. The workouts can be intense and wouldn’t allow for proper recovery from a previous day’s hard or long runs. Instead, I typically recommend less intense cross-training & conditioning exercises as part of my marathon training plans.
Swimming can help reduce common running injuries while improving cardiovascular performance. It is an effective resistance training for your legs without the pounding of running. Swimming reduces pressure on the body’s weight-bearing joints, which minimizes stress on muscles, tendons and ligaments. As long as it’s not performed at a high intensity, swimming is an excellent way to recover from long runs. Depending on your ability, swimming for 35 – 45 minutes will provide benefit without exhaustion.
Cycling is an excellent cross-training & recovery exercise for runners. The benefits of cycling for runners are outlined in this article. Cycling is relatively easy on an athlete’s joints, tendons and muscles. It can be completed on a stationary or wheeled bike. Like swimming, cycling can help a runner stay active during injury recovery. For injuries like stress fractures, cycling can be completed (along with other low impact activities) as a part of an active recovery plan. Riding a bike strengthens legs and can provide a solid aerobic workout without the impacts of running. Cycling can be completed on a stationary bike or on the road. I recommend one of 2 stationary bike activities. 40 – 45 minutes at varying speeds so heart rate varies from 65 – 80%. Another is a alternating workout with 1 minute on the bike with 1 minute of various bodyweight + dumbbells. I call this 50 minute workout, “bike blast.”
If you’re interested in joining me, I can put together either a custom training plan or I can personally coach you. Either program will be specific to your goals and athletic abilities. Just click on the links for details.
Pilates is a low intensity physical activity that improves breathing, posture, flexibility and mobility. Pilates is a low impact exercise that can help athletes gain strength and flexibility. Doing Pilates for 30-45 minutes per session makes for an ideal cross-training session. Here’s a good pilates routine for runners.
Pilates can help improve stability which is essential for good running technique and to help avoid injury.
Hiking can benefit runners in many ways. It improves leg strength, core stability and strengthens stabilizing muscles in an athlete’s ankles & legs.
In addition to the glutes and quads, the balance required to maintain a steady pace while hiking engages your stabilizing muscles which can improve your running form and make you stronger overall. I think that hiking is a nice way to add variety to your routine, give your body a rest, while building strength that will enhance your running. Hiking is also really enjoyable with others on a scenic trail.
Elliptical or Stairmaster
There’s a lot of benefits for runners to workout with an elliptical or stairmaster. For aerobic conditioning, you don’t have any impact like with running, so you can maintain fitness while injured. I’ve coached runners who are recovering from stress fractures and using the elliptical 2-3 times per week, along with other low impact activities like a stairmaster. These machines really helped them maintain a decent level of fitness. If you have access to an stairmaster or elliptical, you don’t need any special gear. Word of caution: get Dr’s approval to use either of these machines if you’re recovering from an injury. Bottomline, if it hurts while on the stairmaster or elliptical, stop.
Some of the keys to a good stairmaster or elliptical workout include, varying the resistance, staying on long enough and going at a sufficient pace to get your heart rate up to 140+ beats/min. How fast of a cadence you maintain depends largely on the distance of the race for which you are training.
Here’s a good Elliptical workout. 10 minutes easy effort at a low resistance (3-4). Gradually increase resistance over next 5 minutes to 6-10 and maintain that effort for 20-25 minutes. Finally complete cool down for 15 minutes at low resistance (2-3).
Photo Courtesy of Victor Freitas (Unsplash)
Rowing, if completed correctly, doesn’t just work your arms. It actually targets your glutes, back, shoulders, hamstrings, quads & core. If you have access to a rowing machine, you can get a great low-impact aerobic or even anaerobic workout where much of the fitness gains from running transfer easily. I wouldn’t substitute multiple days of rowing each week for running if you’re injury free and training for full or half marathon. Instead, rowing can be a part of a cross-training workout or if used to maintain fitness if you’re rehabbing from injury and have your Dr’s approval.
Here’s a sample rowing machine workout that will help to build endurance and work various muscles.
Complete dynamic stretching Row easily for 7-10 minutes to warm up; Row two sets of (4 x 400m) as follows: Row 400m at moderate intensity (heart rate elevated, but still comfortable) Slow/row easily for 1 minute
Repeat moderate intensity and complete another 3 x 400m with 1 min recovery between
Row easily for 3 minutes.
Repeat for another set of four 400m.
Row easily/recover again for 8-10 minutes.
FREE COACHING ADVICE – DIRECTLY TO YOUR INBOX
Exclusively for middle age athletes, helping to get you to the starting line fresh, fit & ready to achieve your goals.
Just Click Below & Provide Your E-Mail
This can also be referred to as strength training. Unlike machines or hiking, these include workouts that strengthen the legs, glutes, core, shoulders, hips and other muscles/joints used when running. There’s a few links to YouTube videos where I will show specific conditioning routines that I recommend. Most of the exercises are simple bodyweight exercises. A few use a BOSU Ball or resistance bands just for variety. Below are some exercises that I recommend. For a full workout, you can check my post, Strength Training Workouts For Runners.
Resistance bands are perfect because they help to boost your power and strength in your calves, quads, and glutes. I provide a complete & challenging resistance band workout in this post.
Proven Strategies To Transform You Into A Strong, Confident Marathoner – On Sale Now
Squats build increased leg power and improve knee stability. To complete a squat, use a your body without additional weights, dumbbells or a barbell with free weights. Start slow (light weights) if you have never completed squats. The key is to keep the head in a neutral position, looking forward (not up or down). Keep your straight back as you squat down. Also keep knees behind toes and hips below parallel. Just imagine that you’re sitting in a chair. You can rest on your heels and then slowly push back up. Breathe in on the way down and out as you stand up. Start with 7-8 and increase to 10 – 12 before increasing weight. Complete 3 sets before moving to next exercise or complete all exercises as part of a circuit and come back to the squats (2 complete sets of all exercises).
Bear crawls are a tough exercise because they work many muscles and really can get you tired. It’s a great exercise for runners. You’ll increase your heart rate and burn plenty of calories when you complete bear crawls. When properly performing a bear crawl you strengthen entire body including the shoulders, chest, back, glutes, quads and hamstrings. You only need about 15 – 20 feet to complete bear crawls. The key is that your hands and feet can only touch the ground (no knees). Go forward 15 – 20 feet and then go backward to where you started. Complete as many as you can in 1 minute.
This exercise strengthens the gluteus medius (hip abductors), which is on outer edge of the butt and is responsible for stabilizing your pelvis. Strong hips, helps to avoid knee pain, For runners, this is an essential exercise to ensure good running form and ultimately to prevent injury. You can complete this exercise with or without resistance bands.
• Lie on your either side with your feet and hips stacked. Bend your knees about 90 degrees and rest your head resting on your arm.• Draw your knees in toward your body until your feet are in line with your butt. This is your starting position.• Keeping your abs engaged, squeeze your glutes and keep your feet together. Then raise your top knee as shown without rotating your hip or lifting your other knee off the floor.• Hold for 1 second. Continue to squeeze your glutes through the top of the move and then slowly lower your left knee to the starting position.• Start by completing 20 reps on each side.
This exercise reaches the deep abs and the obliques. To perform, lie on your back, knees bent, feet flat on the floor, and hands on the sides of your head. Contract your abdominal muscles as you bring your knees up to a 45-degree angle. Straighten and bend your knees as you alternate crossing and touching right elbow to left knee, then left elbow to right knee. You can also perform this exercise on a BOSU ball.
Plank and side plank
Plank exercises help strengthen core, which will improve your running form. Start by holding a plank position as shown for 30 seconds. Increase up to 45 seconds as you can. Proper form includes keeping hips level, core & glutes firm. An alternative exercise is the side plank or introduce a twist. To complete this exercise, while on your side resting on one forearm, raise your hips while also raising your body on your forearm. Hold this position for 30 seconds before switching sides. For added difficulty, raise your arm and leg as shown.
Lunges are essential for a better, stronger and quicker stride. This exercises helps to strengthen your back, hips, and legs, while improving mobility and stability. Complete lunges by stepping forward with one leg and lower your hips till both your knees are bent at about a 90-degree angle. Keep your front knee over (not past) your ankles. Add weights and dumbbells. Also consider incorporating other moves with lunges, such as arm curls.
Burpees are a full body strength training exercise. They work your arms, chest, quads, glutes, hamstrings and abs. The basic movement is performed in four steps. Start by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, weight in your heels, and your arms at your sides. Push your hips back, bend your knees, and lower your body into a squat. Next, place your hands on the floor directly in front of your feet. Shift your weight onto your hands. You can jump back up or complete a push-up and then jump up.
Mountain climbers are great for building endurance, core strength and agility. Many athletes hate performing mountain climbers, because they’re tough. This is exactly why you need to make them a part of your cross-training routine. You get a total body workout with just one exercise. When you perform mountain climbers, you target your triceps, deltoids, abs, back, hip flexors, quads, hamstrings and butt. You also increase your heart rate.
There’s a lot of variation for mountain climbers. You can start by going as fast as you can – for 30 seconds and then 15 seconds rest. Do this 4-5 times. Alternatively, go for 1 minute or as as long as you can manage with good form.
Combining Cross-Training Exercises to Optimize Your Marathon Training
There are many more exercises that you can incorporate into your cross-training routine that help prepare you for your race. I like including multiple exercises into circuits. This works best with the conditioning exercises. For example, try any of the 3 above conditioning exercises for 1 minute each with no rest between. After taking 30 seconds rest after your 3 minute circuit, perform 2-3 additional circuits of the same exercises. Each 3 exercise circuit is a set. Perform 2 – 3 sets. If you have access to a stationary bike, treadmill or elliptical, you can work in 3-5 minutes on these machines between each set. Bottomline, get creative and mix/match your cross training exercises every week. If you’re using dumbbells, steadily increase weight as you get stronger.
If you can, I recommend setting up your own home gym. There’s a number of very informative posts with ideas for equipment you can include in your home exercise studio.
Why TeamRunRun is great for both runner’s & coaches….
I’ve been a running coach for middle age athletes since 2014. It’s been a challenge during COVID to coach runners in person and it’s always been a challenge to attract runner’s whom I can coach virtually. In April of 2020, I started coaching with the TeamRunRun group. Working with TeamRunRun has really helped my coaching business in only a few short months. My goal with this review of TeamRunRun is to provide a candid assessment of how TeamRunRun can help both runner’s and coaches.
What Is TeamRunRun?
TeamRunRun is a marketplace and complete training resource for runners of all abilities to connect with experienced coaches and other runners who are training for races of varying distances on the track, trails and roads. Inside TeamRunRun’s portal, you’ll find a enthusiastic group of runner’s and coaches. These are people from all over the globe who are interested in becoming better runners at distances from 1 mile through 50mile+ Ultraas.
I really like TeamRunRun because I get to Coach with my own philosophy and set my own price, but most important I know that I have all of the TeamRunRun staff & coaches behind me.
As an RRCA certified running coach, I’m well aware that we’re always learning in this sport. With TeamRunRun, both runner’s and coaches enjoy a highly interactive support forum for coaches and athletes on critical topics such as training, racing, nutrition, strength & cross training, gear & injury prevention.
These days it seems like most races have been cancelled or are virtual, but through TeamRunRun, I have access to race reports from all over the globe. The group reports on new races (virtual & in person) & the accomplishments of the athletes in the group, every week. It’s very motivating to see so many athletes training & achieving their goals. You’re not training by yourself anymore, you’re training with the TeamRunRun community by your side.
Other TeamRunRun Benefits
One-on-one coaching – You train with your own coach each step of the way. You’ll receive a custom plan that’s tailored to your athletic ability, goals & preferred number of days to run per week.
Regular face to face meetings. Whether it’s in person or virtual, you’ll be able to easily ask questions and get very quick feedback. Adjustments to your plan can be made as necessary.
Day to day planning – you’ll find all of your workouts clearly listed using Google docs.
Individualized training paces for every workout – duration or distances & recommended intensity/pace.
Training plan includes conditioning exercises loaded onto a calendar and ”How to” videos of all the exercises you are assigned.
Weekly newsletter which highlights running articles on training and injury prevention, group events and race reports.
Exclusive access to the TeamRunRun Group Forums, Facebook & Strava groups.
Joining TeamRunRun has been a very positive move for my coaching business. Their safe and secure online payment system & customer support help my athletes feel confident when they join. The interactive community setting, along with my personalized coaching allows for a positive experience for all the athletes who join TeamRunRun.
If you have ever considered working with a coach or have questions about how to reach the next level in your running, let me know! I can develop a plan and help you stay accountable. I offer strength training for injury prevention, guidance on how to set realistic goals, nutrition advice and much more. You are capable of so much more than you believe and I can help you get there!
Periodization training is the process of dividing a training plan into specific time segments or phases leading up to and including a goal performance or race. This article will show you how can train the body in different ways during successive phases, gradually increasing the stress on the body, so you can ultimately combine the benefits of these workouts. The collective result is that with periodization training you can achieve peak conditioning for a desired race or races throughout the year.
UPDATE: Since Publishing this article, I have added a section below discussing Periodized Strength Training as it relates to running & a periodized program. Please scroll through 2/3+ of this post to learn about you can benefit from completing specific strength training exercises into a periodized running program.
Nearly every elite runner uses periodization. I use this system that includes various meso & micro cycles, each with a specific purpose and different physiological goals and psychological benefits. Using periodization allows you to couple hard training periods with easier periods of recovery to avoid over-training and improve components of muscular fitness such as strength, speed, and endurance to ultimately reach your goals. With the information that I share, you can divide your training plan into three parts to run strong and race well, all year.
Most studies of periodization have proved the superiority of this type of system over non-periodized programs in terms of greater changes in strength, body composition and motor performance (Fleck 1999).
Periodization programs involve a progression from high volume and low-intensity effort towards decreasing volume and increasing intensity during the different cycles. Periodization is not randomly changing volume and/or intensity with no consideration other than to introduce variation into the program. In a University of New Mexico paper, the author discusses how with a periodized program, the manipulation of volume and intensity, over a program that just increases total training volume alone, is an important factor in optimizing training effects.
When I set up a periodization program, I have the athlete, whom I’m coaching, gradually increase the stresses or efforts on their body during a variety of training sessions (distance, intensity, duration and type of recovery vary). Although a large percentage of training is completed at easy or conversation pace, in these programs we stress the body and then allow proper recovery, we achieve cardio gain and muscle growth. Basically, the work or a specific workout stresses your system. The planned recovery is what allows your body to adapt.
The overall training period, so it’s the longest of the three cycles and includes all of the elements of training in the entire training period leading up to and including your race. Typically it’s a year in length. Macrocycles are comprised of four stages or Mesocycles.
The mesocycle is a specific (2 – 8 week) block of training that is designed to accomplish a particular goal. The mesocycle is usually classified into 4 stages: recovery + endurance, endurance + strength/lactate threshold, intensity (interval) training and finally competition or peak performance (which includes some kind of taper). Finally, a set of microcycles, which are generally up to 7 days, make up the mesocycles.
I like the 4 week mesocycle because over the course of 3 weeks of similar workouts, we teach the body to adapt to specific stress, until it becomes not stressful. Then after a recovery week, I like to move on to the next stress.
Basic Periodization Program
First, if you can imagine a triangle, the bottom or base includes the longest phases of your training which are comprised of recovery/rest from your race (typically 3 weeks), followed by base or foundation training. Depending on the length of time between races, the base training can be up to 500 miles at relatively easy/conversation pace. During base training, the athlete will focus on the development of aerobic and muscular endurance which is the foundation of any running plan.
FREE TRAINING ADVICE – DIRECTLY TO YOUR INBOX
Exclusively for middle age athletes, helping to get you to the starting line fresh, fit & ready to achieve your goals.
Just Click Below & Provide Your E-Mail
Not every runner I coach starts in the same phase or level of the triangle. Some runners only have 10 weeks until their race, they are more experienced and have a substantial base. They may require some strength runs like tempo or hills, followed by shorter intervals to prepare them for a race. Other runners hire me to help them over the course of 6 – 12 months. I can take them through an entire macrocycle where we develop an entire periodized plan to gradually get them in shape for a few races and eventually a longer race like a half or full marathon.
One of the keys to a successful program is the pacing. Throughout the course of a macrocycle, there’s generally six paces that an athlete will train.
Goal Race Pace (goal the athlete wants to race based on dreams, plan)
Date Race Pace (current race pace, based on a recent performance. Should be reviewed with a qualified coach because variables like temperature, course, competition can affect times)
Lactate Threshold Pace (typically 10k pace for most runners. Moderate heart rate, can be sustained for 30 – 45 minutes).
Interval Pace (faster than date race pace, demanding, can only be sustained for shorter time periods (no longer than 10 minutes)
Rest Pace (slow pace in between intervals or as cool down after hard running).
There are numerous types of running depending on the phase of the periodization program. Some runs like the conversation pace (short, medium or long) runs are completed throughout the program. Other types are tempo, fartlek, hills, long & short intervals and race pace. I posted an article of the essential training runs for middle age marathoners.
As with any personalized plan, mileage and specific workouts during this mesocycle vary. If you’re an experienced runner who can handle 55 – 70 miles/week, your training during this phase includes:
5 mile recovery runs at an easy pace. Gradually build from 6 mile to 11 – 14 mile midweek runs at conversation pace. 8 – 10 mile aerobic or lactate threshold runs at ½ or marathon pace 15 – 18 mile long runs at easy to medium pace (a few runs can include 8 – 10 miles in the middle of these longer runs at marathon pace). These long runs teach your body to run more efficiently.
Training for runners (beginners, less serious or older athletes) who can’t handle consistent higher mileage (including myself) would follow a slightly different program.
4-5 mile recovery runs at an easy/conversation pace. 8 – 10 mile midweek runs at conversation pace Gradually increasing from 10 – 16 mile long runs (runs near the end of the phase that include 6-8 miles at marathon pace) 6-10 mile aerobic or lactate threshold runs at ½ or marathon pace Rest or cross-training twice per week
Speedwork is limited in this phase to strides & “mini-tempos.” Weekly you can either do 6 – 8 100M on a track or 6 – 8 to 20 to 30-second bursts of speed at the end of one or two of your easy runs. Don’t go any faster than ½ marathon pace in your aerobic or lactate threshold runs.
In the second phase or mesocycle we will still work on endurance, but we’ll step up the lactate threshold training. We introduce strength workouts which consist of tempo, hill & fartlek workouts. We want to push yourself a little, so it’s not a shock when you go faster in the next phase. If the overall training plan is 18+ weeks, this mesocycle can last for 9 weeks. According to coach Greg McMillian, “these workouts strengthen the muscles, ligaments, and connective tissues, which will prepare the body for the demands of fast running.”
Key Workouts for Lactate Threshold + Endurance Mesocycle:
6 mile recovery runs at conversation pace 8 – 10 mile lactate threshold at 15k to ½ marathon pace. See this detailed article about Tempo running. Strength Training with hills and fartlek. Hills are a great strength training workout. Run them at a hard, but not all-out effort. Fartlek is an easy way to introduce longer (1 – 2 minutes) of fast running. 16 – 20 mile long runs. Start to introduce finish fast runs (last 4 – 8 miles at marathon pace) in your long runs.
This 2nd phase is essential to strengthening the body for the fast running that comes in the third phase. You continue to build endurance through long runs, but a few of your workouts become tempo miles or hill repeats prepare you for the intensity/race preparation phase where you will complete more & longer intervals (800m to 2miles).
INTENSITY / RACE PREPARATION MESOCYCLE
During the intensity or 3rd phase, the focus switches to additional lactate threshold and then interval pace (VO2 max). The goal is to ready your body to enter the competition phase, so you need a greater emphasis to be placed on boosting anaerobic capacity and neuromuscular power.
During the beginning of this Mesocycle, we will run longer intervals (the exact length depends on the race) at 5k race pace. Typical workouts may include 5 x 1000m or 5 x 1600. Long runs are typically 17 -20 miles with last 8 – 10 miles at Marathon Pace. There should still be plenty of 5 – 7 mile recovery runs included.
Later speed sessions include run tune-up events like 8k to 15k races to help you prepare for your main event and then shorter intervals (such as 600m – 800m) at 5-K pace. The distance of your intervals depends on the length of your race & your athletic ability. Besides 100m strides, there’s no need to complete 200m– 400m repeats if you’re training for a marathon. If you’re a novice or training for a 5k, these shorter intervals are perfect.
TAPER / PEAK PERFORMANCE MESOCYCLE
This last, peak phase includes short, fast workouts that simulate racing. These workouts fine-tune the speed you began in phase two by recruiting fast-twitch muscle fibers. During this phase, one of the goals is to improve running economy (how efficiently your body uses oxygen) and strengthen muscles. You accomplish this by gradually increasing the intensity of your workouts and then in last few weeks before your race, decrease the overall volume while maintaining intensity. Coach Greg McMillan calls it “keep the engine revved.”
One of my favorite runs 2-3 weeks prior to the marathon is a 12 – 13 miler at race pace. This gives you a great indication of your fitness and how close to your goal time you can expect to finish. During the last week prior to the race, I also like to complete a 6 mile run with 4 miles at marathon pace.
In order to peak for key races, I recommend you mark your event on a calendar and either work with a coach or develop a plan that maps out your base, endurance, preparation, and peak phases. Each should be four to eight weeks long (you can extend the base or preparation phase beyond eight, but not the peak, to avoid burnout). I recommend that every fourth week, recover by reducing your miles by 10 to 20 percent. Also ease up on strength training. Once you peak, start again with recovery and base training and work your way through the phases over and over again.
PERIODIZED STRENGTH TRAINING
Just as completing a periodized running program with a progression of planned workouts will optimize your performance, it’s important to ensure you have the same kind of progression and variance in your strength workouts. Runners need to build strength during their training so they they can be more efficient, be more resistant to injury and build power.
If you’re new to strength training, it’s not a good idea to start with heavy lifts. Instead, start more basic with body weight exercises that can be performed at home, such as:
Bridges with basketball
Dips & Pull-Ups
Other basic exercises can be added gradually, but after 4-5 weeks you can transition to using kettle bells, dumbbells & medicine balls. The key is you want to strengthen your core, hips, glutes, quads and lower legs & ankles.
Light Weights to Heavier Weights
Eventually you transition to heavier weights at the gym. I recommend starting with lighter/smaller barbells and completing exercises with 25 – 35lbs at first. You should concentrate on proper form before you increase the weight. Some of these exercises include:
Bench Press – performed with a longer/heavier barbell
General rules for lifting are: complete 6-8 reps/set and lift so the final set is challenging (not so much weight that you can only do 2-3 reps). Try to complete 3 sets for each exercise and take about 2-3 minutes of recovery between sets.
As Coach Jay Johnson always preaches, keep easy days easy and hard days hard. This means, it’s best to complete lifting & body weight exercises after long runs and intervals. You should already be tired, but lifting in what’s considered a “pre-fatigued” state where the body already has low glycogen stores will teach your body to perform in this state. You’ll notice a difference in the late stages of a race.
There are countless stories of elite athletes getting better because they are stronger. Mo Farah, for instance, gives much credit to his strength which he says helped him to win numerous Olympic Gold Medals. Using a periodized strength program within your training cycle will allow you to maximize the benefits of all of your training.
In conclusion, you can get the most out of your training by having a good understanding of each of the three cycles of periodization and then using these cycles to create a plan that allows you to peak for your most important events throughout the year.
Have you heard of training by feel, running with your inner GPS or simply training without a GPS watch? They’re basically the same, but I had never tried this strategy myself, until the last 5+ months. Last Sunday, I crossed the finish line of the Vancouver Lake Half Marathon and I saw the finishing time of my run for the first time since last September. In this article, I will briefly tell you what I learned, how I trained and the results of my race.
Training With a GPS Watch or Electronic Stopwatch
Since 2010, I’ve religiously tracked every run that I completed outside. I uploaded runs to my Garmin Connect, Polar Flow or Strava Accounts. Prior to 2010, I used a simple digital stop watch (traditional Casio) and documented the results in a log book. I was never obsessed with my times, but I would compare similar workouts from year-to-year.The GPS watch was merely to ensure I was following the assigned workout paces. I wasn’t typically concerned about distances, since I’ve been running in/around my town for the last 19 years, I know the approximate distances.
Running By Feel
In Matt Fitzgerald’s book: RUN – the mind-body method of running by feel, he provides numerous reasons to ditch the gadgets and listen to our body. The biggest reason to run by feel, as opposed to increasing/decreasing your pace mid run, based on what you see on your GPS watch, is that how you feel during runs is the most reliable indicator of how well the training process is going. Many who run without a GPS watch claim that it reduces performance pressure and can help prevent injury, because when they make adjustments to their pace based on how they feel, they’re not over-extending themselves. Instead, they’re actually working within a smart, yet challenging, training zone.
So, if you feel good during a run, you’re likely fit. In general, the more fit you are, the better you will typically feel during your runs. Now, I understand that if one was running slow, they may feel good, but that doesn’t mean that they’re fit. So, let’s assume you need to be running at what is a fairly quick pace (within your abilities) and then determine how you feel. Ultimately, the only way to get fit is to work hard, which likely means you’ll end up suffering through some workouts.
Remove the Watch To Create A Positive Mindset and Momentum
Momentum in running, occurs primarily in training and can take the form of a period of improving fitness. In many articles and interviews, it’s apparent that even the most confident athletes know that they do not have complete control over every situation. They are aware that their success often depends on the situation shaping itself to their benefit. Why not remove the watch from the equation and simply run by feel where you can create both a positive mindset and momentum.
In my experience, with runners I coach, the most effective way to manage their fitness/fatigue balance is to tell them to pay attention to how they feel. When they don’t feel good, regardless of the time/pace on their watch, we must must determine whether it’s because of lack of fitness or excessive fatigue. If it’s lack of fitness, we can correct this with more hard work. However, excessive fatigue should be corrected by more rest, which also could mean simply slowing the pace of the workout and upcoming workouts.
Another term for running by feel is “using your inner GPS.” Some coaches, like McMillan, have written extensively about calibrating your inner GPS, so I won’t get into the details in this post. It’s important to understand that inner GPS training or running by feel should not take the place of traditional time/distance-based training. At least not until you have a lot of experience running by feel. I recommend that if you want to run a time like 1hr 59 minutes for ½ marathon, you better know exactly that pace.
Heart Rate Monitor
If you don’t feel completely comfortable about ditching a gadget, an alternative to using a GPS watch is using a heart rate monitor. You’ll still need the watch, but you can just adjust it so you only see your heart rate. One could make a sound argument that this is technically running by feel. Instead of running at preassigned paces that you monitor with your watch, when you train with a heart rate monitor, you simply adjust your pace by keeping your heart rate within a specified zone. This is why this is also referred to as zone training. I discuss how to train using a heart rate monitor in an article I wrote a few years ago.
My 5 Month Challenge of Training without a watch
What started out as just running my base/easy mileage without the watch, soon turned into 5+ months of not tracking my times or pacing for any training run. The majority of my runs were on the road, some were on hotel treadmills. Typically the treadmill runs were 4 – 5 miles at an easy/conversation pace (low 7s) and an elevation of 1.5 – 2 degrees. Duration of my treadmill runs were 30 – 40 minutes. Over the first 3 months I usually ran 18 – 30 miles per week at an easy or conversation pace. I don’t know for sure the pace of any runs, but for the last 5+ years, I’ve been able to easily complete 6 mile runs between 46 – 48 minutes.
To a large extent, due to my many years of experience of being a long distance runner, my inner GPS has been calibrated. I’m confident that I was probably running the majority of my runs at 7:45 – 8:15/mile pace. As you can see below, I also completed a few faster/tempo paced runs of 5-6 miles. On a weekly basis I would also get to the track to complete strides to keep my legs moving faster.
Since last September, while I completed my base or foundation training, I also performed 2 – 3 different CrossFit workouts per week. The CrossFit consisted of 45 minute High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) with a variety of challenging body weight exercises. I also regularly completed a 45 minute routine where I would rotate between 1 minute on a stationary bike at a controlled to vigorous pace with 1 minute of body weight, BOSU and/or barbell exercises. The key to these workouts was the variety and intensity. They were supervised by a personal trainer in a group setting at my health club. My goal was to get stronger, build an injury resistant body and reduce the pounding on my legs while completing aerobic exercise.
Increasing the Intensity as the Race Gets Closer
Two months out from the ½ marathon, I started to gradually increase my weekly long run from 7 to 12 miles. I also increased the intensity of 1-2 runs per week. All the while, I never used a GPS watch. Following are some of the workouts that I completed: Training started in September. During Weeks 1-4, I continued with base training (conversation pace runs of 4 – 7 miles) and cross-fit training.
Week 5 of 10 8 miles at easy/conversation pace (CP) Fartlek 3 other easy/CP runs of 4 – 6 miles (1 day w/ strides)
Week 6 10 miles at CP 4 mile Tempo (at ½ Marathon Pace (MP)) 3 x CP runs of 4 – 6 miles (1 day w/ strides)
Week 7 11 miles at CP (last 2 miles at ½ MP) 6 mile Tempo (at ½ MP) 3 x CP runs (1 day w/ strides)
Week 8 12 miles at CP (last 3 at ½ MP) Track Workout – 4 x 1600M at 10k Pace 3 x CP (1 day w/ strides)
Week 9 10 miles at easy pace (last 3 miles at ½ MP) Track Workout – Ladder (400M, 800M, 2 x 1200M, 800M, 400M at 5k pace) 3 x Easy Runs
Week 10 9 miles at easy pace (last 4.5 at ½ MP) 4 x CP 4-6 miles (2 days w/ strides)
Race Day – February 24th
Because I didn’t train too hard for this race, I wasn’t sure what kind of time to expect. The last ½ marathon I completed (2 years ago) was 1:27:45. I figured anything around 1:30 (6:55/mile pace) would be great. With almost ideal conditions of 35 degrees, overcast and no wind, I positioned myself at the start, slightly behind some runners who were projecting finish times of 1:25 – 1:28 (6:30 – 6:45/mile pace).
My strategy wasn’t to try to keep up with the faster runners. Instead, I wanted to keep them within range (gradually let them get 3-4 minutes in front of me). Turns out, this is exactly how the race played out. There were no splits given at any point, so I only knew my time as I approached the finish. My finish time was 1:30:25.
After the race I spoke with others who had run near me and told them that I had not used a watch for the last 5 months. Overwhelmingly, the response was positive and a few thought “how liberating.”
It really was liberating to train without a watch. However, I think I would use a watch for longer runs & track workouts if I was really concerned about achieving a goal time. The key to being successful when you’re not training with a watch is to be honest with yourself and push during the hard workouts and of course during the race. I knew I was getting fit when I was able to comfortably push the last 4.5 miles of my 9 mile run the Sunday before the race.
Due to some tough weather in January, I condensed the timing of the strength & track workouts (typically they start 8 weeks out), I never worried about splits during any of these harder runs. My goal was to self calibrate what I thought were 5k, 10k, ½ and full Marathon paces during each of the tougher workouts. During each one I always felt like I could have gone further or completed another interval at the desired pace. This doesn’t mean that I wasn’t running fast enough, because I felt fatigued.
I’m certain I could have run faster in the race if I had a 6 or 8 mile split. Also, if I included more strength and interval workouts in my schedule, I would have benefited. I also believe that if I had used a GPS watch during the race, I would have pushed the pace a bit more during the middle and end to get under 1:30.
If you’re interested in joining me, I can put together either a custom training plan or I can personally coach you. Either program will be specific to your goals and athletic abilities. Just click on the links for details.
Your goal may be that you need to lose some weight or perhaps you want to qualify for Boston. Oftentimes many people fail to achieve their goals not because they lack talent, but because they can’t stay motivated to train and they ultimately quit. I’ve coached a few busy athletes who purchase a plan with the best of intentions, but after a few weeks, they simply disappear. Motivation is one of the biggest challenges faced by athletes. In this article, I’ll show you some proven strategies to get started and maintain your schedule of working out & training for a race.
You don’t need to get caught up overthinking thinking, taking action is easier than you think.
“It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.”
Leonardo Da Vinci
I’ve been there myself when I was plagued by injuries.I’ve also coached many runners who fall into this category. In this article, I will discuss how you can make a change. The following three steps are a proven strategy to help you Stop Thinking and Start Doing!
Set Your Priorities & Define Your “Why”
Start by defining your priorities. What do you want to achieve the most? Think of this step as defining your “why.”You want to feel connected to what you’re doing.It’s not just setting a goal, but it’s having clarity for why the goal is important.
Some examples may be losing some weight or simply improving your health. You might want to run in a race to raise money for a cause that’s important to you.Your why might be setting a Personal Record in a certain race or distance because you want to challenge yourself and improve upon previous performances.
One strategy I use to help stay motivated anytime I’m thinking of skipping a planned workout, is to think of my “why.”If it’s really important I know that I’ll figure out how to get out and complete the workout.
Project How Life Will Be When Your Goals Are Met
If you have a goal that you really want to reach, focusing on the end result (or your why) is a great strategy to help keep you on track. Think of it as giving you a purpose to do what is needed to meet the objective.
Project How Life Will Be When Your Goals Are NOT Met
This strategy is particularly helpful if you’re running to improve your health.If you feel that your health is not where you want it, then you must “pivot” and do something different. Think about what your life may be like if you don’t lose weight or improve your health. Consider the effect on your family if your health were to decline significantly. Using this strategy is an excellent way to maintain your discipline.
Figure Out How To Reduce Stress
Stress is a big factor if you’re having problems staying disciplined and on track to meet your goals. Identifying the root cause of your stress is the first step in minimizing it’s effect on your ability to follow your game plan. Whether it’s work or family related stress, it’s essential to determine how you can reduce this stress, so you can workout. It might just be that running and/or exercise are the best ways to reduce your stress. Some people like to run in the morning, so they don’t have to stress about it later in the day.Other people like to run later in the afternoon as a way to reduce the stress that’s built up during the day. Regardless, once you figure out how to reduce stress, you will have a much easier time concentrating on the accomplishing your goals.
Put Accountability Into the Mix
Try to find a way to hold yourself accountable for whatever activity or goal for which you’re trying to stay disciplined.
If your “why” is connected to a running goal, I recommend setting both short and long-term goals. It’s important to set specific goals that are consistent with your athletic abilities and your specific situation.The long term goal can be a stretch goal, but the short term goals should be realistic and align with the long term goal. All goals should not only be specific, but measurable with some kind of time to completion.
You can start with the long term goal and walk backwards with goals and/or steps necessary to ensure your success.
One caution is to set realistic goals. Qualifying for the Boston Marathon might be a big stretch if you just started to run.This could be a great long term goal, but it’s more likely that you’ll be more successful by starting small with something like working out 3-4 times per week and then completing a 5k.
Give yourself due dates for each of these goals, but don’t get discouraged if you can’t achieve everything as planned. If you’re better off than when you started, then celebrate the progress.
Momentum Comes Through Actions, so do Anything That Moves You Forward
This is one of the best strategies to accomplishing your goals.Start by identifying small next steps that are “next to impossible” for you not to complete. Every small act is significant.There’s an old saying that may help you better understand this concept, “you can’t eat an elephant in one bite.” What can you do right now to take even the smallest step towards achieving your most important goal?
Break Down Tasks in Subtasks
Following along the previous step, sometimes when a goal seems too big to tackle, this puts up barriers in our mind. These barriers often prevent us from reaching our intended results. Try using subtasks or “small bites” to make the long term goal more manageable.
As you think about your sub tasks or what you can do next, hold the expectation that the answer will be something simple that can be done in the next 30 minutes or less.Whatever reasonable answer pops into your head, accept it and act on it immediately.
Once you commit to getting started, momentum carries you. Producing results builds positive momentum.With momentum you’ll get ahead and make progress much faster.
It’s also essential to look at your progress.If your goal was to lose 20 lbs while getting in shape to run a local 5 or 10k race and on race day you lost 14 lbs, celebrate your progress.It should easily be enough to keep you going because you’re now over half way to our weight loss goal.In addition to the weight you have already lost, my guess is that you have also lost inches off your waist.When you finish the race, you will also feel very accomplished.
Workout With Others or Get a Coach
When you regularly workout with others it can really help you to stay disciplined. Many local gyms have running groups that meet 2-3 times per week.Many races also sponsor group training where runners meet regularly to complete longer runs and harder track workouts together.It’s like having a support group that holds you accountable and keeps your motivated.
If you’re able to complete your workouts on your own, but your challenge is you’re not sure what to do to prepare for a race, then a coach can help.You can join a group that has a coach who will help 5-15 people who are training for the same race.Alternatively, you can pay for a coach to write up a custom training plan that uses the athlete’s input and is specific to their goals and athletic abilities.
Some coaches allow you to schedule specific workouts to fit your weekly schedule. This is a nice feature, but what’s equally important is showing the athlete how to make adjustments to the schedule when they miss a workout. For example, many people schedule their long runs for the weekend.However, if you had a preference for another day of the week, a coach could adapt the schedule to fit your needs.
If you desire regular interaction with a coach in addition to a custom plan, then personalized coaching may be the best solution for your needs.These plans are more expensive, but they provide the ability for instant feedback and to ask questions.
I offer a very affordable monthly plan or a discounted 5 month plan that’s perfect for anyone who has signed up for a race, like a marathon, that’s 4-5 months out.
Focus on the Positive
Psychologists advise us to stay positive for a good reason. A negative attitude fuels fear and anxiety, keeping you from reaching your goals. You always think of what could go wrong instead of keeping an open mind.
Keeping a positive attitude is good for your health too. It boosts your motivation and inner drive, helps you stay strong when times get tough and gives you a fresh perspective on the world around you.