Last week we published a blog post which explained why current training programs don't suit the current athlete population. If you haven't seen it, GO HERE to read it first. The overview of the blog is that 20-30 years ago, the bulk of marathon runners were club runners who were already capable of running fast 5/10k events. They simply added longer training runs to provide the endurance for a marathon. The change in the running population and the growth in mass participation events means that many people are running half and full marathons, without necessarily having the background of being a 'fast 5/10k runner'.
Run fast and then keep it going...
If we look at marathon running in it's simplest form, elite runners are all very quick over 5/10k distances. They learned how to run/race quickly over shorter distances, then they added endurance by doing longer miles, so they can keep their pace going for the full marathon. If you look at the marathon plan an elite runner will follow, it works because they are already fast, they're just adding the endurance and resilience required for the marathon. If a slower runner were to follow the same plan, they'd also add the endurance and resilience, but it doesn't alter the fact that they're still a slower runner. For a large number of people taking part in marathon events today, the endurance and the resilience is not their limiting factor, it's not the thing preventing them from clocking a personal best.
Planning out your winter
Winter is traditionally a time for 'base training' but you need to forget mileage. If you're racing a spring marathon, you can add the mileage later, but at the moment if you're trying to do too much long stuff it'll be detrimental. You need to focus all your efforts on improving your 5k speed, so go and run a local ParkRun of 12.5 laps of your local running track and get a benchmark. Focus all your efforts on your 5k time and when you are 12 weeks from your marathon you can start to integrate a longer run which builds the mileage. Until then, don't run further than 60-90 minutes on your longest run.
Improving your 5k
As soon as we tell people to improve their 5k time, they instantly think 'interval training' but we need to take a step back from that. There are 3 elements that we need to work on:
1. Running technique
2. Your engine
3. Your durability and economy
This is the most critical for many people and it's the concept that people 'just don't get'. If you can't run quickly for 50m, then you certainly can't do it for 5k. Go to the running track, warm up and then with relaxed form, run quickly for 100m and time yourself, work out what that would be if you kept it going for 1600m (1 mile). If the time is slow and you can't run quickly for even 100m, then you certainly can't run quickly for 1 mile, let alone 5k.
IMPORTANT: Fitness has nothing to do with running technique. How fit do you need to be to run 100m? If you can't run 100m quickly, whilst holding smooth and relaxed form, it's a neurological / biomechanical thing. Don't worry about forefoot or heel striking, just try to run quick with a fluid form and let your body work out the best way to do it.
The issue explained above is generally the most common 'blocker' in terms of performance for most amateur runners. To resolve this 'blocker' they approach it in the wrong way, namely 'interval training'.
Interval training doesn't work...
We've just explained above that if you can't even run 100m with a fast and fluid form, then you have no chance of running 1600m at a quick pace. Nevertheless, runners will think interval training is the way forwards and will complete a training session such as 4 X 1 mile with a 2 minute recovery between each mile effort. They'll work hard on the mile efforts and will work their 'engine' (remember our 3 elements from above) but the mile repetitions are too slow... because they're still not capable of running fast, we've not tackled the root problem!
If you have a car with a big engine it's capable of going very fast, but if you let all of the air out of the tyres, it won't go fast at all. You can fine tune the engine all you like, it could be a V6 beast of an engine, but the car won't go fast, because the tyres are flat and the wheels don't roll. There's plenty of runners with decent engines... but their tyres are flat and their wheels don't roll.
The 3 step plan
1. Learn to run quickly with fluid form. Forget the forefoot stuff, that's not what I'm talking about, lots of fast runners heel strike. You just need to learn how to run fast and fluid with a relaxed style, whichever works best for you. The distances should be short, 50-200m maximum, fartlek sessions of 50-100m and acceleration or 'wind up' strides. All of your efforts should be focused on running quickly whilst staying relaxed and holding form. You need to be showing improvements over short distances such as 200-400m, if you have access to a track, that's ideal.
2. Add the engine. Once you can run quickly for shorter distances (up to 200m) you should build your engine by doing aerobic interval training and harder runs. Intervals might range from 2 minutes through to 10 minutes, tempo runs etc all have a part to play.
3. Add the durability and economy. Running a marathon requires durability, every time your foot strikes the ground, the impact causes muscle damage. It builds up over time and by the 20 mile marker, there may be some significant damage which will impact upon performance. You won't recognise it's happening as there is a delay in the inflammatory process, so it's the next morning or the one after that when you'll really know how much damage occurred during the race. Running long and slow toughens the legs and you become resistant to damage. In the old days, it was simply referred to as 'time on feet'.
For slower runners, you can make a significant difference to your running, by spending the winter simply learning to run quickly. For many it feels like too risky a process, as working hard and running many miles is a 'comfort blanket'. But if you've never tried it and you are looking to change focus and try something different, what have you got to lose?
If you found this useful, don't be selfish... share... it is Christmas after all. If you'd like some more structured guidance, we offer coaching packages for ULTRA RUNNING and TRIATHLON which cost only £40 per month, including regular sports science testing. Email email@example.com for more information. If you have any questions on the article, post them on The Endurance Store FB page below the article and we'll answer them.
The Endurance Store