Whether you are gearing up for your first marathon or are a veteran racer, there are a few things you should know before setting out to complete 26.2 miles.
Familiarize yourself with these concepts that are essential to marathon preparation. Then, be sure to post any training questions you have to the comments section.
1.) Glycogen is glucose, carbohydrates in the form of sugar, stored in the body that is utilized as the primary energy source for intense physical efforts. Most runners attempt to fuel their races and training on glycogen alone; in the form of sports drinks, energy bars, and other simple carbohydrates. However,muscle glycogen stores are limited.
To improve the rate at which you burn glycogen and improve your body’s use of fat as energy, consider breaking your addiction to carbohydrates. The Centre of Inflammation and Metabolism in Denmark recommends limiting consumption of carbohydrate drinks and gels during your long run and completing a workout on an empty stomach, before breakfast. Your body will learn to use fat for energy while sparing glycogen and preserving it for use later in your run, workout, or race.
2.) Training at your Aerobic Threshold prepares the body, heart, and lungs to withstand the stresses of endurance efforts like marathon running. Here, you are relying primarily on the aerobic, or oxidative, energy pathways while training your body to using fat to generate energy.
To improve your aerobic threshold, keep your heart rate at or below 65% of your maximum heart rate on long runs. Throughout your training you will increase your maximum heart rate and the intensity/speed you can maintain at 65% of your max. You will become more efficient at going fast, using less energy and requiring less effort.
3.) LSD – stands for Long Slow Distance and refers to long runs that are completed at a conversational or comfortable pace. This type of workout is all too prevalent in a marathon runners training program. Unfortunately, many runners focus on logging mile after mile, without regard for overtraining or overuse injuries. The focus should be on the quality of the run, not just the quantity. To improve your running technique, efficiency, and ability to go harder longer be sure to include tempo runs, hill repeats, and interval workouts like Fartleks into your training.
4.) Did someone say Fartlek?! This Swedish term meaning “speed play” is well known among runners, but is sure to draw chuckles and blank stares from a non-runner. This training technique resembles an interval workout, but is less structured. Think of it as a freeform version of speed work usually completed off of the track, without much attention paid to premeasured distance. If you are trying to improve top end speed and your ability to transition from a jog to an up-tempo effort, while decreasing recovery time, try incorporating Fartleks into your training.
5.) To run a Negative Split means to complete the last half of a race faster than the first half. Training to run a negative split will help prevent you from going out too hard at the start of a race and risk bonking (crashing, seeing stars, and totally shutting down before you finish your race).
Try running a negative split in training; pacing the first portion of your run 10 to 15 seconds slower per mile than usual. As you reach the midpoint of your workout slowly pick up the pace per mile, trying to exceed your usual pace over the last 2-3 miles of your workout. Learning to finish stronger than you start will increase your chances of sprinting across the finish line instead of crawling the last quarter mile.
During a mid-distance run challenge yourself to transition from a comfortable pace to 75-80% of your maximum effort. You can choose to pick up the pace for a specified time segment, like 2 minutes, or for distance, using landmarks like a tree, mailbox or light post as your measuring stick. Then, return to your usual pace until you are able to regain control of your breathing and heart rate.
6.) Learn how to Cross-train. Yes, I am talking to all of my friends who are “runners” or endurance athletes. Foam rolling is amazing and yoga can be very beneficial for flexibility and relaxation, but that is only the tip of the cross-training iceberg. If done correctly, a successful cross-training regimen will help you prevent injury, preserve muscle, and improve all dimensions of baseline fitness.
7.) Don’t forget to Strength Train. Feel free to include swimming, biking, hiking, and Pilates into your cross-training schedule. However, do not forget about the importance of strength training for endurance athletes. First, what not to do…Using exercise machines and performing single joint exercises (like biceps curls and leg extensions) is a waste of your time. Furthermore, if you are performing 3 or 4 sets of 15 or more repetitions thinking that you are training your muscles for endurance, you are living in the dark ages.
In reality, you should be performing full body, functional exercises and explosive Olympic-based lifts. Start your workout with a barbell exercise like deadlift, for at least 5×5. Use a weight that is challenging, but enables you get all 5 reps with perfect form. Next, move onto kettlebells, pull-ups, box jumps, or other movements that recruit multiple muscle groups and require explosive execution. Stick to 3 or 4 sets with 8-12 repetitions using a moderate/challenging weight and your can be out of the gym in 45 minutes.
8.) DNF – If you aren’t familiar with this one, I hope you never become acquainted. If you have had this experience, I hope you have learned from your mistakes and are able to use it as a source of motivation and knowledge in the future.
I know there are a ton of information out there about training for a marathon, and even more “programs” for sale. My intent was this article is to encourage you to take a harder look at your training, strengths and weaknesses, not sell you something. I hope I was able to help.
Joe is a writer, trainer and fitness entrepreneur who co-founded Hybrid Athlete LLC, Kettlebell Cardio™ and Race Day Domination. Currently building @fittinsider, a platform for founders, executives, & investors redefining fitness/wellness. Investing in health/fitness companies