Decision made. 12 months. One goal. To complete your first Marathon distance event.
The question that comes next to mind is; how do I train for such a distance? Granted that 12 months seems like a long time away, but where do I start? How much mileage do I need to clock? How frequent should I run a week? I’ve heard of Tempo Runs and Long Slow Distance (LSD) Runs, but what do they mean? Should I be taking part in any other running events in between? If these (and other questions) are playing over and over in your head, this article was specially crafted with you in mind.
This training program was prepared with the assumption that you have been running regularly for some time already, have a couple of half marathon finishes under your belt and are committed to training for what will be the longest distance you have ever covered on foot. This program was also designed to ensure that you complete the marathon distance within the standard cut-off time of 6 hours, and to do it comfortably.
The base of every long distance running program is the LSD whereby an LSD run is a form of aerobic endurance training done at an comfortable pace which one can hold a conversation while running. Generally, LSD’s are run at about 65-80% of your maximum heart rate. Why run LSD’s, you ask? First, it prepares your body to adapt to the constant pounding of pavement and prepares your joints and muscles to withstand the repetitive motion of running for longer durations. Secondly, it improves your cardiovascular system, strengthens the heart and increases the blood supply to the muscles; which biologically enhances the body’s capacity to deliver oxygen to your muscles. Third, by going for a slow and long run, it teaches and enhances your body’s ability to burn fat as a source of energy rather than the limited stores of glycogen. Depleting or fully utilizing glycogen early in a race would lead a runner to experience sudden fatigue and loss of energy or in running term, “hitting the wall”.
LSD runs also give you opportunity to practice your fueling and hydration strategy, learn how different parts of your body react to long runs, e.g. are there any chafing, blisters, side stitches, joint pains, muscle cramps, etc., and also to try out new gears you plan to wear on race day. Run LSD’s once a week for a start starting with your longest distance you have run and gradually build up by 10% distance for each subsequent LSD run. Every 4 weeks, take a break from LSD running so that your body recuperates from the stresses you put on your body. Slowly increase your LSD mileage until you reach a long run of up to 32km in training. Remember that timing does not really matter in your LSD runs. – Azrulhisyam
Another aspect of training that gives good benefit to long distance runners is interval training runs. Interval training is an important part of any training program. A misconception is that interval training is only for shorter distance training, which is so untrue. We run the most efficient when we run fast. By doing intervals, we are training our body to be more efficient by repeating the coordination of the muscles and nervous systems, while at the same time, teaching the body to be more efficient in the delivery of the oxygen rich red blood cells through the body and helps strengthen the cardiovascular system. In general, interval training comprises of the following: warm up, high effort, recovery, cool down.
Use the warm up to prepare your body for the workout, while cool down is to ease the body back after the hard session. The high effort and recovery sections will be repeated N numbers of time, with the high effort section being hard effort, while the recovery sections give you the breather before going for next hard effort. You can use time or distance for interval, example: 400m/100m (400m fast, 100m recovery jog or walk) or 2 min/1 min (2 min fast, 1 min recovery jog or walk). The ratio is important, as you become fitter; the high effort section naturally should become longer while the recovery section becomes shorter. Another way to do interval is to use signage or fixtures around you, for example run from one lamp post to the next three, and then recover for one.
The unstructured nature of this is normally called Fartlek, and it can keep you alert as you engage with your surroundings. Hill work is also another variance of interval that can improve your strength as well. For marathon training, incorporate at least one session of interval training in a week, and make sure the high effort section is at least 1KM or 5 mins, with recovery section slowly ranging down to 200M or 1 min, repetition should range from 3 to 6 reps each session. – Roy Yeow
A third type of training session that should be incorporated into marathon training after building up base fitness, is the Tempo session. Tempo refers to “time and pace” and it is run at a “comfortably hard pace”, which is an oxymoron actually. Tempo run is easily the hardest to perform, as the key to a good tempo is to commit to the workout.
Long runs are good to build endurance but a tempo run ensures you a sustained ability to hold race pace over the racing distance. Imagine if you could run at a same constant speed over the racing distance – tempo run sets you up for that. Tempo run improves the metabolic fitness or how efficiently your body will utilize both oxygen and fuel at any given time during the training or race.
For tempo run to work, you will need to commit to a known best 5km or 10km run timing. This will be the reference where your tempo will be derived. Next is to know the average pace (in minute to complete a km distance or min/km) from those results. A 30-minute 5km lands you a 6:00 pace (meaning 6 minutes to complete 1km, so 6mins x 5km =30mins). Likewise, a 60-minute 10km gives you the same 6:00 pace. Lets use the 6:00 pace as example. Tempo pace is just a simple addition of 10 seconds to 30seconds slower than your best pace. This gives you a 6:10 to 6:30 pace range. If you feel the slower pace (6:30) is too comfortable for you, run it at decremental pace of 10s until it gets “comfortably hard”. There is always the tendency to go faster, but remember this is not speed work. Stay with the pace!
During a tempo session, warm up with a slow jog for about 10mins to get your body into gear. Start off the tempo with a run about 15 mins at a slower pace (eg 6:30 tempo pace), followed by next 20 mins at higher intensity (eg 6:10 tempo pace). If you feel up to it, continue with a slightly decremental pace (eg 6:20 tempo pace) for another 15 mins. Cool down with a slow jog or walk for 10 mins to finish off the session.
You should continuously reassess your tempo pace, as the longer you train and the stronger you get; your tempo pace gets faster and faster. Make the tempo workout the mainstay of your training of 2 to 3-times a week. Slot in the other workouts above like the interval runs and LSD and you are ready to take your run to the next level. – Lim Ee-Van
You may also consider signing up for shorter running events like the half marathon distance or 10km runs in the lead up to your marathon. Run these races as part of your training program, either taking them as an LSD session, or a tempo run. However, try to do your last long run or race at least 2 weeks prior to marathon race day, so as not to burn yourself out with an effort that will tax your body.
Running a marathon is not just in the legs though. It is a whole body workout and the upper body, shoulders and neck gets stressed from hours of pounding on the road towards the finish line. To complement all the running sessions, a marathoner-in-training should also incorporate some basic strength and conditioning exercises into their regime. Simple bodyweight exercises like push-ups, chin-ups and planks work the upper body and core muscles, and allows for better posture and efficiency during running. It is also advisable to perform static stretching exercises for your major muscle groups like your quads, hamstrings, calves and hip flexors after every running session. This helps keep your muscles limber and reduces muscle tightness which may lead to injuries. Yoga exercises are also highly recommended as complementary workouts, especially on rest days.
The beauty of running a marathon; is not just about the race itself. It is not only the destination, but the journey that matters. Every ounce of effort you put in, every early morning run you wake up to, every drop of sweat you shed, and every kilometer of mileage you clock builds the story of your marathon. Write that story with passion, and enjoy the journey injury-free by understanding the basics of a marathon training program that will guide you towards your goal.