What is a proper running foot strike?

A barefoot running technique might be slightly alien to most of us, but if you introduce it gradually, then you could benefit by having fewer injuries and improved performance.  So why is that?

We evolved to run or walk in bare feet, and each running stride ended with the front or ball of the foot striking the ground first (forefoot strike).  However, a typical long distance running technique nowadays involves the heel striking the ground first (rearfoot strike), since the vast majority of us wear a shoe with a raised  and cushioned heel. ie. a  ‘heel strike running shoe’.

I have long assumed that cushioning in the heel and the shoe as a whole is a good thing for injury prevention, especially when running on what may be considered unnaturally hard surfaces such as tarmac and concrete.  However, research has shown (see link below) that the opposite is perhaps true, and that barefoot or forefoot strike running shoes could lead to less injuries, as the runner naturally adopts a footstrike which creates less reaction force from the ground.

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/nov/21/trainers-less-cushioning-padding-loading-rate-running-reduce-injury-study

So order the barefoot shoes, throw away your old trainers and get on with it.  Not quite.  It takes time to readjust to the barefoot style, so take it slowly.  First of all, if you don’t already do so, throw away the slippers and always walk around barefoot or in socks at home.  Then, when you get your barefoot shoes, wear them when out walking and for everyday use (go to work in them if that is acceptable).  Do this for a couple of weeks,  and then build up the running steadily.  I started out by jogging/walking on grass for about twenty minutes and built up my mileage and reduced the walking spells very gradually (this suited me as I was recovering from injury anyway).

Abebe Bikilas barefoot triumph

I have been running almost exclusively in my barefoot shoes for over three months now.  I did a few runs in my old heel strike running shoes as I was working on the assumption that it would perhaps be taking it too far to run a half marathon and then a marathon in barefoot shoes on the road.  But it didn’t feel right, having got used to the forefoot running technique (in contrast, running in bare feet always felt good to me, even when I rarely did so).   I have since researched further and have been given reason to believe that it might well be safe to aim to complete these races in barefoot shoes.  For example, a number of top British runners in the 1960s, inspired by the great Ethiopian Abebe Bikila’s triumph in the Rome Olympic Marathon, regularly raced barefoot on the track and cross country. One of them, Ron Hill, even ran and won the Beverly Marathon, on the road,  unshod.  I’m not suggesting that this is something I would want to emulate, and even the great African runners of recent years don’t actually race barefoot as far as I am aware, but having the added protection of barefoot shoes is a different matter.

Ron Hill wearing shoes on this occasion

With this in mind, and a half marathon scheduled in three weeks, I am gradually increasing my road mileage (I normally try to avoid the roads – see my post on What surfaces should I train on?).   A few days ago, I completed a steady run of just over an hour on the road with no obvious ill effects, and as my half marathon pb is just over an hour and a half, then I’m hopefully already two thirds of the way there in terms of time on the road.  A couple of days later I successfully completed a tempo run of about 2 miles on tarmac, again wearing my barefoot shoes,  so half marathon race pace shouldn’t be an issue either.  We will see how I get on, and if I come through the half marathon unscathed, then I will plan to do likewise in the full marathon, which is two months later.  Before then, I will be running a (most likely very muddy) cross country race next weekend, and will be wearing my new spikes, which should be fine as they have a low heel, not unlike barefoot shoes, and I have worn them in already.  I wouldn’t consider my barefoot shoes in these conditions, as the grip isn’t that good, and I have had a few slips when running off road in wet conditions.

My barefoot running shoes

My experiment with barefoot running shoes is yet to be completed, and my performances over the next three months should tell me more.  But the evidence so far looks encouraging in terms of injury prevention, as this has been a decent  injury free spell for me (notwithstanding my very recent encounter with a couple of spaniels – see my post Dogged by bad luck?)

 

 

Product reviewSAGUARO Unisex Minimalist Trail Running Barefoot Shoes Aqua Water Sports Shoes

If you’re interested in trying barefoot shoes, but don’t want to (or can’t afford to) spend huge sums of money to find out if they suit you, then I would definitely recommend these great value Saguero minimalist shoes.  I personally like the ample width of the shoe, as I  have relatively broad feet for my size, and right from the off they felt comfortable.  I worried that they were perhaps too comfortable and would perhaps become loose, but the drawstring type lace tightening mechanism works pretty well and ensured that my feet stayed firmly in place.

Sizing seems to be pretty standard, as  I bought a pair matching my normal shoe size, and they are a perfect fit.

I tried them on a variety of surfaces, including grass of varying levels of dampness, muddy footpaths and roads.  The grip on the shoes is moderate, and I had to be very careful on very wet grass and slightly muddy footpaths, coming to grief on more than one occasion.

As explained above, the shoes can work on the road, but I did suffer stiff calves when I tried to go beyond a few miles,  especially over undulating routes.  This may be a feature of any minimalist shoes, and it obviously depends on how familiar you are with the process of running in this type of shoe.   I wore them when walking around and going about my day to day business before attempting to run in them, and I’m sure this is good advice for anyone, as is the the suggestion to at least start by running only on forgiving (and not too slippery)  surfaces .

Durability is OK.  I am seeing significant signs of wear after about three months of wearing my barefoot shoes for most training sessions (a very rough estimate would be 350 miles),  but the price means that even if they only last about four months, or 450 miles, then that would represent decent value.

So, if you are looking to try minimalist running shoes and don’t want to break the bank, you can’t go far wrong with these.

SAGUARO Barefoot Shoes Men Women Road Trail Running Shoes Indoor Gym Fitness Trainers Outdoor Hiking Climbing Walking Shoes Quick Drying Water Shoes, Grey, 7.5 UK

Update – read my recent posts Second thoughts on barefoot racing? which explains why I am probably going to make a compromise on my intention to race the half marathon and  marathon in barefoot shoes.  The later post Gone with the wind?   explains how I actually ran the half marathon (sort of) in minimalist shoes and this experience made up my mind that it would not be wise to wear them for the full marathon.

Dogged by bad luck?

Early this morning I forced myself out of bed in order to do a hill training session.  This involved a 15 minute warm up jog to the hill, a steep grassland slope about 200 metres long but which feels much longer.  My aim was to complete ten of these efforts, each interspersed by a recovery jog that takes a slightly longer but less steep route back to the start point. As I completed the recovery phase following my seventh effort, I was met by a pair of excitable spaniels who ran towards me (or more specifically my legs), and invaded my personal space in what could be generously described as an energetic and friendly  manner, but less generously might be seen as an intimidating and aggressive manner.  The owner, who seemed (and I’m sure was) a  nice enough guy, said something along the lines of “Don’t worry, it’s just their way of saying hello”.  I’m sure that this was most likely the case, but when they get so close, with teeth prominent, ears pricked and hair up, there’s  just a little part of me that thinks one of them might just take a wee bite.  I dealt with this by slowing even further to a walk to ensure that they didn’t think I was running away and see this as a fun game (with me the game).

I knew there was a chance that we would meet again as I looped back and began my next hill sprint, but was hoping that my new friends would have moved on by then.  Unfortunately, the reunion came just as I reached the end of the very steep section, and was about to move onto the moderately steep bit, where I would endeavour to stride out as far as the lactate in my legs would allow.  Determined not to be hindered, I kept going as the dogs approached, but approach they did, and it was impossible not to alter my stride as otherwise I might well have tripped over one or both dogs.  Just after this brief interaction, I felt a twinge in my left hamstring and perhaps wisely decided to abandon this particular training session and walk home  before I did any further damage. I had been tempted to turn around and point out to the gentleman that his failure to control his mutts had potentially undermined months of preparation and sabotaged my hopes of completing my first marathon in the foreseeable future.  Thankfully, I thought better of this, and the prompt decision to curtail the session, along with a spell on the massage roller, has hopefully ensured that I won’t be out of action for more than a day or two.

Friend or foe?

Now, I like dogs on the whole and can see their attraction.  They often look cute, they are loyal (for example, aggressively scaring off perceived threats such as runners minding their own business)  and they provide companionship and someone who appears to listen without answering back.  I also agree that it is much more enjoyable and beneficial for both hound and owner if they are able enjoy the countryside without being constantly attached to each other by a leash, even one that could double as a measuring tape for the javelin.  But if you are going to do this, then the mutt needs to be properly trained, in order to  learn that it is not socially acceptable to get up close and personal with people who are not familiar to them.  I could make one or two suggestions as to how you might go about doing this, but I think it’s safest to advise that you seek expert assistance if you own a dog that exhibits elements of antisocial behaviour.

Training update – energy gels promising?

Saturday 11th January

Just starting to see the first real signs of coming into form. Yesterday, I was out working from 8.30 to 3.30, and didn’t manage to eat in that time, but I was pretty keen to get out and do some useful training before it got completely dark.   So I decided that I would do a tempo run, over a route that is mostly country footpaths with a final section on the road, and which takes about forty minutes if going at my usual steady run pace.   Given that there was a serious chance I would be lacking energy due to working and not having eaten for seven hours, I decided to try taking an isotonic energy gel, plus a cup of tea, as soon as I got in, even though I would have to set off just ten to fifteen minutes afterwards and it might not have kicked in by then (I believe they take 15-20 minutes to start to work for you).

So off I went, getting into a fairly rapid rhythm and working hard for the first mile or so, knowing that there was a decent downhill stretch to recover.  This was followed by a tough uphill section, then a shorter up and down bit, before the finishing stretch on tarmac, which is a fairly flat mile and a quarter.  In spite of pushing it quite hard on the previous undulating sections, I felt particularly strong and energetic during this final phase, and wonder if the energy gel was starting to kick in at this stage.  My finishing time of 34 minutes 43 seconds suggests I must have been doing something right, as my previous best time for this route was 36 minutes flat.

I took another one as I began my ten minute warm down jog, in order to aid my recovery and see how I felt about taking one as I was running.  I did find that I had to slow right down to take one, but I guess that we are talking about something in the region of ten seconds, at the most, being lost for each gel taken, and if you weigh that against the prospect of hitting the wall, that is a small price to pay.

I do worry that the energy gels are a bit heavy and awkward to carry, especially if you are going to take 6 to 8 during the race.  Unfortunately, the race I am entered in only has water available on the course, so I will need to carry my own fuel, unless I can get my wife to meet me at a couple of strategic points (not much chance of that).  Iv’e started looking at the different options for carrying the gels and will try one or two of the methods on my long run tomorrow.

Update – Sunday 12th January

I decided to try the method of attaching the gels to the waistband at the side of, and inside, my shorts, using safety pins.  I attached two 60ml gels by each hip, and this worked very well.  Being at the side meant that they weren’t interfering with my stride to any noticeable degree , and the fact that they were attached meant that they weren’t bouncing around.  As I was wearing boxer briefs similar to the one in the photo (right), there were no chafing issues, which perhaps might be the case had I worn simple briefs.  It was tricky to attach the sachets, trying to avoid puncturing the part which contains the gel, but I was able to do it, and the advice to rip off the sachet when ready to take one worked fine (though the effect on the pin varied, with one pin bending, another remaining in place, and the other opening up without bending).  As a good environmentalist I inserted the empty gel packs in my pocket after use, and generally found that I wasn’t having to slow significantly as I carried out my feeding procedure.

So I was able to carry four 60ml gels in this manner, and I’m fairly sure that another gel could have been attached by each hip without causing any significant restriction.  However, I am more worried that the extra weight might create just a little too much downward force on the shorts, which could lead to an awkward situation, or more likely to having to tighten the strings of the shorts to an uncomfortable level to avoid it.  Will try this out though and, if its no good,look at carrying the extra two gels in my hands or on my arms (perhaps tucking into wristbands like the ones sported by Rafa Nadal in the photo?).  I’m pretty confident that six gels will be enough for me if I ensure I am fully carb loaded before the race, but I will continue to research this.

TORQ Energy 45g Gels – Mixed Flavours (8 Pack)

SIS Go Isotonic Energy Gel Pack & Go Energy Mini Bar Pack (Mixed Flavours)

Carb loading before the marathon

Carb loading before the marathon, to a greater or lesser degree, is something that all competitors should consider.

On the day, the priority is to maximise your energy stores in order to maintain a reasonable pace for the whole distance, and this means ensuring that you have as much glycogen as possible stored in your muscles and liver.  Carb loading, which simply involves eating a higher proportion of carbohydrates in the last 2-3 days before the race, can go some way to helping you to achieve this, providing you have done the training beforehand.

Some experts suggest that carb loading can be even more effective if you go through a depletion phase. This begins with a long run a week before the race, which depletes the glycogen in your muscles.  Muscle glycogen levels are kept low by following a low carbohydrate diet for about three days after this, before the final carb loading in the last 2-3 days.   This can be a risky strategy, however, and others suggest that depletion runs (typically a long run, first thing in the morning, without breakfast) are more useful in terms of training the body to burn fat more effectively, and these are best completed in the early phase of training.  The reasons for this are:

  1. Your long runs in the early phase are short enough to be able to complete in the fasted state (perhaps 10-15 miles).
  2. You need to practice your race day nutrition routine during the longer long runs (perhaps 15-20 miles) that you carry out closer to race day.

When I trained for my one and only half marathon, most of my long runs in the last 6 to 8 weeks before the race were completed in the fasted state over approximately the half marathon distance.  This, along with other work such as hill training, intervals and tempo runs, and a sensible recovery schedule, resulted in a very pleasing performance of 1 hour 32 minutes and 21 seconds. This time may seem impressive to some and unimpressive to others, but I definitely achieved close to my peak performance (it compares very favourably with my 10K and 10 Mile best times), so my preparation was effective.

I actually plan to run this same event again in February, prior to my debut marathon in April, and intend to follow a similar training routine, with the aim of getting another good half marathon time.  This then gives me about 9 weeks to build up the mileage on the long run and establish a nutrition strategy for the 26.2 mile event, hopefully in the knowledge that I have well developed fat burning mechanisms to help me keep going reasonably strongly for a ‘double half marathon’.

Trying out your carb loading schedule, including the foods you actually consume, prior to at least a couple of the long training runs, is strongly advised.  For example, many experts suggest sticking to more processed carbohydrates to minimise any possible negative effects of fibre on the guts.  However, others will argue that you should stick with what you are used to, so if you normally eat wholemeal bread, for example, then you should continue to do so during carb loading.  So the only sure way is to experiment and see what works for you.  For example, I like porridge oats and value its healthy and nutritious properties, but have found that it feels heavy on my stomach if eaten as my pre-race breakfast.  Perhaps I will try flapjacks as an alternative, probably in addition to bananas and possibly toast and marmalade.

It is also strongly recommended that, as well as water, you take on carbohydrates during the race.  These may be in the form of energy gels or drinks, or sweets such as jelly babies.  You might even want to eat a ripe banana immediately prior to the race. Again, the key is to experiment on your long training runs and see what works best for you.

I have just bought a pack of isotonic energy gels of different flavours, and I took one of these (and water) after about 9 miles of my 13 mile training run today, to see how easily I can take them while running.  My hands were cold so I found it hard to open the sachet but I just about managed it. It was a bit like sucking on a sachet of hotel shower gel, and the taste wasn’t much better, but if it does the trick that’s not important to me.  Medicine doesn’t have to taste nice (though I used to love the cough syrup I was given as  child).  I can’t say I noticed any effect, positive or negative, on my energy levels during the last thirty minutes of my run, compared to when I just carried on without food (or water), though I would probably need to go further to notice any benefit.

My isotonic gels contain 30ml of gel with 22g of carbohydrate in each, so if I choose this option I will be looking to take one every half and hour during the marathon.   Since these isotonic gels are quite heavy, especially if I am going to be carrying six of them, I am now going to order and try some non-isotonic energy gels.  These will be lighter since they aren’t trying to provide water, which you can get at the drinks stations.  The possible disadvantage is that they may be a bit sticky and harder to take when running, so watch this space and check out my post Training update – energy gels promising? 

Marathon diet plan – training phase

I have always felt that a balanced diet covers all our needs, and  extras such as  vitamin pills, protein supplements or energy drinks are unnecessary.

However, the nature of the marathon means that extra attention is needed to ensure that you don’t run out of energy on the day.  But in this post I will be highlighting the basic principles needed to develop an effective and realistic marathon diet plan for the whole training period rather than race day itself, which will be dealt with in another post.

When considering the diet for an endurance activity, there is naturally an emphasis on carbohydrates as the prime food source, since you need a good supply of glycogen to power your muscles for a prolonged period. But you also need plenty of protein to enable muscle tissues to repair effectively after each workout, some fat as an alternative energy source and to allow the absorption of the fat soluble vitamins, fibre to maintain healthy intestines, and also foods that contain antioxidants, which help mop up the extra free radicals that can be produced when we respire more rapidly. The good news is that a relatively normal well-balanced diet, perhaps chosen with a little extra thought, will cover all these bases. So let’s have a brief look at all the key components of a well-balanced diet that, along with a sensible training and recovery schedule, should give you a good chance of achieving your race goals.

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates can be classified as simple or complex.  Simple carbohydrates are basically sugars such as sucrose (ordinary sugar), glucose or fructose.  As these require little or no digestion, they give a quick release of energy when required, and therefore can be very useful during the marathon as part of an energy drink or gel, or in sweets such as jelly babies. Most of the time, however, it is much healthier to consume complex carbohydrates, as they need to be broken down by digestion and so allow a slow and steady release of energy without rotting your teeth of giving rise to a sugar rush.

Potatoes, pasta, rice, bread and cereals are perhaps the most common go to guys for complex carbohydrate, and they all do the job effectively.  However, most dieticians would recommend focussing on less processed carbohydrate sources, such as potatoes, brown rice, quinoa and beans rather than white pasta and bread, which are the result of wheat processing.  Quinoa and beans are also good sources of protein. Wholegrain bread, rice and pasta are healthier than those made from white flour, as they contain fibre and a whole lot (like the pun?) of other important nutrients.  Oats are another good source of carbohydrate and also contain a significant amount of protein, plus a variety of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.  And don’t forget bananas, which have the advantage of needing no preparation, as well as being a great source of  fibre and potassium.

Protein

Protein is needed to build and repair muscle tissue, so perhaps the easiest way to get this protein is to eat the muscles of another animal, ie. meat or fish.  I personally try to avoid red meat as I believe that beef production in particular is very bad for the environment and the health drawbacks (eg. the production of bad cholesterol) outweigh any advantages.  Fish (especially oily fish such as salmon, trout or mackerel), chicken and eggs are excellent non-vegan options, whilst lentils and the previously mentioned beans and quinoa are among the choices that are acceptable to everyone. Most of these foods will go at least some of the way to replacing not just the protein, but the essential vitamins and minerals (eg. iron and the B vitamins) that come with red meat.

Fats

We need some fat, as an energy source but also to supply us with fat soluble vitamins such as A and E, but the majority of people have too much fat in their diet, hence the obesity crisis.  And it’s not just that people eat too much fat, but that they are eating the wrong type of fat – the ‘bad fat’.

The ‘bad fats’ are saturated fats, found in animal fat and therefore lard and butter (and other dairy products such as cheese) and more surprisingly in coconut oil and palm oil (so palm oil production isn’t just a disaster for the rainforests, but it’s not great for human health too).  The ‘good fats’ are unsaturated fats, and these are found in almost all plant based oils (eg olive oil, sunflower oil, sesame oil and various nut oils) as well as avocados and most nuts. Peanut butter is obviously a good source, but often it contains added palm oil, so watch out for this and be prepared to pay a little more to get the palm oil free option. Oily fish, such as salmon, trout and mackerel, are also excellent sources of unsaturated fats, and also boast long chain omega 3 molecules, which have a range of key roles, including the maintenance of low blood pressure.

Fibre

Pre-race nerves are very effective at promoting bowel clearance, but a longer term solution requires a diet containing plenty of fibre.  The simple answer is to eat lots of fruit and vegetables and wholegrains (in eg. cereals and bread).  These foods tend to have a variety of other health benefits, including antioxidant effects (see below), so it really is worthwhile having your five (or more) a day.

 

Antioxidants

Antioxidants are molecules that do exactly what it says on the tin – counteract oxidation in the body, a process that is more likely to occur when we exercise aerobically. They do this by mopping up harmful free radicals, the particles that are believed to cause mutations of DNA and potentially increase the risk of cancer and other diseases.  Foods that are high in antioxidants include green leafy vegetables such as kale and spinach (Popeye was onto something), fruits, carrots, whole grains, oily fish, seafood and lean meats, as they contain important minerals such as zinc, iron, magnesium and copper, and vitamins such as C and E.

Affordability and convenience

It’s very easy to give advice on what you should and shouldn’t eat. However, financial and time constraints can make it difficult to follow all the suggestions.  Healthy options are not always the cheapest options, and fresh fruit and vegetables, oily fish and nuts, for example, can be relatively expensive.  But you may find that beans of various types can be more affordable and can cover much of your protein needs.  Bananas, potatoes, rice and pasta are also usually relatively inexpensive, and remember that you don’t need much meat or fish in your diet to cover your protein needs, especially if you eat lots of beans, lentils, etc.  A breakfast including porridge oats is another cheap and effective choice. The thing is do what you can.  Any positive changes, however small, are potentially beneficial. For example, if your lunchtime cheese sandwich made with white bread is replaced by peanut butter on wholemeal bread, and you follow it with an apple or other fruit instead of a chocolate bar or biscuit, then that’s progress.

26 week marathon training plan

The objective: Complete a marathon race in your personal target time.

Start point:  Basic running fitness base evidenced by consistently running at least two hours per week over 3 or 4 training sessions.

Phase 1 (1- 9 weeks) :

Do a long run, a medium length run and two shorter runs, one of which should be done at a good tempo (perhaps your target marathon race pace) and the other would be a gentler recovery run. The “rest” days might include other activities such as walking, swimming or cycling.  You should plan to gradually increase the length of each run as you progress through this phase. It would also be a good idea, during the latter weeks, to do some competitive races, perhaps 5k or 10k road races, or cross-country events. Any race would replace the tempo run in the schedule, as that is effectively what it is.

Middlesborough Parkrun

 

Possible schedule progression during Phase 1

This, and those for the later phases, are example schedules and you should adapt these to your own needs. Consider, however, that the principle of training for periods of time rather than distance is applied, so stronger athletes will get more mileage from the same program. See my article Train for minutes not miles for the rationale behind this.

Week 1

45 mins steady run (long)

35 mins steady run (medium)

25 mins tempo run

30 mins recovery run

Week 9

90 mins steady run (long)

60 mins steady run (medium)

40 mins tempo run

45 mins recovery run

Phase 2 (10-14 weeks): 

Maintain the duration of runs from week 9, but introduce hill training in lieu of, alternately, the medium length run and the tempo run. Hill training is like interval training, but the intense efforts are uphill, which develops leg strength but at a moderate pace, thus reducing the chance of injury, especially muscle strains. Read my article on Hill training for more information. Aim to do a couple of races, up to no more than 10 miles, during this phase.

Hill training

Two week example schedule for phase 2:

Week 10

90 min steady run

50 min hill session

40 min tempo run

45 min recovery run

Week 11

90 min steady run

60 min steady run

50 min hill session

45 min recovery run

Phase 3 : (15 to 18 weeks):

  1. Increase the length of the long run, but only on alternate weeks. On the other weeks maintain the duration of week 9.
  2. Alternate the hill sessions with interval training. Be cautious when beginning intervals, ensuring that you gradually become accustomed to running at a faster pace, and do the sessions on a soft surface such as grass, sand or dirt-track.Interval training heart rate graph

(Diagram shows how the heart rate might alter during an interval session.)

Half marathon paceband

  1.   Add an extra recovery run every two weeks, perhaps between the tempo run and the interval session.
  2.    Target a half-marathon race at the end of this period.

 

Two week example schedule for phase 3:

Week 17

110 min steady run

45 min tempo run

40 min recovery run

8 x 5 mins intervals  with 2 mins jog recovery

45 min recovery run

Week 18

90 min steady run

60 min steady run

60 min hill session

45 min recovery run

Phase 4: (19-23 weeks)

Continue to build the long run every two weeks, and replace the hill session with pure intervals on the flat (unless you are doing a particularly hilly marathon!). A 10k, 10 mile or even a half-marathon race at some stage would be recommended.

Two week example schedule for phase 4:

Week 22

90 min steady run

10 x 5 mins intervals at just under race pace with 2 min jog recovery

60 min steady run

45 min recovery run

Week 23

150 min steady run

40 min recovery run

45 min tempo run

40 min recovery run

4 sets of (6 min 4min 2 min) with one min jog recovery within sets and two min between sets.

45 min recovery run

Phase 5: (24-26 weeks)Take it easy

The final straight. Here you should be focusing on winding down and ensuring that your muscles are fully recovered, allowing you to show the full benefit of all the training you have been doing. If you want a prep-race, do it at least two weeks before the main event.

Cut the mileage down to about 75% of the week 23 maximum on week 24, then drop this to 50 % and then 30% in the final two weeks. The key is to reduce the volume, but not the pace, as this should ensure you maintain a good stride length and tempo without building up fatigue, and ensuring that you arrive at the start line fresh as a daisy and raring to go!

Week 24

80 min steady run

8 x 5 mins intervals at just under race pace with 2 mins jog recovery

50 min steady run

40 min recovery run

Week 25

50 min steady run

30 min tempo run

2 sets of (6 min – 4min – 2 min) with one min jog recovery within sets and two min between sets.

30 min recovery run

Week 26

40 min steady run

20 min tempo run or 4 x 5mins intervals with 2 min jog recovery

30 min recovery run

26.2 mile race (Don’t forget this!)

marathon-finish

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So what’s stopping you?

I hope you have found the above suggestions of interest, and are keen to target a marathon and carry out an appropriate training plan.   If you want a more in depth guidance, then the Hanson method  (below) is favoured by many.

Whatever the details of your final training schedule, please listen to your body and be prepared to ease off when it is telling you to to slow down or stop.

Good luck!




Can you avoid hitting the wall?

Teaching your body to burn fat more effectively can go a long way to helping you to avoid hitting the dreaded wall during a marathon, or at least reduce its impact.

So what precisely is the marathon wall,  what processes give rise to it and most importantly what can we do about it?

Glycogen vs Fat

When we exercise, we use two main energy stores; glycogen (carbohydrate) and fat.  At any stage during exercise, we need to use a combination of these sources.

Glycogen is stored in your muscles and liver, and is rapidly and readily converted into glucose to fuel respiration, the chemical reaction that releases energy for life and which is summarised below.

The respiration equation

However, the liver and muscles can only store a limited amount of glycogen, so in an event like the marathon, it is likely to run out unless replenished.  This typically occurs around the 18 to 20 mile mark and leads to the effects that we marathon-collapse.jpgassociate with hitting the wall (ie. weakness, disorientation, blurred vision and generally feeling pretty dreadful).  The photo on the right shows the famous but distressing sight of the British athlete Jim Peters, then the world marathon record holder, trying in vain to reach the finish line in the 1954 Commonwealth Games in Vancouver.  He was 17 minutes ahead of the field and ten minutes ahead of his own world record schedule with less than 400 metres to go, but his exhaustion was so great that he just could not make it to the finish unaided.  Peters retired from racing that day and recognised that he could have died, a point that we should all consider if we hit the wall this badly (or become in any way seriously distressed during the race).  Remember there are always other races on other days.

Fat is stored in a variety of locations and provides a longer lasting supply of energy, though it is released more slowly. However, the metabolic pathways involved mean that fat cannot be efficiently burnt without some glycogen, so when the glycogen runs out you can’t effectively access the fat stores.  This then leads the body, in its desperation, to utilise a third, emergency energy source – protein.

This is bad news for the athlete because the skeletal muscle cells that you are hoping to power you to the line are being sacrificed as an (inefficient) energy source. So it’s no surprise that things start to go awry at this stage.  A key part of the solution to this problem is to find a way of teaching your body to burn a higher proportion of fat during the earlier phases of the race, and therefore better preserve the limited glycogen supplies.

 

So how do you train your body to burn more fat? 

The ratio of fat to carbohydrate (from glycogen) burning is related to the speed or intensity of the exercise and it is no surprise to find that the slower burning, longer lasting energy store (ie. fat) is utilised more during long slow runs. Therefore, one of the key training benefits of completing long runs at a comfortable pace is linked to the development of fat burning efficiency.  Slow and steady really does win the race!

 

The graph below illustrates  how the proportion of fat burnt increases (and carbohydrate use reduces) as the intensity of exercise reduces.

 

What else can you do to delay the onset of the wall?

Nutrition, throughout your training programme, in the last couple of weeks before the race and during the race itself are clearly key factors in helping the athlete to reduce the impact or even avoid the wall altogether.

Questions to ask might include:

Do I need to do anything special other than maintain a normal balanced diet, as perhaps typified by the “Eatwell plate” on the right?

Is there an ideal ratio of carbohydrate to protein in my diet during the main training period?

Should I alter my diet in the days leading up to the race (eg. carb loading)?

Should I use energy gels or other fast absorbing food sources, such as ripe bananas, during the race?

These and other questions will be discussed in the articles  Marathon diet plan – training phase and Carb loading before the marathon.

 

 

Busy life? Try the extended warm down

Ideally, I like to spread my training out over 4 to 6  days of the week, but practicalities can dictate otherwise.

When I am trying to introduce more intense work such as intervals, hills or sustained tempo runs, whilst also building up the mileage, it can be a squeeze.  The extended warm down can be a solution to this, effectively giving ‘two sessions for the price of one’.  Here’s an example.

Yesterday, having been unable to train for two days due to having very long working  hours, I decided to do a thirty minute tempo run.  As usual, I did ten minutes easy running as warm up before beginning my more intense effort.  However, on completing the thirty minutes at a higher tempo, I continued running at an easy pace for a further forty minutes, giving a total of eighty minutes running, which equates to a decent endurance session.  I noticed during the ‘warm down’ that my legs initially felt fairly heavy, as one might expect after a relatively hard effort, but after about ten minutes this feeling disappeared and my running felt as easy as if I had been running at this speed for the whole session.   Which perhaps suggests that the extended warm down might actually be more effective at clearing any lactic acid in the muscles, in comparison to a more standard warm down of say ten minutes.  Today I went out for a 45 minute easy run and felt fine, with no obvious carry over fatigue or stiffness from yesterday’s session, which perhaps provides further evidence for the effectiveness of the ‘two for the price of one’ session in terms of recovery.  It’s as if the two elements complement each other.  The faster work makes the steady running seem easy, at least psychologically, whilst the sustained period of slower running more effectively clears the muscles of lactic acid.

First marathon target time setting

If you have trained for and completed a half-marathon then you can work out your target time in a number of ways:

  • Double your half-marathon time and add 10-15 mins.
  • Add 30-45 seconds per mile to your half-marathon pace
  • Multiply your half-marathon time by 2.1.

 

I prefer the last method.  Here is an example using the x 2.1 method:

Kelly has a half marathon best of 1hr 45 minutes

Convert this into just minutes:  60 + 45 = 105 minutes

Multiply by 2.1  =  210 + 10.5  =  220.5 minutes

So Kelly could realistically aim to complete the marathon in 3 hours 40.5 mins or 3hours 40 minutes 30 seconds.

To calculate the target pace, go back to the 220.5 minutes version of the target time and divide it by 26.2 to get the target pace per mile.  Calculator needed here!

ie.  220.5/26.2   =  8.416 minutes per mile

But what is 0.416 of a minute in seconds?

0.416 x 60 = 25 seconds

So if Kelly can arrive at the start line as well prepared for the marathon as they had been for their half-marathon best performance, then they should be aiming for even 8 minutes 25 second miles. However, the marathon can be a cruel event, and if you agree with the concept of discretion being the better part of valour, then perhaps 8 minutes 30 second miles might be a safer bet for Kelly in the early stages (especially as the numbers are nicer!).  This would only equate to two extra minutes over the whole distance, and this could easily be clawed back in the second half of the race if it turned out to be too conservative.

My running story

Many runners have completed multiple marathons, but to me it represents a huge personal challenge.

I want to complete the distance, but I also want to be able do it  in under three and a half hours, which is a fairly conservative target given my one and only half marathon time of 1 hour 33 minutes.  In other words, I don’t just want to do it, I want to do it well.  I am guessing that I am not alone in this ambition and that there are others like me who are contemplating attempting their first marathon some years after what would normally be considered their physical prime. My First Marathon will provide a centre for information links and shared ideas, including topics such as training methods and schedules, long term and pre-race diet, footwear and other kit, injury treatment and prevention, and psychological approach.

John