Marathon Minus Five
by: Ian Kemp
Previous article: Marathon Minus Six.
Still five months to go until that marathon! How is the running going? Hopefully you have been able to settle into a few good habits - by now you should have made a commitment to the time you need to put in for your marathon preparation. You should also be keeping a diary of the distance you have run each day and each week.
A reminder - this series of articles is intended for those running their first marathon, or those who have run one or two previously who now want to make a reasonable time. It is not intended for the elite level athlete! I will give general guidelines in these articles - I do not want to give specific training schedules as is it not really possible to set up one program which will suit everyone.
Let's continue with the same 3 simple principles mentioned last time:
- Do lots of running
- Don't get injured
- Stick to your guns
Stick to Your Guns!
To run a marathon takes an extensive period of preparation, ideally around six months, so to succeed you need to be able to maintain your focus for that long! If you are easily bored with a new activity after a few weeks, then marathon running is probably not for you - but if you are able to take on a challenge and put in a little work every day for a long period then you are already half way there.
By now you should have made room in your life for all the running you will be doing over the next few months. If the idea of running every day, say every morning or after work, seems a little daunting, think of those in other sports such as swimming and cycling, and think how lucky you are to have chosen a sport where you can reach your goal with less than an hour's training a day!
A great help when you are considering the lead up to the marathon is to seek out some others who are planning to run. You will need to do a lot of running on your own, but to meet up with others for a shared run & to discuss your progress once a week or so works wonders!
Don't Get Injured!
As mentioned last time, the key at this stage is to avoid any sudden changes in your running - increases in weekly kilometres, & in the length of your longest run must be done gradually. Also be wary of changing running shoes at a time when you are increasing your weekly k's. If you buy new shoes it is a good idea to introduce them gradually - wear them for walking in for a few days while still using the old ones for running. Then use the new shoes for a couple of your shorter runs during the week. Gradually change over from the old pair to the new ones, and give your feet, calves, quads, ankles and knees plenty of time to adjust to the slightly different support they are getting.
Do Lots of Running!
Well it's an easy thing to say, but how much is 'lots'? Sorry to disappoint you, but there is no simple answer to this question! There are really two factors which control your ability to successfully complete the marathon, one is to do with your aerobic fitness and the amount of carbohydrate energy you carry and can use, the other is to do with the strength and endurance characteristics of your muscles and joints. These two factors are interconnected, and both need to be grown to the max if you are to do your best in the marathon.
There are really two aspects to your running preparation which can build the necessary endurance, the first is the total training volume (i.e. kms per week), and the second is the training depth (i.e. the length of your longest training run). There is a third aspect, which is speed development, but this is for the more elite runner and we will not talk about it here. Obviously the length of your longest run, and the k's per week you run are related, but we can discuss them separately, and use a few basic ideas to build a training programme.
To discuss the k's per week required for a marathon runner is a good way to start an argument at any running club! Firstly there is no doubt that elite level athletes will run 200km per week or more in the lead up to a race; secondly there is no doubt that many runners have completed the marathon on 90km per week; thirdly it is true that people have completed the event on a diet of 50km per week or even less! However there is a big difference in how those people felt when they crossed the finish line! It is my belief that to complete the marathon without too much agony you need to have been running at least 90km per week for some time (say 6 weeks) before the event. To do yourself justice and record a reasonable time for yourself you should probably run 120km per week. Your times will probably continue to improve as you further increase volume, but a law of diminishing returns means that the gain in increasing from 120 to 150km/wk will be less than that resulting from the increase from 90 to 120km/week.
In planning your training programme, you are constrained by 1) the time available and 2) your current training volume. Have a look at your marathon planner, and remember what k's per week you are currently running. Ideally you would achieve at least 90km/week (and preferably 120km/week) 6 weeks before the marathon. However, I want to restrict you to only increase your weekly k's by 10 to 15km/week each month. You are now 5 months away from the marathon. So add 40 or 50km/week to your current training volume and you will see what you can reach by the time you get to that 20-mile warm up run 6 weeks before the race. If the number you get is 90km or more, you have an excellent chance to do yourself justice in the marathon. If the number was less than 90, well you can still enter and quite likely finish, but you will not be able to do the best time you could have.
In the next article we will talk more about the length of that long training run. For the time being, your planner should tell you that you are up for a '21TT' in a couple of weeks. Yes, this is your first major preparation run, in which you should aim to complete a 21.1km half marathon. Although I have labelled it 'time trial' in fact your aim should be simply to complete the distance, without destroying yourself in the process. Take it slowly, the important thing is to finish it. Do record the time you take though, as this will be of interest later. Of course for the time to mean anything, you need to get the distance fairly well accurate, so either find a half marathon race to compete in, or measure out a simple course for yourself where you can be reasonable confident that the distance is right to within a km.
Action Plan for This Month
In this article the main focus has been the k's per week. On your wall planner write in your current k's per week, then mark in your aimed k's per week at the end of each month. Work on the basis that you should increase your k's per week by 10 or a maximum of 15 each month. The other main activity this week is to attempt a 21.1km run, when you are 4.5 months from the marathon. Take it easy on this long run, then return in a month for 'Marathon minus Four'!
Ian Kemp, Cool Running Australia, 19.11.97