As we embark upon any challenge there are pitfalls and traps that we should attempt to avoid if we wish to attain success. Marathon training, and running in general, have more than their fair share; probably far more than I could comfortably list on a blog post. That having been said, here are a couple that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately and wanted to touch on.
Trap the First: Racing Your Training.
When training for a race (as opposed to just running to keep fit) every run should have a purpose. Spend enough time around runners and you’ll almost certainly hear the phrase “periodization” tossed around. In simple terms, periodization is the systematic planning of training periods, with different specific training added each period and the aim of “peaking” at the right time. As it applies to endurance athletics (again, speaking in general terms) the periods tend to be:
- Base – This is where we build our aerobic engine. There are lots of differing opinions on this phase (from Lydiard‘s 100 miles per week to Maffetone’s somewhat more controversial thoughts) but what’s clear is that the base phase is what gives us the endurance and aerobic conditioning to prepare our bodies for the more demanding training to come.
- Build – We’ve built the engine, now we have to tune it. Here is where workouts such as hill repeats or speed intervals are added. For the marathon traditionally one or more long runs per week are added.
- Taper – A planned reduction in training volume over a short period of time leading up to the race allowing maximum recovery so you get to the start line fresh and sharp.
- Race – The thing you’ve worked toward. Self explanatory!
(Unless you’re my friend Jeff who likes the “base… taper” school of thought, but that’s a post for another day)
If you’d like more information on this sort of thing there are a TON of great books out there. Perhaps soon I’ll put together a list of my favorites. Anyway the point here is that by understanding which phase we are in and what that phase is intended to accomplish we can break it down to an individual workout level, and that’s where we learn to avoid the trap of Racing Your Training. For example I am currently smack dab in the middle of my base training. The intention of base training is (in my opinion) not to make you faster, but to build the leg strength and aerobic endurance to prepare your body for the more demanding training to come while also developing your body’s fat burning process. Running fast, relative to your current fitness, accomplishes none of these goals! In fact, it’s probably putting you on the path to injury. Now is when you can slow down and just enjoy your runs. Find someone to run with that you can talk to. If your speech gets choppy, you’re going too fast! Now please don’t take this to mean you should always run slowly, after all during the build phase there should be one or more quality speed-focused workouts every week, but even then we need to slow WAY down on our recovery days. Whenever I read about a western elite runner spending time in Kenya or Ethiopia they consistently remark that the key difference between how the African runners train and the Western runners is that the Africans go faster on their hard days, and much slower on their easy days.
Trap the Second: Becoming a Slave to the Numbers.
This has always been a tough one for me. I love me some stats. What I have often found myself doing in the past would be going out for a run that was a planned distance and when I didn’t really feel it forcing myself to complete the distance even at the expense of future runs. Or, even if I DID somehow manage to bag a run early and save myself a little I’d find myself looking at the planned weekly mileage and trying to either squeeze in additional runs or add those miles back to another run. Sometimes I’d get lucky and it would all work out, but usually not. We need to learn to listen when our body is trying to tell us something. Running 45 instead of 50 miles probably won’t have any real effect on our training, but picking up an injury most certainly will (ask me how I know!).
So to summarize – run your slow runs slower than you think you should, run your fast runs faster than you want to, and listen to your body. Now if I can manage to listen to my own advice I might actually have a decent set of races this year!