28 November 2008

Real World Marathoning - Part Two

This week I am going to use the answers to your marathon questions to help explain how the fat guy on the right of the photo became the blazing triathlete on the left.  Not many people run 2:46 off the bike in an Ironman -- even fewer starting from a very comfortable 200+ lbs.

The Beginner Triathlete Forum has a thread right now on running yourself thin -- the advice that we read on the internet is typically appropriate for the guy on the left.  Most of us (even my current self) would do better following what makes sense for the guy on the right.  By the way, that really is me... quite stylish with the rolled down boxer shorts!


Q -- What do you consider to be necessary in a core marathon week for a runner targeting a flat course? ( I mean during a 13 week build up following a prep stage of 13 weeks of base training)

A -- Until you are in the top 5% of your race category, you will likely find that your ratio of base-to-build should be more like 150:6 -- six weeks of build for every 150 weeks of base.  Now that advice won't sell many magazines but I spent over five years doing nothing but base training.  Base training doesn't mean going slow all the time -- it means a focus on building endurance, sport specific strength and using a little bit of tempo/mod-hard in the week.  

I still did races but I never tried to "peak" for events -- I simply freshened up a bit went out, raced and kept on training the next week.  I raced distances that were UNDER my training distances and saved the long "events" for fun runs/hikes/climbs/adventures in training.

I am very glad that I did this.  For a new athlete, a 10K or a half marathon gives you an ample dose of "race" stimulus.  It's also a lot less painful to learn the lessons from going out to hard (we all do it!).  As an example, I tried to run an Ultramaraton in the mid-90s // had a great first 10K... was DONE by 70K.

As for training, I laid that out in my original post.  Running success does not require a sophisticated program -- what is essential is a sensible program, done daily, for seven to ten years.  My 2:46 happened more than a decade after I started running.  The body changes slowly -- when we rush the body, we get hurt.  If you are hurt then you can't run.  If you can't run then you won't improve.


Q -- I am a believer in running every day - but on some occasions it might only be 30 mins at a recovery pace. I know my "old school" running friends consider these sort of runs to be a waste of time ( "junk miles" ). Do you agree? 

A -- I covered this one in Part One -- all mileage is good mileage.  The caveat is staying healthy, injury free and being able to back up your training every day.  Personally, I count every run of 30 mins, or more.  Molina would let me count 20 mins, or more, but he's always been a little light on standards... ;-)

With daily running, you might find that seven runs across six days proves more effective than running every day.  Another "trick" I like is AM run on Day One with PM run on Day Two -- give you more than 24 hours recovery between those sessions.


Q -- One one my personal theories is it's best to do long runs first thing in the morning ( as in 5 / 6 am ) having had no breakfast. I believe this will increase fat oxidisation and will train you to run on empty - what do you think of that?

A -- Starvation training is HIGHLY attractive to endurance athletes but it isn't a magic bullet.  Denial strategies are not long term viable.  

Infrequent depletion has been shown to be useful for fat oxidation but it does nothing to address what is most limiting to fat oxidation (fuel mix and fuel timing).  In other words, to burn more fat in training (and store less when resting) one needs to address what really matters... daily nutrition.

What is essential (on a daily basis) is high quality food to nurture our bodies.  We can have a far greater impact on fat oxidative capacity by eating right (when not training) than by starving ourselves (when training).  I see this with my athletes all the time.  Fit female athletes are especially prone to the trap of a low-protein / low-fat diet.

In my elite athletic career, I never had the mental toughness to starve myself.  My race results benefitted from this 'weakness'.


Q -- Could you clarify what you mean by distinguishing between an aerobic, versus strength endurance, event?

A -- By the end of a marathon, the average athlete's legs are so trashed, they aren't able to place a meaningful load on their cardiovascular system.  By making this athlete's legs stronger performance will improve with the SAME aerobic function.  You can check whether this applies to you by using Jack Daniels' v-dot tables to compare your performance across different race distances.  Most amateur runners have a 5K time that is superior to their marathon time.  

As a practical example, it wasn't until I had run 2:49 (off-the-bike) that I felt I needed to add a specific prep block of fast finish long runs, threshold and VO2 work.  Even then it was only an eight-week block.  You will find that a longer period of the tough stuff will tend to leave you flat on race day.

I had the fastest overall run split at an Ironman race before I started training to have the fastest overall run split at an Ironman race.


Q -- When training for an IM-marathon, I suppose you might say to become efficient at max-steady-state, and when it comes time to race, don't slow down. But for an open marathon, how does your strategy change? Still need to train primarily on top end aerobic, or do you work more your glycogen burning mechanisms? When race day comes, it seems you could be a little more aggressive in your race strategy. After all, you don't have a 112 mile warm-up; right?

A -- Quite a bit here.  I'll take it in pieces.  Ironman marathoning -- what nearly everyone fails to consider is how slow an Ironman event is.  Nobody (even Crowie) is running fast in marathon terms.  What we do see is some outstanding running when totally depleted and beat up - that points to exceptional durability and aerobic economy.

Open marathoning -- again, what people fail to notice is the 'slowness' of the event.  Less than 2% of finishers are going sub-3.  Do most athletes need to be doing Yasso 800s?  My personal experience is what I needed was... eat right, burn fat, store less fat and run every day.  Until I was in the top 0.1% of triathlon runners, that was enough to improve most years for a decade.

Race Day Strategy -- I have found that on race day the struggles come with regard to humility and self-belief.  If I have any cracks in emotional well being then they will come through under stress and I will underperform.  It takes very little courage to blow one's self up in the first third of an endurance event (nearly all your peers will be there to keep you company).  It takes exceptional self-belief to race YOUR best effort and perform to your best ability.

Energy Metabolism -- Adjust this through your daily diet, not training strategies.  You'll get a much bigger performance gain.


Q -- Personally I am going to experiment with a "complex" plan like de Castella. What are your thoughts on complex training vs a Lydiard or periodised approach. I am to train mainly aerobic, incoporating a long run, a strength endurance session, sub-threshold session and hill session each week, obviously progressivly overloading these training variables throughout the plan. 

A -- Here's my blog on de Castella's book.  One of the things that surprised me about the book was how similar the approaches were.  I wasn't able to detect any real difference in terms of fundamental principles (nor can I with any great endurance program).

In terms of your approach, a solid basic week that focused on consistent mileage, hills, tempo and sub-threshold speed... I really like that for an experienced runner.  What I have found is that when you want to push your mileage up (in the winter, or early spring) you will have to greatly reduce average intensity.  

Within my own training, I have pushed mileage up to 225K (~140 miles) per week but that proved unsustainable for me.  My big weeks tend to do best in the 140-160K range (85-100 miles).  When I can tolerate that level of load for at least a month, then I can back off by 25-50% to maintain endurance, or challenge myself with an increase in average speed.  Historically, most of my running has been very slow (but so is my event and I need energy to bike/swim).  I have a ton of eccentric loading in my athletic history through walking/hiking/running downhill.


Q -- Re marathon training. Is it better to (a) run 7 times per week; (b) run 5 times, cycle once, swim 2-3 times; (c) run 3 times, cycle 1-2, swim 3 times, weights/yoga 1-2 times, nordic ski machine once?

A -- You will find that your best run (not triathlon) performances come from running often.  To run well, place an emphasis on run frequency in your training.  Cross-training, particularly cycling, is a safe way to build endurance and extend your running career.  There are a lot of beat up runners out there.


Q -- I'm interested knowing your thoughts as to how someone with a history or Achilles and calf injuries should handle training for a marathon.

A -- Address your personal limiters first, then get your run training stable for at least one year before considering signing up for an event that might hurt you.  One of the great things about triathlon is our ability to get the benefits of endurance exercise without the punishment of high-volume running.


Q -- How much swimming and biking should I interject into this winter to not lose all the base while I am training for my marathon?

A -- First thing to remember... for triathlon performance, the best program is ALWAYS a triathlon program.  Departing from a tri-program for a couple of weeks can make sense for the experienced athlete but isn't necessary.  Lack of three-sport consistency can impair long term development.

I have found that you can let your cycling slide for up to six weeks without much damage -- so long as you maintain your strength and aerobic function.  Much more than that and it does take a while to come back.

When a triathlete focuses on running, I recommend at least two swims per week to maintain.  Don't worry about slowing down in the water -- that is normal when running lots.


Hope this helps.  Happy Thanksgiving to my American readers.


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At 4:01 PM, Blogger Brett Skyllingstad said...

Thanks for the answers Gordo. Enjoyed them as always.

At 4:50 PM, Blogger Paul Fleuren said...

"I had the fastest overall run split at an Ironman race before I started training to have the fastest overall run split at an Ironman race."

I love this quote. I think it is so true. I'm always jumping the gun with my training. I need to stop false starting ;-)

Thanks for sharing

At 1:04 AM, Blogger Chris said...

Thanks Gordo. You really show how simple it is.

At 7:55 AM, Blogger Perttu Naumanen said...

Thanks for some very interesting posts (& the book), Gordo. I highly appreciate the way how you share your knowledge.

You wrote that you've run 225k/wk and are able to tolerate 140-160km/wk. I assume that you refer to IM training weeks including all three sports? That means helluva lot of total volume.

Btw, how many years between those two photos?

At 8:48 AM, Blogger Gordo Byrn said...

Years between the photos... at least a dozen. Pretty striking difference, eh?

Those big volume run weeks are done with only a couple of swim/bikes in there. In full blown tri-training, the highest sustained run mileage I've managed successfully (only a few times) was 85-100K.



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