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How to succeed at your first marathon

Posted: Jul 30 2018

How to succeed at your first marathon

Work on your technique

Your technique affects your speed, your running economy and how susceptible you are to getting injured. Some examples of poor technique include overstriding, heel striking and poor posture.  Even if you’re an experienced runner you should spend time regularly reviewing and correcting your technique so that it becomes second nature, even when you’re tired. Working with a running coach who can help to identify areas for improvement and make small adjustments to your technique can bring about big improvements in your running!

You should aim to run tall, with your chin up and eyes level on the horizon, as if a string is pulling you upwards but leaning slightly forward from the ankles. Focus on getting your foot to land underneath your centre of mass. Your shoulders should be relaxed and arms at 90 degrees to avoid tensing up as this wastes energy and ruins your running efficiency.

Include strength work

As runners we love to run, often! However adding some bodyweight and resistance work to your training can bring huge benefits. Exercises that develop a stronger core will not only help your running technique but also help to maintain good posture through your torso when you start to get tired in the latter stages of the race. Similarly exercises that focus on the legs will challenge your muscles in a way that running doesn’t.

Look to incorporate planks, bridges and squats together with single leg work such as lunges and step ups. Doing this will help you become more stable, have more power in your legs and run stronger for longer.

Variety is the spice of life

Running the same route at the same pace will make you good at just that; running the same route at the same pace.

Herb Elliott, the Australian Olympic athlete and arguably the world's greatest middle distance runner of his era, would do hill repeats on sand dunes to increase his strength. He would also vary his training venues day by day, running on a golf course one day, the next day in a park, then on a racecourse, up and down the hills and even over cow paddocks.

Adding variety to your training will not only benefit your running technique but can help you become quicker as a result. Here are some examples of workouts you can add to your training.

Intervals

Short, intense efforts followed by equal or slightly longer recovery time. You’re aiming to run above your red line and at an effort where you are reaching hard for air and counting the seconds until you can stop.

Try it: 6 x 1km repeats with a 2-minute break in between.

Fartlek

Swedish for "speed play" and a very simple form of a distance run that blends continuous training with interval training. Simply defined as periods of fast running intermixed with periods of slower running this training method is an effective way to improve your running speed, mental resilience and endurance. 

Try it: 1 min fast - 1 min easy - 2 min fast - 2 min easy - 3 min fast - 3 min easy. Repeat this same sequence of fast and slow intervals for 30 minutes.

Tempo

Look to combine warmup and cooldown at your recovery pace either side of a run at an effort level just outside your comfort zone or slightly above your anaerobic threshold (where your body shifts to using more glycogen for energy). An effective means to gauge if you’re in the tempo zone; you can hear your breathing, but you're not gasping for air. If you can talk easily, you’re not in the tempo zone. If you can’t talk at all, you’re above the zone. Your pace should be at an effort somewhere in the middle, so you can talk but in broken words. The benefits include increasing your lactate threshold which enables you to run faster at easier effort levels.

Try it: 5 min warm up - 30 min tempo - 5 min cool down.

Hills

Hill sprints or repeats build muscle strength and can help improve your running economy, which translates into less energy expended over the longer distances. This is because hills require more of your muscles and nerves than sprinting on the level. This boosts how efficiently your muscles use oxygen to power you forward and a key factor in distance-running success.

Try it: 30-second hill sprints on a 5% to 10% incline with each sprint done at 95% to 100% so at about the 25-second mark, you’re wondering if you’ll make it to 30 seconds. Walk or easy jog recovery for 2 to 3 minutes between each sprint. Start with 5 to 8 repetitions and work your way up to 12 to 14.

Recovery is important

Recovery runs are a great way to simply loosen up and get the blood flowing, which prepares you for a harder session later in the week but recovery is also where the body adapts and improves, not during a workout. A workout provides the stimulus, recovery enables adaptation and improvement.

Be sure to do a slow recovery run the day after a speed workout so that you can loosen up and be ready for your next run.  It’s easy to go out and try to run hard every session but this is counterproductive. It will leave you always running at a ‘comfortably hard’ pace each time, leading to premature fatigue during your harder workouts.

Build endurance

Long, slow distance (LSD) and progression runs are still the best choice for beginners and those not into chasing time goals to develop the endurance required to cross that finish line feeling strong.

LSD runs deliver the biggest endurance benefit with the lowest risk of injury as they’re a great way of logging 'time on your feet'. The most important aspect here is not doing your long runs too fast. They also help increase your ability to burn fat and conserve glycogen, so you can run farther before fatigue sets in.  You should make one of your weekly runs a LSD run and aim to increase by time, not distance, by 10 to 15 minutes every other week.

Progression runs start slow and gradually get faster. These help you push yourself precisely when it's hardest in a race, towards the end. They teach you to build slowly and break up the monotony by forcing you to think about your pace. They also prepare you to push through discomfort when you're tired.

Consistency is key!

To be successful in your marathon campaign and cross the finish line feeling strong and confident means being consistent in your training and consistent in your recovery. You’ll soon notice the benefits of training like this but aim to do an easy week every 3 to 4 weeks so your body can adapt and recover.

Words by Jase Cronshaw of V&B Athletic

 

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