Geek Out on Marathon Training

I’ll admit it, I love "geeking out" on marathon training. I'm a graphic designer by trade, but training and sport physiology are fascinating topics. My marathon training plan for October’s marathon is currently in the works, so I wanted to share some resources I’m “geeking out” on while making my plan.

It’s been over a year since I ran the Boston Marathon and training in this new phase of life is going to be a bit more tricky! After looking over our family schedule, morning training runs seem to work best. This means waking up at 4:30 and being back home by 5:45 when Leo and E will be waking up. I don’t mind the early mornings, but that does present the problem of getting to bed around 9:30 or 10 (maybe E will let me sleep a bit at night!).

So, as for the training plan; the below information is from McMillan’s Six-Step Training System by Greg McMillan, M.S. This training system has helped me immensely to understand the technical side of marathon training and what the purpose is for each type of run.

McMillan's Six-Step Training System

The 4 Key Training Zones

1. Endurance - Heart rate is between 60 and 75% of maximum and your oxygen consumption stays between 55-75% of your VO2max. Breathing is comfortable and effort is easy. Lactate level hangs around 1 to 1.5 millimolar, only slightly above resting levels.

;2. Stamina - Heart rate is between 83 and 92% of its maximum (though this can vary from runner to runner), and oxygen consumption is 85-90% of max. Breathing is fast but under control. The effort has been described as "comfortably hard" and lactate level hangs around 2.5 to five millimolar, right about where your lactate threshold occurs.

3. Speed - Heart rate and oxygen consumption go from 90% up to maximum. Breathing is fast and labored. Effort is hard and your lactate level tops four, six and even eight millimolar. While Endurance and Stamina training stimulate adaptations that improve your efficiency of several systems of the body, Speed training works to actually increase the capacity of several of your body's systems.

4. Sprint - At these speeds, the various physiological responses are all at maximum capacity. Heart rate and VO2 reach maximum. Effort is very hard and lactate shoots higher and higher, reaching 12 to 20 millimolar in some runners. Breathing is at full capacity. By incorporating sprint training into your training, your body becomes efficient and coordinated at turning your legs over very fast and running economy improves.

The 12 Key Workouts

Endurance Training:

- Recovery Runs - Run as a slow jog and should be used the day (or two) after a hard workout or race. These runs last only 15 to 45 minutes - the shorter the better.

- Long Runs - Long runs usually occur every seven to 21 days in our training programs. The purpose is simply time on your feet.

- Easy Runs - The majority of training is likely to be comprised of easy runs. The purpose is to fully develop your aerobic fitness and then maintain it. The pace for easy runs can be as fast as 30 seconds slower than marathon race pace and as slow as one minute slower than marathon pace. Heart rate is around 75% of maximum though it can reach 80 to 85% near the end of the run. Easy runs last between 15 minutes and an hour and a half.

- Marathon Goal Pace Runs - If you are a marathoner, it's very important that you spend some of your training time practicing your goal race pace. These workouts help the body become more economical at your goal pace and establish a neuromuscular rhythm that you'll want to be very familiar with come race day. If you can build to doing 13-15 miles at your marathon goal pace without excess effort, then you can be very confident that you will reach your marathon goal time.

Stamina Workouts: The goal is to develop your ability to run a steady pace for long periods of time.

- Steady-State Runs - Heart rate will likely be between 83 and 87% of maximum and the runs should last at least 25 minutes and can go as long as an hour and 15 minutes.

- Tempo Runs - Slightly more intense than steady-state runs and are designed to increase your stamina. They last between 15 and 30 minutes and are run between your 12K and half-marathon race pace.

- Tempo Intervals - Fast tempo runs broken into two to four repeats with relatively short recovery jogs. A tempo interval workout that I've had particular success with is two (or three) times two miles at 10K race pace effort with three minute recovery jogs between repeats.

- Cruise Intervals - Shorter and slightly more intense tempo intervals. They last three to eight minutes and the pace is between 8K and 12K. Like tempo intervals, they are followed by short recovery jogs (30 seconds to 2 minutes).

Speed Workouts:

- Aerobic Capacity Intervals - They last between 400m and 2000m and are run between 3K and 8K race pace. The goal here is to spend time at your maximum aerobic capacity (or VO2max). These workouts allow you to maintain your speed over a longer period of time.

Sprint Workouts: These help your top-end speed and consolidate your stride and form.

- Anaerobic Capacity Intervals - Like the Speed Workout described above they are repeated hard efforts with recovery jogs in between. They last only 100m to 400m and are run at about your mile race pace effort with very long recovery intervals. The goal is to flood the muscles with lactic acid and then let them recover. Your leg strength and ability to buffer lactic acid will improve, allowing you to sprint longer.

- Strides - Strides work to improve your sprinting technique by teaching the legs to turn over quickly. They last only 50-200m because unlike the anaerobic capacity intervals, we don't want lactic acid to build up during each stride. The pace for strides is very fast - 800m to mile race pace. Note that this is not all-out sprinting. Run fast but always stay under control.

Other Workouts

- Hill Repeats - One of the best workouts that you can do. It provides great stimulus to the cardiorespiratory system, develops your ability to buffer lactic acid, strengthens the legs, practices leg turnover that matches common race distances like the 5K and 10K yet avoids the pounding that is associated with traditional speedwork. When hills are encountered during races, they pose no threat to you and you can run them better and more efficiently than other runners, both uphill and downhill.

For more geeking out on nutrition and sport, I listen to podcasts by Ben Greenfield Fitness.

When do you find time to workout?
What's your favorite post-workout food or drink?


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