SUNDAY 2ND MARCH 2014, NOT JUST A WALK IN THE PARK

7 TIPS FOR MARATHON RUNNERS

by SEÁN HARRIS

The training advice, split into the 7 components that I feel are integral in training for endurance, given below is to help you on your way to achieving a personal best time for your Meadows Marathon run. The tips are simply to give you some extra benefits in areas that you may not know about. The main aim is that you enjoy the run and have a great time.

1) Running Economy

Running economy is the rate of energy expenditure to submaximally (slower than the maximum speed one can sprint) run a given distance at a certain velocity.

Running economy can be improved upon via various means. One way would be to increase leg stiffness (not tightness), so as the transfer of energy between bone and muscle is more efficient.

Plyometrics (explosive exercises with minimal ground contact time) is a way of doing this. The shock absorption the joints face during high intensity plyometric exercises causes musculotendinous adaptions, which increase the stiffness of the joint.

Due to the different standards and ages of athletes that will participate in the marathon, the athlete and coach must decide on the intensity of the session for each individual.

Plyometrics only transfer over to performance if the exercises are sports orientated, which is why one should perform only unilateral (single leg) bounding, hopping and jumping.

For endurance athletes, due to the upright stance, hopping would be far more efficient.

Novice athlete (should be done on a mat, running track or AstroTurf): hopping on the spot (or from side to side and front to back) – 30s on and 45s off (repeated 6 times)

Elite Athlete: Speed hopping for length (6 repetitions over a distance of 40m). Have 2 minutes rest between each repetition and make sure you exercise both legs.

2) Strength Endurance

Increased strength endurance has shown to transfer over to improved endurance performance due to the ability of the muscle to apply optimal power throughout the entirety of the race.

Strength endurance is simply trained by performing an exercise (bodyweight or weighted) such as squats, lunges, deadlifts or another exercise for a high repetition count. Don’t forget about the upper body – the upper posterior chain, such as the lats (Latissimus Dorsi), should also be trained.

An example would be to perform 16 or more squats and then have a minimal rest period of approximately 30s to 1 minute between sets.

3) Aerobic Capacity

The defining status of an endurance runner is down to their maximal oxygen consumption (aerobic capacity).

There are numerous ways of improving one’s aerobic capacity, but due to the duration of training sessions involved in doing so, a route should be chosen that the runner is accustomed to taking therefore allowing the runner to notice if they are pushing themselves hard enough to induce the necessary adaptions for improved performance. Timing yourself over the route is advised.

Unless the runner knows their own personal perceived rate of exertion then a timer and a route should definitely be used to optimise training sessions.

The variables within this training session can be changed – One can increase the difficulty of the route (part of it being uphill as an example); the pace of the session can be increased; or, with the pace remaining the same as usual, increase the duration of the session.

It should also be noted that listening to synchronous music can improve long distance performance of non-elite endurance runners. So, if this is one of your first marathons, listening to music during your long distance runs would be advantageous.

4) Metabolic Clearance Rate and Lactate Threshold

The metabolic clearance rate is the rate at which lactate is cleared from the body. The lactate threshold is the point during exercise at which lactate starts to accumulate within the blood.

Depending upon one’s pain threshold, the runner can train to the point of feeling nauseous, which is when lactate has accumulated substantially within the blood and the body is rejecting it.

However, this doesn’t need to be the case. As long as the runner surpasses their lactate threshold, then the muscles will adapt to cope with this change in training intensity.

The lactate shuttle is the inter/intracellular process that uses the substrate produced by fast twitch muscles fibres to be used as energy for the slow twitch muscle fibres.

The best way to view this is that the product produced in the glycolytic muscle fibres (fast twitch) is then used as the energy for the oxidative muscle fibres (slow twitch) – lactate is more reduced (has a greater ability to attract protons due to being negatively charged) than pyruvate, so when lactate is converted to pyruvate it produces more energy.

I find that speed endurance improves the efficiency of collaboration between fast twitch and slow twitch muscles fibres. This will transfer over to endurance performance.

This would pertain to performing submaximal (between 80% and 90% of maximum perceived rate of exertion) over a distance such as 150 metres to 300 metres. Some elite athletes will perform speed endurance over a longer distance.

An example session taken from Clyde Hart for Michael Johnson would be: 4 x 300m (60m at 95/100% - 140m at 75% - 100m at 90%) with 6 minutes recovery between repetitions. You will find that the last 100m will be difficult due to the elevated levels of lactate within the muscles.

A session I do would be: 6 x 150m (80/85% of maximum velocity) with 2 minutes recovery between each repetition.

A session that an elite endurance runner may do: 6 x 500m (80% of maximum perceived rate of exertion) with 4-5 minutes recovery between each repetition.

5) Core Stability

The core is classed as the muscles from the shoulder to the hip region that are involved in stability.

The transverse abdominis is viewed as the abdominal muscle that encircles behind the rectus abdominis (six pack) and is mostly involved in the negation of rotation. Therefore, it is an anti-rotation muscle.

The core, if you look at the direction of the muscle striations, is a group of muscles involved in reducing rotation, extension and flexion.

The transverse abdominis is shown to be larger in endurance runners compared to most other athletes. This would imply that negating rotation is of the utmost importance for endurance runners.

There are numerous ways of improving rotational stability, but I strongly believe isometric holds work the core in a sports orientated manner. Also, due to the lack of movement in a rotational manner, the shearing force on the spine is reduced substantially.

Bands are, by far, in my view, the best tool at improving rotational stability. They are also very cheap. I will link a video of trainers performing numerous core exercises using bands and a dual assisted pulley machine.

All the movements entail the holding of the band handle or Dual Assisted Pulley Machine (DAP) handle in front of the body or moving it from the proximal side to the distal side and vice versa.

Here are links to video clips of rotational and anti-rotational exercises:
Standing Pallof Press
Half Kneeling Pallof Press
Band External Rotation
Landmine With Twist
All of the above exercises must be done whilst bracing the abs and controlling the breathing.

6) Speed

Firstly, one must understand the order of motor unit recruitment. Slow twitch muscles fibres fire first and then fast twitch muscle fibres.

The rate of force development is the speed at which force can be applied by the muscle. This is integral for all sports persons, including endurance runners. The ability to transfer force at higher speeds is what will determine one’s maximum velocity.

In an article within a group that I run on Facebook, I explained the link between speed and endurance and how fast twitch muscles fibres and slow twitch muscle fibres interact with one another and how lactate is actually an energy source rather than a waste product (as explained briefly in number 4): https://www.facebook.com/groups/TheScienceBehindAthletics/permalink/201749093343198/
If you are interested in this, then please join the group to be able to see the post.

The article basically states that the variable that must be improved upon within all sports involving an aspect of speed over a longer duration of time is the efficiency of collaboration between fast twitch with slow twitch muscle fibres – the ability of the fast twitch muscle fibres to produce the improved velocity and the improved efficiency of lactate usage by the slow twitch muscle fibres to remove this substrate from the body.

With this improvement, the runner will improve their running economy and therefore performance over longer distances, but only if endurance training is continued at a high enough rate that it induces an adaptive response (The body’s muscular architecture and nervous system will change/adapt based on the training the athlete is undergoing). It is a co-collaboration between the two fibre types.

Endurance training is still the most important aspect for an endurance runner.

As the legendary sprints coach, Charlie Francis stated, “If it looks right, it flies right.” Basically, train fast to get fast.

Even endurance runners need to improve upon their maximum velocity.

If a runner is participating in the Meadows Marathon and is also aiming for general fitness then High Intensity Interval Training (back to back sprints with very little recovery between) will help to activate the larger gluteal muscles, which will increase your insulin sensitivity, which inevitably means greater fat loss. This must be done in tandem to other training protocols, such as cardiovascular work (long duration of exercise at a lower intensity level).

Sessions pertaining to sprinting over 30m to 50m would suffice to improve this variable. You can do this once or twice per week, but make sure they’re spaced over the week and not done on back to back days.

A High Intensity Interval Training example would be: 2 x 4 x 40 metre sprints. Have 20-30s rest between each sprint. Have 3-4 minutes between the sets. Your heart rate will rise very fast, so take care during these sessions.

7) Nutrition

Complex carbohydrate loading (carb loading) the week prior to the marathon for extra energy throughout the marathon is wise, even for those who are ultimately aiming for weight loss. During the training period, nutrition is individual dependent, so keep track of your diet during the months prior to the Meadows Marathon. Your nutrition should be based around whether or not you are aiming for decreasing your body fat percentage; increasing your muscle mass; or improving your performance. Decreasing unwanted fat will directly increase an individual's power, which will transfer over to improved performances.

The above training tips are guidelines to getting the best out of your training for the Meadows Marathon.

I wish you all the best during the race and I hope you all attain a personal best, too. Always train safe and make sure you are constantly pushing yourself.

Happy New Year and good luck to one and all!

Seán Harris (Science Behind Athletes)

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