I recently attended a marathon training seminar held by Nick Anderson (NA), a level 4 UKA coach and nutritionist. He has worked with a number of elite athletes from 800m through to marathon distances. Here are some of his comments that caught my attention.
A successful training regime requires patience, planning and progression. However, consideration must also be given to rest and nutrition.
Food should be eaten regularly, before becoming hungry and, where necessary, by snacking. Becoming hungry and thirsty (signs of dehydration) can have a negative impact on training for the subsequent two days.
Between 7 and 9 hours of sleep each night were recommended, but certainly more than 6. Professional athletes may sleep for more than 12 hours in any given day.
If rest or nutrition are inadequate, improving these will have a greater benefit on performance than changing a training regime. These can also be significant causes of illness, which will have an even greater impact on training – through an inability to do so.
The usefulness of training diaries was emphasised. My own training diary has evolved over time, and documents approximate distance, time, effort, trainers and ‘notes’. I don’t record all variables, such as weather, unless they had a particular impact on that run (e.g. blizzard conditions). I have kept this in Microsoft Excel for almost 10 years and it has been hosted online since 2011. Download it (from tinyurl.com/trainingdiary) if you are interested and adapt it as you require*.
Regularly monitoring heart rate can help detect the imminent onset of illness so that adjustments can be made to my training. A slight increase (a couple of beats per minute, bpm) might be evidence of a hard training session, but a few bpm is more significant and a rest day would be advised. Adding this to my training diary is on my to-do list.
Wearing a heart rate monitor (HRM) would allow this to be monitored while training. I choose to compare my training to the large bank of similar previous runs, but a HRM would certainly make detecting performance changes more responsive (and provide me with more data).
In any marathon training schedule, the really crucial time period is between 9 and 4 weeks before the race. It takes about 10 days for a training session to have any impact**, but longer (4-6 weeks) for a sustained program to have a noticeable impact. These six weeks are where the training counts and must be marathon specific. I have been thinking about this fact for the last couple of years, after showing signs of fatigue (mental and physical), by trying to train ‘ahead of the curve’. Consequently I have been planning to adjust my training accordingly – by starting to focus from early February, rather than mid December.
Training should be done before breakfast where possible. If NA’s nutritional advice has been followed, enough food should have been eaten the day before, so a 90 minute run should be achievable. This has the benefit of training the body to burn fat, the reserves which the body has to use during a marathon, as opposed to glycogen, which is in short supply during endurance events.
I wonder if a variety of training times are preferable – before breakfast, after breakfast, or at other times. I wouldn’t dream of running a race without breakfast, so wouldn’t want running after breakfast to surprise my body.
Reference was made to Moses Kiptanui (past 3k, steeplechase and 5k World Record holder) who always trained to be in personal best (pb) shape for a 10 mile race. This would approximately replicate threshold pace, and an intention to be able to run well at around lactic threshold.
More specific training advice was in line with previous beliefs. This includes having three key marathon orientated training sessions per week. Sacrifice the club run if it’s not specific enough – adapt it to make it more suitable, or be selfish and avoid it altogether. Have an easy week every three or four weeks; a tapering week before a race counts as an easy week. Run a few strides at the end of a session to focus on maintaining form and technique when tired.
Cross train if injury prone. Work on core stability. Good basic exercises include 1-leg squats, press-ups and seated row.
Reference was made to current technique advice resulting in a reduced difference between heel and toe heights in trainers (towards barefoot technology). Lean forwards, so weight is on the middle of the foot (rather than the heel). This should result the foot landing underneath the body and not in front.
NA suggested that carbo-loading was unnecessary if his nutrition was adhered to… but he does have a product to sell.
*All suggestions and improvements are appreciated
**Nothing can be done to improve marathon performance in the last 10 days before a race
Thanks to HM for saving me from taking notes