A MIND FOR RUNNING
Running is 90 per cent mental and 10percent physical. The mental aspect of running should never be underestimated, and, although this is not always recognised, it applies equally to training and competition. Without the mental toughness to dedicate yourself strictly to your training programme, success will never follow. When an athlete’s performances are stagnating, or circumstances make commitment difficult, the mental dedication of a true champion comes through. Without the right mental approach, the physical effort is never 100percent. The same applies in competition. When you have a group of top athletes with much the same ability, physically prepared and in shape from competition, the race becomes 90per cent mental. You have to have the inner strength on any given day, an ability to be able to relax and concentrate on the task ahead of you, to exert yourself fully and lift yourself to extract a super-human performance.
TRAINING BELOW YOUR THRESHOLD
You must never lose sight of the fact that training is nothing more than a method of tuning the body for intense competition. Its routines are more varied than racing ever is, and must be considered carefully so that every aspect of competition marathon running will be covered – from the calm, rhythmic stride of most of the event, through the surges and the stamina, to the fast sprinting occasionally needed to finish. You must train so that every part of your body – muscles, skeletal system, cardiovascular system, and the mind – is prepared so that you can race at a high level of your ability, anywhere, anytime.
The training programme must aim at a gradual progression. You must be sure that your body is able to cope with the pressures placed on it – and the only way for that is to make sure you work at levels less than its capacity and then allow it to recover completely after each session. Training is hard and tiring. It is stressful because stress strengthens, but training below your threshold means knowing how much stress is too much. Stress/recovery, stress/recovery, stress/recovery – keep repeating it to yourself. Whenever you work your body hard, allow it ample time to restore itself and it will bounce back stronger than ever. Treat your races the same way. A race is your most stressful training run, so you must give yourself plenty of time to recover immediately after, especially after a marathon.
The marathon is almost the ultimate stress you can inflict on yourself, but by allowing yourself to recover after the race, you will find that your body super-compensates for the stress, and comes up a lot stronger and fitter, and is more capable of facing your next marathon. The danger is that you return to your full training load too quickly, before you have fully recovered, you will be adding stress to stress.
People become susceptible to injuries when their physiological strengths, such as cardio-respiratory (heart and lungs), become fitter and stronger than their skeletal-muscular system. An athlete with a very high cardio-vascular fitness can train or race in such a way that, although they may feel as though they are not pushing themselves because they are breathing freely, their legs are really straining. Their muscles have gone over the threshold.
The way to overcome this is to do a lot of slow relaxed running, or long running over a fairly tough, hilly course. This type of run doesn’t overly stress the cardio-respiratory system, because you are breathing freely, but you are using the muscles, tendons and joints a lot. You are conditioning these to become stronger and stronger. This ensures that you always extend your cardiovascular system, not your legs.
The best way to ensure that you are training below your threshold is to have complete confidence in your programme. If you always feel that you have to prove to yourself that you are running well, you will soon become competitive in training, racing your training partners or the times you’ve previously run. Because training is very demanding activity you are going to have ups and downs in your programme. You must have the confidence in your own ability to go through these variations and come up to your peak for races. That is the point, the only point of training.
While you must have dreams and goals to aim at, these should be attainable and realistic. It is not only the winning races and setting records that should keep you going. It is the pursuit of excellence – excellence being the total fulfilment of your own ability.
LONG SLOW DISTANCE
The long run should be done at least once a week over a distance two or three times longer than your average daily run. Run at a slow pace without breathing heavily, and avoid puffing and panting up hills.
A good test of speed is the ‘talk test’. If you are running well within your capacity you should be able to carry on a conversation with your training partner for the length of the run. But this does not mean you have to talk all the way!
Long runs are a good excuse for socialising. Most of Australian top distance runners reserve Sunday mornings for their ling runs. Usually the run is followed by drinks, food and a good chat. Try to make time to go to a pleasant venue rather the grey streets you drive on every day.
The long run is essential for developing cardiovascular endurance, muscle and joint strength, an efficient running style and strength of mind. Being out for two hours is physically and mentally demanding, so it’s essential that each run be followed by an easier recovery run the next day.
Many runners find the long runs the most demanding and difficult sessions. It is fairly easy to do intensive sessions, either on the track or hills, because they are short and quick, even though they may hurt, but the long runs can often become just plain boring. But clearly the benefits obtained justify the mental effort required.
SHORT FAST RUN
The ideal distance for a short, fast ‘hit out’ is between 1 and 5 kilometres, after an adequate warm up of 1-3 kilometres. Warm ups should also include a few basic stretches (see stretches tab). The short fast run should always be run once a week at a pace close to your anticipated race speed. Important benefits derived from this sort of running include improvement in rhythm, balance and coordination, and the possibility of improving your anaerobic threshold, or the fastest maintainable speed. Anything too long is too demanding, and the pace over the closing stages cannot be maintained without straining. A gentle 1-3 kilometre jog after such effort is vital. A warm down enables the body to return gradually to a normal metabolic rate.
Is a Swedish word which means speed, or surging. This becomes one’s ‘leg speed’ session. It is the only real speed session incorporated into this basic programme, and must be done conservatively for the first few times. Fartlek stimulates the development of muscles used for sprinting, and ‘fast twitch’ muscle fibres, because it is running which is at the other extreme from the long run (which develops muscle endurance and ‘slow twitch’ fibres) Be careful with this type of running because if you are susceptible to injury this is the session in which it is most likely to occur. It is therefore very important to have a good warm up and good warm down. After the warm up plan a 3 – 5 kilometre run which will include separate bursts of speed over varying distances and different terrain. Distances of the bursts can range from 30 – 400metres and can be run up very steep hills, on the flat, or on the grass or road. Fartlek should be done for no more than 20 minutes, during which time roughly twelve surges should be attempted. All running between surges must be relaxed and easy.
- Fun runs and shorter races
- Preparing for your first race
- Consistency and running endurance
- Race preparation for fun runners
- Race day
- Tactics in fun runs
- Basic training program for fun runs
FUN RUNS AND SHORTER RACES
Once an individual makes that conscious decision to include running as a regular part of his or her daily routine there are only a few basic requirements needed to ensure success. Clearly you need a goal, and that could be the most basic of sports many aims – pleasure – or its most complex – victory at a high level.
There are only a few people who can win. There are only a few who can be outstanding in their chosen sport, but anyone can get immense satisfaction from seeing an improvement in their performance. Realising your own physical potential is what success is all about. There are no short cuts to that realisation. You must train consistently, striving towards your goals, working within your programme and ability to ensure that you maximise your training.
PREPARING FOR YOUR FIRST RACE
Nerves will always be a problem before your first race, but knowing you have put in adequate preparation does much to reduce the tension. For a short run up to 10km’s, a healthy and generally active person will need about 4 weeks or regular running, and this means running seriously for a minimum of three times a week.
CONSISTENCY AND RUNNING ENDURANCE
While 6-8 weeks training is a satisfactory background, it should be started gently and gradually. But running success will come only if you are prepared to train consistently. Be prepared to dismiss flimsy excuses. Only by sticking to a routine will you build up endurance. Training consistency is much easier to maintain if you have a regular training companion. Many office workers find lunch breaks an ideal time for their daily run, and there is nearly always someone else at work keen for a midday jog.
Once you establish a routine it is important that you stick to it. When you start you are full of enthusiasm and totally motivated, so be careful not to set yourself a programme that is unrealistic. The ideal is for the sport to become part of your lifestyle and your daily routine, and not something you fit in when you have the spare time or an excess of energy.
Commitment and sensible training make the mind and body adapt to new levels of fitness, health and strength. During periods of inactivity the body will lose fitness very quickly, and this has always been a motivating force for me. I have made such an effort to train and get to a high level of fitness that there is no way I am going to lose it by having a day or two off. Consistency is the secret to success and improvement. The ability to keep training through periods when others lose interest and give training amiss is what will develop an athlete. Injury and illness are the curses for all runners as they upset the training programme and routine. However, a sensible programme which allows adequate rest will minimise and offset risks of inactivity due to injury or illness.
RACE PREPARATION FOR FUN RUNNERS
The problem most people face before racing is they get too enthusiastic and overtrain. The reverse should be the case. Never increase your training in the last week; instead the number of your sessions should be reduced. A few shorter, faster runs may be included in your final week of training preparation. Remember your final goal is the race, so avoid over extending yourself in training.
The shorter faster sessions should include runs of about one third the distance of the fun run. They should range in time from 10 – 20 minutes, and should never be attempted without a light warm up. One of these steady runs can be done a week before and the other about 4 days before your race. Run comfortably in a relaxed was on the in between days. Two or three days before the race a few stride outs over 100metres are a good idea. They give you a feel for a quick, smooth pace with an emphasis on balance and rhythm, rather than speed and acceleration. Run at a quicker tempo than you anticipate racing, but don’t aim for explosive speed.
The steady run done 1 week before can be replaced by a low key race, or time trial with friends, particularly if you intend competing with a training partner. Providing the last 3 days leading up to a competition are light days, you can afford to do your normal training sessions for the rest of the week, but do them a little more easily. The final day may be rest day, or, if you are used to training daily, an easy jog is in order.
On race day itself, a light meal about 3 hours before the run is a good idea. Try to avoid dairy products the night before and the morning of the event, as they have the ability to not sit ‘pretty’ in your stomach.
It is a good idea to organise a friend or relative to meet you at a specific point away from the finishing line at the end of the race, and make sure he or she has a change of clothes, especially if the weather is bad.
TACTICS IN FUN RUNS
Tactics are basic to any good performance. The first thing to remember is never start too quickly. Too many people, small children included, push for a good starting position, standing around for hours, often in poor weather, forsaking an adequate warm up, to grab a spot on the starting line.
For a very few this is realistic as they will be competitive, but for most there is the risk of being trampled by large numbers of stronger, faster athletes queued behind. Why some people opt for such a chaotic and hectic start puzzles me. The cautious starter will more than likely catch the eager beginner in the latter stages rather than being the one who is being passed. To come home more strongly than your competitors has decided advantages. As you see others fading behind you, you move from strength to strength. But if you have pushed, hassled and sprinted at the start, just to run with athletes far superior in ability, it is unlikely you will have the strength to finish strongly.
Rob believes the speed you should try to maintain during a race may be determined by the pace you can train steadily at for two-thirds of the race distance. When running hills naturally enough your breathing will quicken until you have reached the top and had time to recover on the downhill. While I would suggest using the downhill running as a recovery phase, rather than an exertion, downhill should still be run strongly. Your ability to run downhill lies in your ability to maintain a good running style. Once control of your arms and legs have been lost, you risk expending too much energy and over exerting yourself. Let your arms and legs flow with the downhill, run quickly, but be controlled, and don’t force the pace.
Most fun runs have several drink stations spotted throughout the course. Generally there is an electrolyte drinks table such as Gatorade and a water table. If you are unsure the safest bet is to take water. Never experiment during a race with new types of drink or chemicals.
BASIC TRAINING PROGRAMME FOR FUN RUNS
This is a gradual programme for someone who has had very little physical activity.
Consistency is very important. Don’t set an unrealistic programme, as its better to do too little, and actually do it, rather than trying to do too much and give up.
Variety in your weekly running programme not only helps to increase your fitness, but also helps you enjoy what you do.
Appropriate shoes and attire are important.
Ninety per cent of your training is done at ‘sub maximal’ effort. That means if you’re hurting and pushing you’re going too hard.
You must adjust your training depending on how you recover from the initial runs. If you feel sore and stiff you may need to incorporate more walking, or run at a slower pace.
- Aiming to finish a marathon
- The first month
- The second month
- The third month
- The final week
- Marathon tactics
- Post-race recovery
- The Marathon
AIMING TO FINISH A MARATHON
After working through a few runs you should be ready to contemplate attempting the marathon. For most the aim is merely to finish, usually in about 3 ½ to 4 hours. Only those who have completed such task have any idea of the effort required to complete that first marathon. Top athletes spend years gradually building the strength and endurance required to run and race marathons. Although Rob runs at a greater intensity than most, his physical condition requires him to be on his legs for little over 2 hours. Four hours at such an intensity would be devastating, yet that is the time less fir marathon beginners can expect to take. In some way a 4 hour marathon can be physically and mentally more tiring than the 2 to 2 ½ hour marathon. Running for 4 hours constitutes a different type of race. The training required aims at increasing endurance and a basic level of fitness rather than worrying about peak, or racing fitness.
Rob recommends a minimum of 3 months specific training, concentrating on long, slow running. If you are unable to cope with a 25 kilometre run 2 weeks before your planned marathon, you would be unwise to attempt the full distance.
THE FIRST MONTH
During this period you should aim to run at least three to four times a week, but at a slow pace. Because of the obvious differences in levels of fitness and personal ability the amount of time run at this stage is a better gauge than the number of kilometres covered. Three easy short runs of 30 minutes each week, with a long slow run of between 40 minutes to an hour once a week is a good way to begin.
Training days should be well spaced, maximising recovery. Run well within your capacity, avoiding undue stress and over extension.
THE SECOND MONTH
A third component – moderate running – should be added to your weekly programme. Training sessions should now total five, with one long run of 1 to 1 ½ hours, two easy short runs of 30 to 40 minutes, and two steady moderate runs of 1 hour each.
One or two fun runs are advisable during your second month of marathon preparation. These will enable you to determine what pace you can, or cannot cope with comfortably. Racing stimulates an improvement in fitness by raising your anaerobic threshold and giving you a guide to your present level of fitness.
Although your longer runs will make you quite weary during your second month of training, try to complete them feeling tired, but not exhausted.
THE THIRD MONTH
You now have the base fitness level, so the time is right to expand your training. The first 2 weeks of the third month of training should be your most comprehensive. You should build on and maximise your fitness, and on your long run you should be able to cover 25 to 30 kilometres. The time you take is unimportant. The distance is now the issue. You should be running seven times a week, adding two ‘steady moderate’ runs to your schedule. The longest run of your programme should be done 3 -4 weeks before your race. This should be about 25 kilometres if you hope to complete the distance, and up to 35 kilometres if you are an experience marathoner hoping for an improved performance.
Most individuals wonder about the adequacy of their training and preparation before racing a marathon. Should they have allowed more time to prepare? Will the preparation see them to the finishing line, or will they improve on their personal best performance? The marathon is a long way to run if you’re not going to perform well or obtain the goal that you have aimed to achieve.
The final preparation for any competition is vital. For a run as long as the marathon it doesn’t matter how much training and work you have put in unless you can maximise that effort in the last couple of weeks before the race. If not, those weeks, months, or even years of training are wasted. It is only in the last few weeks that you can fine tune your body to ensure that it perform as you have been preparing it to.
There are certain indications that give an athlete a reasonable guide as to the adequacy of his or her preparation and training. These include: the results of the monitored training runs, it is important to keep a diary to compare your performance; enjoying a gradual improvement in performance made evident by faster time trials; feeling generally more relaxed and fresh on runs.
Being well prepared means looking forward to the challenge of the marathon. You should be mentally hungry, going into the race with enthusiasm. You have to want to run well for a good performance to follow. Sure, marathons are physically and mentally tough, but the reason you run them is for your own personal achievement and satisfaction.
Given that you are mentally prepared for the contest ahead the most important physical part of the preparation is freshening up and sharpening. This means putting all your most demanding training sessions behind you at least 2 weeks before race day. With a minimum of 10 weeks training behind you, your last 2 weeks should be used purely for final preparation for the big event. You still train during this period, of course, but the emphasis is on sharp work, freshening the body, rather than attempting to improve your fitness. Cramming for fitness in the final 2 weeks will result only in leg weary athletes on the starting line.
If you go into the race fit and fresh you can often produce a spectacular improvement in your performance. The awe of the big race and the awareness of your personal commitment and effort sets the adrenaline pumping, enabling you to produce performances never before considered, much less attempted. However, if you go into the race tired from desperate last-minute efforts improvement is less likely.
The best way to tune your body is to include a couple of long runs at a very relaxed pace as well as several shorter sessions emphasising leg speed. The intensity of your training sessions and your total mileage over your last weeks should be reduced. You should run only 60 – 65 percent of your total training distance the week before, with this reduced to 40 – 50 per cent of your normal work load over the last few days. This drop in the total work load will enable you to freshen up, making it easier to include some faster leg work in your final training.
THE FINAL WEEK
- Six or 7 days before the marathon go for a long run of about 20 kilometres. This can be reduced if it is going to have a long term draining effect on your ability to perform the next weekend. By this time, however, you should be handling these distances comfortably.
- Five days before go for an average paced run 30 – 60 minutes.
- Four days before try an easy 30 minutes of relaxed jogging.
- Three days before is the best time to do your fast leg speed work. This should follow a light warm up which includes some gentle stretching to get the muscles moving before running a few stride outs. Theses needn’t be done on the track – a local grass oval or dirt forest path would be fine. Your stride outs should be between 50 and 200 metres long, and not much faster than the pace at which you intend competing. In this session you should include some short striding to keep your legs moving at a quicker tempo without straining.
- Two days before run for 20 – 30 minutes at a very relaxed and comfortable pace, remembering that over these last few days you should be trying to conserve your glycogen and energy for the race to come.
- The day before can be rest day, but if you prefer, jog easily for 20minutes to loosen the muscles. This should be a very relaxing and refreshing run.
The best advice I can give, and the most simple, is to run evenly. Determine what time you are aiming to achieve, compare this with the pace you think you can maintain, and then stick to it. It is very to go out too fast early on in the race, especially when you are feeling fresh and eager to take up the challenge of completing the marathon or improving on your previous best effort. During the first 15km’s consciously hold yourself back and don’t run faster than your allocated race pace. It is easier to come home strongly than it is to be struggling because of too fast a pace early on. It amazes me how much time you can lose over the last 10 kilometres if you have started out too quickly.
Running with a watch is a helpful guide to ensure that the pace at which you’re travelling is kept constant and as planned. Watches should be used only as indicators of your pace. Don’t rapidly speed up if your time shows you are running a little slowly. It is important to feel comfortable, not strained. If you are straining to maintain your predetermined pace then you’ve probably set yourself too difficult a goal. Use a watch to assist your run but don’t be dictated by it.
During the race you will need to take regular drinks, so it is important to try drinking on training runs to stimulate race conditions.
Make sure you have worn and tested both your competition shoes and clothing before race day. New garments might look impressive but blisters and chafing caused by untested clothing are hardly desirable during marathon. Think ahead. Avoid the avoidable!
A lot of people don’t know how to recover from an intense race and very few understand the importance of the recovery in improving your overall fitness. If you recover properly you will benefit immensely. But if you don’t allow yourself adequate recovery you can be destroyed by the effort. Some top runners have been put out for a season after running the marathon, not because of the marathon itself, nut because of poor recovery. This is usually brought about by training too intensely too soon in the post-race period.
The first couple of weeks after racing take your training very, very quietly. Run only a few kilometres a day at a very slow, relaxed pace. Slow, easy running actually stimulates race recovery. It gets your blood circulating, and muscles contracting, removing the lactic acid build up from your body. Hot baths and light massages are excellent during this period, and sometimes Rob substitutes a swim or a cycle for a run. He avoids racing, even in shorter events, for at least 4 weeks after a marathon. The respect and care which he takes during this period has enabled him to bounce back after each of his marathons, allowing him to be in form for the next one, without the risk of being tired or overtrained.
Rob assumes that you have been running for a while (at least a couple months) and have completed a few short runs already.
Motivation and commitment are essential if you are going to follow a programme and even get through the marathon on the day, so if you aren’t determined to stick to it, maybe you should ‘play’ another sport.
42.195 kilometres is a long way, probably farther than many people would enjoy driving. Irrespective of how much natural ability you think you might have, or squash games you’ve got under your belt, the most important part of your preparation and training will be aimed at getting ‘miles in your legs. Because of this, the long runs, irrespective of the speed you go at, are all important.
Nobody finds training enjoyable all the time. Actually, sometimes the better you are the less you enjoy it. Top runners are nearly always tired from previous sessions, and the excitement of putting one foot in front of the other tends to wear a bit thin after a year or two and some 5000 to 10 000 kilometres.
If running a marathon was easy Phidippides wouldn’t have dies, and there would be no such things as marathons.
There are very few ‘Everests’ that the average person can climb. The marathon is one.
A routine programme is a big help. If you stop and look for excuses not to train you’ll easily find them, but if you follow your programme because it is routine (almost without thinking), you won’t have any excuses because you won’t look for them.
Running and being fit is not an excuse for junk food bingeing and late night partying. If this is what you want from life, stop training because your body will become less tolerant or it, and you’ll lose interest.
Training for your first marathon should be done at least 4 months prior to the race, if you have a good running base going in.