From a year of new normal, we are gradually progressing towards restoring normalcy, a clear sign of which is that marathons are once again being held across the world. In a four-part series by marathoner and coach Tarun Walecha, we will cover how to train for a marathon and the journey between the start and the finish line. Read Part 1
Well begun is half done. When it comes to training for a marathon, even this may not hold good literally, but the sentiment does strike a chord with the state of mind, at least figuratively. Once you’ve made up your mind, planned a realistic goal, and realized that tough days lie ahead, a major part of your job is done. The next big step is to start training for one. Training for a marathon isn’t just about getting some miles under your feet. Our body and mind undergo a vast array of experiences as we run a marathon. Our training must encompass them all, prepare for all the surprises and bring forward the ability to sync it all up on the big day. The marathon distance is unique in many ways, and one of the most peculiar ones being, while training for a marathon, you do not run the entire distance as practice. Unlike training for half marathon, where some intense training plans suggest running a distance longer than the race day, it is only on the race day of the marathon that the real experience unfolds.
Why Do You Need A Training Plan?
A training plan isn’t just about telling you to get out and run those miles and execute the speedwork. For starters, it helps you get into disciplined training and embroils you into the systematic grind. These two things together form the spine of the entire process. As our body makes slow progress inching forward, each step and turn on this path has its valuable contribution. Running those miles week after week, cutting back in the recovery weeks, and then spearing ahead, all this brings in method to the madness. It decodes the scientific progression to prepare your body for undergoing the tumultuous process that it will physically need to go through and make you mentally strong to deal with it all.
Essential Components Of A Plan
Interval Training: Key to long distance running is cardiovascular health. Interval training, also known as VO2 max workout, is the primary component for enhancing the same. By pushing our heart to a higher zone for a short while, coming back to the recovery zone, and repeating the same several times, we push our limits to reach the anaerobic zone and extend its limits further. Intervals help an athlete to put in a significant amount of time at the anaerobic threshold with less strain on the body than a consistent tempo run. It thus prepares you to run the longer distance at a higher pace without shooting up the heart rate.
Hill Repeats: A crucial part of speedwork, it has a spectral benefit on not only cardiovascular abilities but the strengthening of leg muscles. Inclines overall engage a different muscle group which is primarily used in sprinting, thus helping us run faster in road races. It entails the higher engagement of glutes and hamstring muscles thus making them strong and responsive. Since hill repeats are run in the format of interval runs, it benefits pushing our VO2 max limits as well.
Threshold Runs: The sweet secret of running the marathon distance on race day without hitting the proverbial wall is to be able to run at your lactate threshold pace without stepping into the anaerobic zone. They are typically run a shade slower than intervals but for a longer consistent effort. Tempo run, or threshold run as they are called, is the way to stimulate that experience and help us expand the ability to run in that zone for a longer distance. It also trains us to sustain that pace which is slightly lower than the peak and not let the body go harder and get burnt out.
Easy Runs: Easy runs are the way to recover, and help keep the mileage targets in grasp. Most of the training plans ideally would have 20-30% of running done as speedwork. These short runs are thrown in-between the hard days to work on the aerobic base and help us recover for the next day. Most of it is run in Zone 2 of heart rate and generally kept within a time limit of 45-60 min thus getting the max benefit without causing further fatigue.
Long Slow Distance: These slow miles right at the end of the training week aren’t that easy. While they are to be run slow, but after the week’s hard work, the tired legs would want anything but to run. These slow runs go a long way not only to help us get mentally stronger but helps us improve our endurance. By running at a slower pace it trains our body to burn fat while running which comes in handy during a marathon. As mentioned earlier the key to marathon running is to run in the pre-lactate zone, thus to be able to sustain on fats as that help us save on glycogen reserves and prevents draining out.
A training plan would give you not only the right mix of these various runs but also a balance bringing them all together. The variety of workouts, duration of each one of them in terms of time and distance, splitting up the repetitions, and ensuring there’s enough work on each of the aerobic, anaerobic, and lactate threshold. It’s the training plan which not only will help you prepare but also helps in optimizing your own abilities.
The other two important components of marathon training are strength training and nutrition. Watch this space as we bring you more about these two components in the subsequent blogs.