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Training schedules, the ‘long run’ and injury

Now you have started running for a few weeks you will want to develop some sort of training plan and if you are like me you will be trawling the internet to find something that works for you. My second marathon preparation is going to be totally different to my first marathon where I made quite a lot of mistakes and this took away from both my performance and enjoyment of the event.

Since when I got off the sofa almost three years ago and started running I have suffered from injury and last December with the marathon coming in the following May I had to stop running for almost 2 months which meant I had only 12 weeks proper preparation time instead of the recommended 16 weeks. This really put the pressure on upping the mileage fast which again puts pressure on your body and can lead to more injury. In speaking to many people and reading about it injury is the biggest threat to completing a marathon either at all or in a time that you are pleased with. Thus its critical to respect the distance and the magnitude of what you are undertaking and not do things too fast so you avoid injury.

I got two other things wrong firstly outside 6 long runs outside I did all my mileage on a treadmill. Unlike many people I loved running on the treadmill as I found it great for increasing my speed, every week I increased the speed by initially 0.2km and then 0.1km per hour. This was not a lot per session but added up to a significant increase over an extended period – basically I started running at 10kph speed and got this up to over 13kph over a 14 month period. That’s the positive on the treadmill…on a negative side after my second injury I visited a physio and his advice was that running on the treadmill for any sort of distances (I was doing 10kms as a habit) was superbad for you as you only exercised the same muscles. By running on the road you stretch all your muscles and your legs get much stronger in general and you get much more used to running on the roads which is where you race will be run. Since this advice I have not stepped on a treadmill since and indeed to do all my running outside. I have been doing this the last 6 months and I can physically see the difference both in terms of the muscle development on my legs and also not getting sore to the same extent. Having researched on line there is no question the impact is worse on the roads but overall from an injury perspective and getting ‘race ready’ I feel running on the road is the way to go.

Secondly I simply did not run enough miles per week, I looked back at the maximum mileage I ran per week and it was 62k and only for a couple of weeks – this included the long run of 32k, this was spaced over 4 days. This year I have decided that I need to be running 80k per week at a maximum but spread over 5 days. On top of this I need to be running decent mileages (60k plus) for a number of months with regular long runs of 20k plus. As you will see there are loads of 60+ runners bashing out great times and having spoken with NI Athletics these guys simply run all the time and are used to the mileage.

So now to the ‘long run’ and training plans…..I am not a huge fan of really structured plans I have a busy lifestyle and finding time to run is hard enough without having to get into too much administration I just want to get out there and run! That aside I think you need some form of structure and know what you are doing for each day of the week as if you are to get the mileage up slowly it can actually be challenging to fit in and ensure you have enough recovery time. For example if you are planning to run in the morning each day if you have a meeting or some other event you can’t skip in the morning while you can fit the run in that evening you can’t really be running the next morning as in my opinion that’s not enough recovery time ( at this stage I like 24 hours in between runs). Thus think about your week ahead and when you can run and then plan around that so you don’t skip mileage where possible – this is harder than you think especially if you are running 5 days a week.

Everything I read and my advice is that the long run is hugely important, this is basically where you build up your mileage and get used to be on your feet for a long time. No matter how fit you are you can’t expect to jump from 10-15k to 42k come race day. Last year I had to build this too quickly due to injury and quite simply did not get enough runs of 20-25k plus. I actually found every time I stretched my mileage by 2k a week my toes and feet got sore in the last 2k thus the more you are used to running these longer distance the more the soreness and trauma on your body disappears and you can focus on fitness. This year mileage is being built slowly and at Christmas time I was at my target of 20k on the long run. My plan is to slow down the jumps each week in an effort to avoid injury but still get loads of good runs in at 20-30k. I have to say when you are closing in on 30-32k on your long runs its hard going as you are out there on your own for 3 hours odd…most definitely the hardest part of the training.

Most plans have you finishing at 32k (20miles) with you simply doing the last 10k on the day, according to expert advice the benefit of doing the whole race in advance is weighed out by the damage it does to you. I winged it on the day and I think I will do the same again as I think adrenaline gets you thru the last 10k and if you have enough miles done in training I think that’s better than doing the full distance in advance.

One other change I am making and due to an article I had read is having a second but shorter long run so you have another day where you are getting out of your comfort zone. I have to say this is working quite well as 12,13,14ks are becoming easier. Ideally I would like to get this to 20k but I will see how that’s going….

In terms of the other parts of the training my other three days are made up of:

  • one tempo 10k run (that’s a fast paced run) with a time goal and fast finish
  • two relatively slow paced 10ks one with a fast last 1k and one as a basic recovery run with no real focus on my time.

I would love to change one of these slow paced runs to an interval (or Fartek) run as I believe this is truly the only way to run faster. Basically in this run you do a series of flat out runs with recovery in between for example you can run for 4 minutes at 15kph (a 4 minute km) with a gentle jog or walk for 2 minutes and then you do another fast hit for 4 minutes. Try doing 4 of these…at the start you feel 2 mins recovery is a long time but when it comes to the last one it’s a nightmare. I have only done this a few times a while back but I am scared of injury at this stage as I have suffered a few times on fast running but I have no doubt this is a vital part of training IF you are at the lower end of the ‘beginners schedule’ (i.e. 3.30). My feeling is that if you are just trying to get around focus on the long run and overall mileage and don’t worry about intervals as its risking an injury unnecessarily.

Overall I believe the most important part of the training is trying not to build things too fast give yourself as much time as you can afford as if you go too fast or jump your mileage too quickly you will get injured and that leads to putting yourself under more pressure and consequentially could lead to a second injury and you simply can’t recover from that in time.


Ed note:

For those of you who have not read the blog before this is a beginners guide by a beginner, just to clarify my running pedigree’ I am 46 years of age and like so many stopped active sport when I left school….25 years later (aged 43) and at 17.5 stone I realised I needed to do something and started running. Initially I couldn’t run longer than 5 minutes without stopping but 18 months later I ran my first half marathon and just over 2 years after lacing up my trainers I completed my first marathon. I said at the start of my marathon training that this would be a one time thing so I wanted to get around in a time that I felt was achievable and I would personally be pleased with. For me and many its breaking 4 hours, I managed to get around a bit under that at 3.46 – so as I say if you an elite athlete this feature is not for you however if you want to live the journey with ‘Jo everyday runner’ then tune in for what I hope you find will be an engaging blog feature. All advice is purely based on my experiences, talking with regular runners and what I have read – so it comes with a huge health warning! I found too much stuff on line was written by elite runners, was far to structured and was not relevant to my level.