Inside My Body When I Run: Ep. 5 - Gameplanning
When searching the internet, you'll often find the following advice about endurance running: 4-5 runs a week including 2 mid-distance runs, 1 speed workout, 1 tempo run, and the illustrious, torturous, and often injurious long run. Many readers may not realize what else is out there, or what may fit their current training needs. Read on to understand how to approach choosing a plan, reducing the likelihood of injuries, how strength plays a part...and look back to the rest of this blog series to refresh on what really is happening in your body when you run, and how you can make better choices.
In this final installment, let's talk about how to plan for the year ahead. How do you "get stronger" in the off-season? What is the best running plan to follow for your next race? Before you answer these questions, it can be helpful to reflect on this past year of running and figure out what went well and what you might need help with in the future. This is the best way to get super specific and intentional when building a game plan for yourself.
SO WHAT'S THE STORY WITH CROSS-TRAINING?
One thing that we at MOTIVNY believe is lacking in the marathon plan landscape is a greater emphasis on strength training, mobility training, and power development. Using methods such as Kinstretch, Functional Range Conditioning, Kettlebell skills, and direct skill training for running, we've had great success in keeping our athletes healthy and achieving better results than they ever expected.
We'd highly recommend an 8-12 week block of strength-focused work (that means OFF-SEASON to you 7x/week runners) followed by a 14 to 16-week training plan (IN-SEASON) that integrates at least 2 strength sessions and 2 mobility sessions weekly.
Whether you've had injuries in the past attempting to train for a marathon or are a beginner to an organized training plan, this approach will allow you to have a better pulse on the current status of your body as you ramp up your mileage.
For more on cross-training and what it looks like for an in-season vs. off-season runner, check out DPT Jess Chang's blog here.
WHAT KIND OF ATHLETE ARE YOU?
Different athletic types will thrive under different types of conditions. This is why there are so many successful marathon training plans out there, and why there isn't a "One ring to rule them all" approach out there. You can reference our earlier blogs on Inside My Body When I Run on the main journal page here. Some good questions to ask yourself are:
- Do I have an injury history that can make this type of endurance work difficult?
- Do I need to emphasize speed, power, skill, or base-building?
- How much time do I have to commit to a training plan? How many days a week?
- Can I execute cross-training and strength training on my own, or do I need coaching?
- How do I feel after my runs? Recovered and fresh, or heavy and sore?
- Should I attempt something shorter before jumping into a marathon?
If you have trouble answering these questions for yourself, reach out to a physical therapist! The best time to find a PT is BEFORE you get injured; they can help you explore your training history to figure out the best approach for your goals.
HOW COULD I APPROACH TRAINING DIFFERENTLY?
What you may notice about marathon plans is that most of them reference mileage, pace, and frequency as their many parameters to the training plans. As a Physical Therapist, I've noticed over the years that athletes may get excessively tied to completing the workouts when it comes to this way of thinking about training. Throughout this blog series, we tried to evidence that you should be focused on making adaptations in your body...not just checking off workouts.
Running for time is an alternative option
Some of the most successful stress and load management programs I have seen consisted of running for a certain duration at a specific heart rate zone or intensity on the RPE scale. This method allows the athlete to focus on an internal feedback loop and go based on their feeling, while the duration is there to guide the overall physiological adaptations. Athletes will be less likely to force miles that will hurt them because they aren't tied to a specific pace or a number of miles for most of their training runs.
Logging your "miles" on a different piece of cardio equipment is an option
This method consists of running for the number of miles that you know you can do pain-free or without any negative consequences, and then supplementing with additional cardio on a bike, rower, swimming, walking, or any other modality to keep you in the heart rate zone (read: Zone 2) that you're looking to train for your long runs. This way, you won't accumulate tons of volume that your body won't tolerate, and minimize the chance of injury. A caveat here is that most experienced runners will tell you that "time on your feet" is an important part of successful marathon running, and if you do a lot of cycling, you may feel challenged with your legs at the end of a race because you aren't used to it. Still a good option for injury management.
Run-walk-run is an option
Some athletes may be able to tolerate short bouts of running at the beginning of a training program but come across problems with longer than 5-10 minute runs. Some reasons for this are lack of connective tissue acclamation, poor technique as duration increases, lack of muscle endurance, or managing return from an injury. With this method, interval runs with walking breaks will allow the athlete to run and feel included in the sport, and get their body ready to tolerate more stress, but have little risk of too much strain on the body.
Trading out run sessions for extra strength-conditioning sessions is an option
A lot of athletes we work with who struggle to achieve their endurance goals hit that wall because of a lack of strength. You can think of it as increasing the horsepower of your motor. If the task requires 90 percent of the motor's horsepower, it's unlikely to last for a long duration. By comparison, operating at 50 percent of the motor's horsepower is probably a lot more sustainable. Trading longer run sessions for 3+ conditioning-oriented strength sessions can help you to increase that horsepower.
THE WORLD OF MARATHON TRAINING PROGRAMS IN A NUTSHELL
Okay, so you've referenced your favorite method...Hanson, Galloway, Jack Daniels, Hal Higdon, Maffetone, Boston Marathon Training Plan -- or maybe your favorite brand...Nike, Adidas, On Running. They all approach things similarly, but a little differently. So how do you choose? How do you get an idea of what could be right for you?
Here's a brief comment on some aspects of these popular plans:
- Hanson - Known for its low mileage - 16 mile long-run
- Galloway - The run/walk method - good for injured or "heavier footed" runners
- Jack Daniels - Known alongside the VDOT method - 5 days of varied intensity per week.
- Hal Higdon - 4 days for novice, 5 for intermediate - lacks speed emphasis for beginners.
- Maffetone - The low heart-rate method - Zone 2 is all the rage these days.
- Boston Marathon - Got a BQ in mind? This could get you on track - but is also non-specific
When it comes to your branded run plans (i.e. Nike, Adidas, On Running, etc.) the athlete needs to know that these plans are designed for a community. While you may see yourself as part of that community, the program is not designed specifically for you and puts some extra pressure on the athlete to know where it doesn't fit them, or if they need to skip training runs. Not to say these plans don't work...because they do. Especially, for a lot of beginner runners, the community aspect and consistency can outweigh any benefit of a more cleverly customized plan. If you don't show up to your runs, it doesn't matter how smart the structure was.
For more help with the marathon running landscape, reach out to our run coach Francisco Balagtas (@iamfranciscob) for personalized programming.
The endurance training world is a beast. There's a lot to think about, as outlined in these 5 episodes. Parting advice for all athletes considering getting started - Don't go it alone. Find your community, find your coach, find your physical therapist. Lean on your friend group and your family. If you don't know where to look yet, come find your people with us at MOTIVNY Outdoors. We can't wait to have you.
Manual Medicine, Kettlebells and Golf Training, Team Dad