My best marathon training cycle

Right now, training and weight wise, I’m not where I want to be. I’m executing most of my scheduled weekly workouts, and made dietary improvements over even my best running days in Chicago. But I’m not creating the results I had during my better training cycle just a couple years ago.

Once again, I looked to the past for answers. Despite hiccups derailing my 2018 Chicago Marathon effort (which I finished with substantial difficulty), that summer had probably been my best marathon training cycle and (until the hiccups struck halfway through) I had run the race fairly well, feeling physically capable of finishing strong… if not for the whole being unable to breathe properly thing.

It was ultimately some stupid decision-making with nutrition that derailed me. I decided to use a thicker protein-based recovery drink for fuel, despite not having trained much with it. My stomach and epiglottis likely flipped me the bird because of its relative nutritional thickness.

Never mind the problems with using thicker nutrition as race fuel. I made the cardinal mistake of doing something in a race that I had not worked on in training. So, it was not the training that derailed the race. In fact, given my condition at mile 13, and even how good my bones and muscles felt in the later miles despite my plight… the training beforehand had been sound. So, what I did during the cycle is worth reviewing.


I took a look at that cycle and noticed several key factors. Sure, I built up to a pretty solid 40-50 weekly mile volume and was running without injury. I was able to hit goal paces in key workouts leading up to the race. But there were some other not as obvious factors that helped me enter that race prepared.

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The Marathon Training Mistake People Make In Organized 20 Mile Runs

CARAready2run

Logo for the Chicago Area Runner’s Association’s annual Ready To Run 20 Miler, held about 3-4 weeks before the annual Chicago Marathon.

In many major cities with major marathons, organizations will hold an official pay-to-play 20 mile run 3-4 weeks before the marathon, to coincide with most participants’ final planned long run before their taper. The official events mark out a course and provide aid stations every 3K or so, much like an actual race.

 

Though these events are technically held and run like an official race, the clear idea is that participants will do this as their longest training run before the marathon, since most training plans typically ask for runners to peak with a 20 mile long run a few weeks before the race. The idea is not just so runners can do their long run with a like minded group of runners, but that they get support along the way with water and electrolyte sugar fluid every 3K or so, as well as the usual commemorative gear like a bib number and race shirt.

While I totally support the staging and usage of official 20 miler runs for marathon preparation (provided your training plan calls for said 20 mile run), there is a significant mistake most runners make when doing the 20 miler.

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The Overload Principle: The training value of runners training tired

Human nature leads us to take it easy when we’re sore or tired. Obviously, we don’t feel good, so our nature tells us to rest until we feel better.

Many training plans for runners will ask you to run a high volume of miles, even though often times you are tired from the prior workouts. Many novice runners will make the mistake of skipping or curtailing the easier workouts because they are tired. They don’t realize their being tired is part of the training stimulus for those workouts!

In fitness training we have a concept called the Overload Principle. The principle is that your training stimulus has got to exceed your current capabilities to elicit optimal adaptions from that training.

For a beginning runner who doesn’t run much, the simple act of running in itself kicks in the overload principle. A beginner’s current capability is they aren’t yet comfortable running a lot. So running in itself already exceeds their current capabilities. A simple run will for them elicit those optimal adaptions.

Separately, consider strength training through weight lifting with heavy, challenging weights. Done with a suitable intensity (i.e. sufficient weight, capable but challenging form), lifting weights can exceed anyone’s current capabilities as long as the weight and/or exercise itself is more challenging that the trainee is generally used to. Even if a trainee gets comfortable with a given weight/exercise, adding weight or progressing the exercise into a more challenging form can once again exceed the trainee’s capabilities and elicit those optimal adaptions.

However, if the trainee were to maintain the current intensity as they got comfortable with it, the exercise while still beneficial would produce lesser adaptions and results. This is often why people hit a plateau when training.

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Cross Training With the ARC Trainer

ARCTrainerI’ve talked about the ARC Trainer’s benefit in runner cross training before. But how do you effectively use it?

The machines are infrequently used for a reason. Most people aren’t just not comfortable with the machines… they don’t really know how to integrate it with their fitness goals and training plans.

I pointed out a key valuable use in my previous linked post: To cross train as part of runner training. But most are not totally sure how to best utilize the machine and its many settings.

I’m going to share 10 tips on how to get acquainted and effectively utilize the ARC Trainer in cross training for your fitness or goal race… possibly even for other fitness goals as you wish:

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Is Getting Up Early to Work Out A Good Idea?

view of sunset on road

Photo by Lukas Rychvalsky on Pexels.com

So a lot of people make themselves work out early in the morning because it’s easier to find time then to work than it is to work out towards the end of the day. It’s less likely something will come along to derail your workout, whether circumstance or flagging motivation following a busy day.

I will note that in my long fitness history I’ve tried both working out very early and working out in the evening. I personally find there’s a lot I need to do to prepare for and get to work each morning, and I’m not usually clear headed enough to efficiently do most morning workouts either way. Others’ mileage will obviously vary.

The reason I don’t just set the alarm and wake up earlier is because the negative effect of losing sleep is greater than the positive effect of a morning workout, even if bio-rhythmically I come correct and learn to wake up earlier (and I already wake up naturally around 6am).

What happens if the previous night runs long or I otherwise have trouble getting to sleep? Now I spend the following day sleep deprived, along with all the negative hormonal effects of not getting enough sleep. The resulting cortisol and loss of growth/recovery hormones is actually a key behind lacking training results, faster aging, aging in general, not to mention illness and other psychological/health problems.

It’s more worth it to me to fit a workout in after work during the early evening, and it helps that I’ve developed the discipline to consistently do those workouts. Now and then I am able to get in a productive 6am workout after having slept well, but I realize that cannot be a daily thing with my current schedule and lifestyle… plus some workouts are too long for 6am to be a sufficient starting time.

So this leads me to talk about a couple things:

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10 Essential Principles For Double Run Days

I’ve written recently, and at other times before, about doing multiple runs in a day. This is common among people who want to log high miles and are serious about running. But I want to talk about it from a more working class perspective, as I believe these extra workouts have benefits to people who aren’t elite 130 mile a week runners.

In his book Run Faster (with Matt Fitzgerald), Brad Hudson once posited that the threshold for adding a 2nd run to any day should be when the runner is logging at least 70 miles per week. Hudson’s principle (which many share) is that you only add 2nd runs when your weekday runs have become so long that to extend them further would be impractical. And in a vacuum, that’s a fair rule.

However, Hudson and his trainees can dedicate their lives (or at least free time) predominately to running. Many others (elite or not) outside of Hudson’s scope can make all the time they need to train at a high volume. It makes no sense for those runners to break up normal training runs when they have the time and resources they need to do full workouts.


Meanwhile, as I pointed out previously, a working class individual may encounter times where they can’t feasibly execute a run workout of a given length. It may make sense at times to break an otherwise-doable distance run into two shorter workouts, even if you don’t run anywhere close to 70 miles per week.

In our case, we may do so for practical life-related reasons outside of running, rather than specifically because our workouts have reached practical limits.

For example (as I mentioned in the previous post linked at the start of this piece), I had a commitment after work that meant I could not do a full run after work until too late in the evening. Plus, doing the full run in the morning would have also been impractical due to various factors I didn’t get into. So then, I’d have good reason to split the workout into two brief runs, one done in the morning before work, and the other done after work before my appointment.


Of course, obvious caveats apply to splitting a workout into multiple runs (some of which I previously mentioned).

  • You generally don’t want to compromise or break up key workouts like long runs and speedwork, especially for marathon training where your long workouts are long specifically because the goal race is long. You only break up easy distance runs, out of necessity. Whenever possible, you want to do the full scheduled workout at its full distance or duration.
  • You don’t want to end up overtraining due to working your body out multiple times in a day and effectively cutting into your inter-workout recovery. So one or both runs must be adjusted to minimize the risk of overtraining.
  • There are some specific aerobic benefits to the full run that are lost when you break one up into smaller easy runs. But you still get the neuromuscular benefit and physical practice of having covered the needed distance in that day. Doing two broken up runs is admittedly a compromise tactic.

Still, you want to be responsible when attempting multiple daily runs, whether you do so because because you’re downsizing full runs into multiple shorter runs, or adding extra runs to your schedule to get in needed mileage.

Below are 10 essential principles for anyone planning to do two workouts in a day.

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Break up easy workouts when life gets busy

people walking on street

Photo by Burst on Pexels.com

Often I have days where I need to get in an extended regular run, something like 60 minutes or 6 miles, but my schedule ends up so busy there isn’t a suitable block of time available without compromising my recovery (e.g. losing sleep by having to wake up early or working out so late that it affects sleep later that night).

For example, I wake up no later than 7:00am (usually more like 6:00am) to get ready for and then commute to work. I work until 5:00pm, and often I’d have the rest of that night until needing to get to bed around 9:00-10:00pm. I often do my training runs in the evening around 5:30-6:00pm after commuting.

But say on this given example day I have a webinar appointment at 6:00pm, which lasts until 7:00pm. Since I need to set up equipment shortly before 6pm, this doesn’t leave more than 30 minutes for a run, which isn’t enough time for a 60 minute run, or since I’m not Mo Farah I cannot run 6 miles in 30 minutes.

I could just not work out that day. But let’s say for whatever necessary reasons I was not able to work out Monday. And if I defer this workout to Wednesday I lose the last day off I have this week, and my training schedule is such that five days of running in a row might be too much. But if I just cancel this workout, I lose so much training volume that it negatively affects my needed development and could be too costly a setback.

What a bummer, huh? I should just cancel my goal race or scale down my race goal, right?

Absolutely NOT.

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