Training for a marathon is not only logging in long runs and long training blocks. It includes things like speed work, nutrition, proper hydration, and recovery sessions. Without all of these things working together, your marathon will be lacking some vital components and may even make or break your marathon actually happening. It also can set you up for injury.
Many training regimes will list things like cross training, speed work, recovery day, and long runs. You can always mix and match these things to fit into your life’s schedule, but it is not advised to skip them. While missing a speed session or cross training day aren’t going to hurt you too badly if it’s once in a blue moon, it can definitely have an effect if it’s a habitually missed session. I have gone through and discussed these aspects in previous blog entries, but wanted to reiterate their definition and value.
We’ll start off with cross-training. Cross-training is an activity you do that is completely different than running. It could be biking, swimming, pogo bouncing, gymnastics, etc. It gives your body a chance to recover from running and incorporate different muscle groups. It also allows for your body to strengthen stabilizing muscles and create a more whole musculature. You typically do this once or twice per week within your marathon training. I would suggest an activity that is lower impact on your lower joints, like swimming.
The next aspect is speed work. Speed work is what you do to increase your endurance and as you might think, speed. So you think that running a marathon at a 10 minute/mile pace is completely ok, and it is, but what you may not consider is that you may not be able to consistently keep that pace throughout the entire race. Working on speed drills helps to increase your range of motion in your joints, be able to push harder for longer, makes you fitter, and will make you more comfortable at various speeds. The important thing to remember with speed work is to ease into it. If you push too much too soon, you’ll be setting yourself up for injury instead of success. Warm up and cool down. Find a partner. Always remember that it is quality over quantity.
Proper nutrition and hydration seem like no brainers. A lot of folks seem to think that if you’re logging in high mileage, you can eat whatever you want. While yes, you are burning major calories, it’s not advised to consume crap food. I like to use the dream car analogy when I talk with my clients. Think of the car of your dreams. It can be any car you want. Now imagine how you would take care of the car. Would you put bad fuel in it; bad oil? Of course not. Your car wouldn’t last. Think of that in terms of your body. Putting bad food and liquids into your system creates a bad system. A system that won’t last and give you the output you desire. I’ll also throw out a nifty little fact out for you: For every day that you don’t consume enough water for your body, your muscles have to work 20% harder the next day. That means that you won’t operate at your optimal level simply by not getting enough water. The same could be said about not eating enough to fuel your body. Training for a marathon is not exactly a great time to try to lose weight or to bulk up. You really need to listen to how your body is responding, and carbs are definitely your friend!
Lastly we come to recovery. Recovery is vital for marathon training. Foam rolling, stretching, massage, adjustments, etc. All of these things have a place and a purpose. Yes it can be an expensive investment, but it is more than worth the cost. When your muscles are tired or aren’t activating the way they should, other muscles start to take over. These muscles aren’t use to taking on this task and therefore are overworked and susceptible to injury. Sore muscles have the same effect. It can disrupt your entire kinetic chain of motion. Taking days off doesn’t make you weak, it makes you smart. Listening to your body and knowing when to stop is necessary. Recovery can also be active. Yoga, swimming, and active stretching are great tools to give you some fitness without being too taxing on your body.
Putting all of these tools together will guarantee you have a strong performance for your marathon. Think of it as a puzzle. All of the pieces make it whole. Be smart. Plan ahead, and always remember to listen to what your body is saying. Learn, grow, and enjoy the experience. Lean on someone who has been successful through a marathon, and make sure your body and your mind are on the same page!