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Intensity and marathon training

As the new year approaches and the dates for the many marathons throughout the spring and summer begin to loom large on people’s calendars, the urge/need to start training begins to grow. A quick search online yields everything you need, your marathon training plan. Your gradually increasing training volumed path to success is just a click away. I speak to countless marathoners who adopt this approach and unfortunately many of them are carrying injuries often just weeks away from their race day.

A common trend in these plans is to dictate mileage with a peak long run of around 22-23 miles 3 or 4 weeks prior to the race. In many instances it’s this run that is the straw to leave the proverbial camel with severe lower back pain. As an antithesis to this I experimented…on my brother. He ran the Chester Marathon in October with the aim of running 3hr 30mins, I wrote his plan in return for his lab rat status. The plan prescribed only time with the longest run aimed at 1hr 45mins (it actually came in at 1hr 30 mins). Around 90% of the runs were over the pace to be run during the race itself. The other 10% was at race pace. It also contained some strength and plyometric training.

He finished the race in 3hrs 34mins off the back of a 4 week taper containing runs no longer than 30 mins partly due to a friend organising his wedding in the states in the weeks leading up to the race. Very inconsiderate. The run in wasn’t ideal but it was still a pretty good result considering my brother isn’t what you would typically call prime endurance athlete stock (apologies bro). To be honest, I thought he may have been under cooked for the race but having reviewed it, we both think he could have hit the target with a slightly less aggressive pace during the first half of the race.

So, my conclusions based on my n=1 with no control group experiment. Manipulating the intensity of training seems to be a very under utilised, but very effective, tool for marathon runners. Unfortunately for many people, the bulk of free online training plans don’t seem to use it. So, my advice. Have someone (who knows what they’re looking for) look at you run. Many of the issues that cause injury can be taken care of in the early stages with some basic technical or strength training. Then speak to someone (who knows what they’re talking about) about your training and design a plan that is for you, fits around your life and your goals, and won’t bore you to death with miles and miles of endless single paced running.

Neil Welch

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