Friday, August 2, 2013

Training 101: Safely increasing your mileage and/or decreasing your time

Thinking about completing your first 1/2 or full marathon this Fall? Maybe you're attempting to shave a few minutes off your time from a previous race. Whether you're racing for completion or competition, there are a few "rules" I recommend you follow as you start or continue your training journey. These come from a combination of tried-and-true coaching rules for such distances, and a few are simply anecdotal recommendations based on my race trials and successes. There are many, many facets of proper marathon training (eating/fueling, sleep, cross-training, stretching, etc) that are also important to your overall training plan, but when it comes to RUNNING here are my top four recommendations: 

  1. Increase your weekly mileage no more than 10% per week. For experienced distance runners, there is "wiggle room" with this and you may increase as much as 12-15%, but in order to both prevent injury as well as undue fatigue on your muscles and joints, an increase of around 10% per week is a safe and effective way to increase your long runs each week. For example, if your weekly mileage total this week is 30 miles, the following week your total mileage would fall somewhere around 33 miles. 
  2. Your weekly runs should include one of each of the following with a rest day between each:
    1. A long slow run (longer distance, comfortable pace)
    2. A tempo/race-pace run (practicing the pace at which you hope/plan to run your race. Less comfortable than the long slow distance run)
    3. A run that focuses on hill repeats or sprint intervals (Help build strength and speed with repeating bouts of running uphill or running sprint intervals at the track/treadmill/road). 
  3. Consider purchasing a GPS watch and/or finding a friend/coach/trainer to help push you through faster-paced runs. This is especially important for those of you returning to a 1/2 or full marathon looking to shave some time off your previous attempt. Race-pace runs help your body "learn" what your desired pace feels like over a period of time and miles. Often this pace is faster than a comfortable talking pace, so having a coach or trainer if you don't have a GPS watch is another way to find outside encouragement to maintain that pace.
  4. Take rest day seriously. I cannot emphasize this one enough, and it is definitely easier said than done. Most training plans that you may purchase or coaches you will hire will assign one day of rest (or more) in your plan. Some days stipulate "rest from running-cross train" instead of a day off, and this is entirely another talk but cross-training is essential to safe and effective distance training as well. That said, a true day of REST is imperative for your body as well as your mind. Rest does not mean go hike a steep 7-mile trail or go for a "casual" 40-mile bike ride with your friends. Rest means REST. Use this time to reflect on your progress in your plan, listen to how your body is responding to training, evaluate your dietary habits and assess how you may improve them, and the list continues. There are so many ways you can use rest day to your training benefit, but the most important is to heed the need to truly rest your muscles and joints at least one day each week. 

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