Fundamentals

Some of the wisest running advice comes from some of the sport’s most respected achievers and they express great wisdom very simply. Here are some basics:-

Make the hard days hard and the easy days easy – Jon Brown, UK 10,000metres recordholder and twice 4th in the Olympic Marathon. In many groups the harder structured sessions can fall slightly short of reaping the full intended benefits, whilst the supposed recovery running may be done too fast to really enable effective recovery, thus runners can get into a cycle of too much ‘middling’ effort running.

Newer runners should mostly be running more often than they think they should and less distance each run than they think they should. The late Cliff Temple, coach to some world class runners and leading journalist. Keen new runners seeking to improve should look to progress fairly quickly to running 4 or 5 days per week but typically only two of these runs need be much more than 30-35 minutes. Too many recreational runners run too infrequently and each run is too long to maximize the training effect of such infrequent training.

Too many runners don’t do longer repetition running with short recoveries – Paula Radcliffe, world record holder and world champion at the marathon. For many runners, ‘speedwork’ is not carried out in a suitable structure particularly if they are training for races of 10k and longer. The trend is often that the faster running is too fast and the recovery period too long to really make the most suitable training for their target races.

It's the last third of each hard training session that makes the performance difference - Jim Harvey, coach to Mark Carroll, Irish 3k and 5k record holder and one of the world's fastest non-Africans. It's a good point, and requires the coach and athlete to be confident that whatever is the full session is the suitable balance of volume, speed and, if it's any sort of repetition running, recovery

How the elites train

Elite Marathon Training

What can we learn from how a top international level marathoner trains?  Here is an insight into the training of top Spanish endurance athlete, Fabian Roncero.

How do the elite train?

Marathon training

How Simple Can We Make It?

Back in 2008 there was a UK Athletics Marathon Squad weekend where the then UKA Head of Endurance - with various Olympic medallists on his coaching CV - was booked for a 90 minute presentation and Q+A slot. His sense of humour is as good as his endurance knowledge. He opened with:-

'Ideally, using the principles of training for the specific event, you'd race a marathon every day. As we know that wouldn't work, what you need to consider is how to make the most of your VO2 max; your Lactate Threshhold; and your running economy, in a way that works for you as an individual'. Then, glancing at his watch, 'Can I go to the pub now?'.

We still had 89 minutes left and the remaining time was usefully filled. I left the room thinking that was about as good as coach and athlete education gets, while an athlete who has since been the first UK finisher in the London Marathon, found it all highly demotivating.   

Lessons Learned? Firstly, don't lose sight of what the underlying principles are and try to see where all training fits into the key performance components of the event. Secondly, which runners relate best to which coaches can be an unpredictable business  

Hill training

How can structured hill training work for you?

Training on hills will:-

To help illustrate this, I have included some suggested sessions below. There’s no harm in combining different options within the same session, provided that you understand what the purpose of the session is; that you don’t just stick to your ‘favourite’ session which may result in neglecting weaker areas of your performance, and that the relative balance of volume and intensity is sensibly suited to the rest of your training plan.

Click below for some hill training advice...

Hill training advice

10km racing

10K runWe’ve all had that dialogue with non-runners who have two concepts of racing distances. Marathon – very long and tough. 10k – short and simple, the distance of choice for joggers and fun runners. The ever increasing number of 10ks organized by clubs, charities and corporate sports brands also develops the idea that a nippy 10k can be dashed off every weekend for a T shirt and a decent blow out.  But to think a little deeper about the event ….we look to the coach of a guy who’s come 1st and 2nd in the last 2 European Championships at 10,000m and been the leading non-African at the last Olympic 10,000m, so we’ll guess he understands the challenge of 10k running.

He recalls watching a very experienced guy, sub – 28 minutes and with experience in the brutally tough World Cross Country Championships over 12k, looking painfully anxious before the start of a 10k and saying ‘That dread and anguish before a 10k never leaves me and is even worse than before a marathon’. OK, maybe this runner urgently needed a sports psychologist, but the point to note is that the race is no picnic when you push yourself.

Running a 10k to the upper limit of your current fitness level is never easy. For the large majority of us, it involves running between 30 and 50 minutes at a pace that feels fine for 5-10 minutes, then uncomfortable for maybe half the remaining time, and extremely hard work for the final 10 to 15 minutes. After about 5 minutes of 10k pace running you will be breathing too hard to talk, so if you are able to hold a conversation with other athletes and spectators along the route, you may well find that you will finish with more in the tank than you had planned.

So, as very general rules of thumb to get your 10k times closer to what you can really achieve, think about the following suggestions: -

Don’t race the target distance too frequently, just because it’s so easily available. Instead select a particular 10k race as your aim, perhaps 12 to 16 weeks away and systematically prepare for it, incorporating both shorter and slightly longer races in your build up.

    Don’t start your race too quickly. Embed firmly in your body and mind, the exact feeling of what your PB 10k pace actually feels like, and then practice it regularly. A common mistake, made by many distance runners, is that they spend little time in the race at their 'average' 10k pace. Instead, they will typically start off far too quickly, and are already slowing when they briefly spend a little time at their average pace during the middle section of the race.  From this point and into the latter stages of the race, they drift towards a pace that is slow enough to ensure that their best potential result is not achieved.

    Do give 10k training sessions the right structure and challenge. When running intervals or repetition at 10k pace, you will notice one major difference compared to actually racing 10k. This is that in the race there is no kind coach allowing you time to walk or jog to recover en route. With this in mind, you should always look carefully at the duration of the efforts that you run. These efforts should last several minutes, allowing you to experience the demands of running at race pace, but not necessarily so long that your running form and pace suffer. Its also important that the recovery time between each effort is kept fairly short, generally not more than 30% of the duration of the repetition.

    As your fitness improves, and you are running even paced efforts, with a short recovery, the next thing that should be reviewed is the volume of your session, not the pace at which you are running. If you are running less than 8km at your 10k pace during each session, there may be room for improvement in this area.

Progressive improvements to the running sessions, combined with a well structured training program, racing calendar, will have a positive impact on your 10k performance if you give your body time to adjust.

As your fitness improves, and you are running even paced efforts, with a short recovery, the next thing that should be reviewed is the volume of your session, not the pace at which you are running. If you are running less than 8km at your 10k pace during each session, there may be room for improvement in this area.

Progressive improvements to the running sessions, combined with a well structured training program, racing calendar, will have a positive impact on your 10k performance if you give your body time to adjust.

Strength and conditioning

This training element can combine any of the following, and all the permutations within each discipline

Without going into detail in this website, a runner will run faster if, all other things being equal, they are stronger. Strength is accepted within sports performance as ‘the maximum force that can be exerted in a single maximum effort’. Therefore, neglecting your strength will limit your ultimate potential as a runner and leave you more vulnerable to running related injuries.

Endurance running does not make you stronger as it involves sustained effort at well below maximum level. There is much robust research showing that even amongst good level runners, their actual leg strength, without dedicated strength training, is no greater than non-runners. Legs aside, in key running areas such as hips, gluteals, trunk and lower back, runners may be no stronger than sedentary people. It should be easy to appreciate that if you build up an increased level of cardio-vascular fitness that enables your aerobic fitness to move quicker than any part of your body is strong enough to sustain, something will give way.

As a guideline,I will include in your programme some strength and conditioning contents which are:-

    Simple enough to do in your own home
    Suitable to be done effectively in relatively short sessions
    Do not require purchase of any expensive equipment
    Often based around using your bodyweight as the form of resistance
  Timetabled so that they do not hinder, or interfere with your other running training and particularly any races

Stretching - for better or worse?

As it always crops up in runners' debate on how to fune tune their training, we'll sum up, simply but practically, the latest thinking as applied to athletics and, particularly, distance runing. A major compilation of research endorsed in 2004 by the  American College of Sports Medicine, concluded not very conclusively; -
 
- "There is insufficient evidence to endorse or discontinue routine stretching before or after exercise to prevent injury amongst competitive or recreatinal athletes." Anecdotally, from experience, the majority of coaches, athletes and physios would more likely recomend static stretching as part of a warm down at the end of a training session. This is when the body's raised temperature enables increased flexibility in the muscle tissues, ligaments and tendons. This , usefully, correlates with a 1990s study showing that marathoners who stretched after running were less prone to injuries than those who trained before, or who did not stretch at all. Amongst nations whose performance coaching advises against static stretching in the warm up, we can include the Eastern Europeans, Australia, UK and Spain.
 
The current best practice on the duration of stretches is along the lines of holding the stretch for about 15 - 20 secondsand doing two or at most three sets of each stretch on each side of the body. Given a sequence of maybe 6 to 8 stretches that, for distance runners, will bring in most of the main muscle groups needed to be kept flexible for running, some basic maths indicates why about 10 minutes is often the amount of time allocated for a purposeful, structured static stretching session.
 
As far as stretching's role in performance inprovement, looked at separately from injury prevention, we should think about the importance of maintaining the range of motion (ROM) needed for the specific activity. Each athlete brings a particular maximum ROM to any single training session or race. An 800 metre runner who wishes to improve from say 2.08 to 2.02 will, amongst other things, need to ensure an improved ROM is developed to enable them to run at this higher speed without incurring injury . Thus a sprint hurdler and a marathon runner will have very different needs and, in the main, the sprint hurdler will have a more extensive and demanding ROM across a wider range of muscle, joint and tendon groups, than the marathoner.  A distance runner needs to ensure that when they practice running at a particular speed, their warm up before running at this pace includes dynamic drills (ie drills carried out while moving)  to ensure that their 'functional flexibility' is maintained.  Even within the endurance spectrum, the dynamic warm up of an 800m runner will differ from that of a marathoner.

Marathon Recovery

I've set put below the principles of how best to recover after a marathon. It's one of the few aspects of 'training' where I find that what seems optimum for the quickest marathoners I coach is actually very similar to what works for those with much more modest performances. It's generally true that the fastest ones are more reluctant to stretch out the recovery to this extent. I can paraphrase a summary from one of the elite guys who gave me a testimonial. He was coached for many years by UK's most successful endurance coach and in his marathon days he said 'If you saw us three weeks after a marathon you'd be surprised how little we were doing. If you saw us five weeks after a marathon you might be surprised by how much we were doing'. Not everyone will be inclined to follow the second part of that summary but the idea is that if you recover fully you are better equipped to get back into thorough training for whatever is the next goal, rather than pushing on too hard too early and two months post-marathon still feeling 'not quite right'.

In many ways the over-arching principles of recovery; transition; general training; specific training; taper; and competition apply to a marathon as they do to an 800 metre runner, with a few specifics to reflect the sheer physical challenge of a full on marathon. Do bear in mind that, whilst the marathon is of course physically ‘catabolic’ in that in the short term it fatigues you immensely, in the bigger longer term picture it is an immense training effort. So, if you respect the recovery period, the marathon itself will be of use in shorter endurance races maybe 4 to 6 weeks later   If you can, try to avoid getting too immersed in your next marathon plan too soon after completing the last one, both physically and, just as importantly, mentally.  It’s hard to be a constantly committed marathon runner all year round

As a minimum, look at something like the following:-

Week 1 – no running until at least 5 or 6 days after. Maybe some very low level non-weight bearing aerobic activity after about 3 or 4 days. Don’t feel guilty about having a week off and limit any effort to about 40 minutes  and about 70% of maximum heart rate, ‘ talking pace’ Massage about three to five days post marathon may also be helpful in addressing some of the tightness that will have inevitably built up. Avoid massage in the 48 hours post-marathon as your muscles will still be in a state of trauma

Week 2 – again no harm in having a week off running and continuing to confine any ‘training’ to further low level efforts of about 40 minutes of cross training. Avoid the temptation of getting back into any regular group or club training at this stage. The recovery phase is gradual and doesn’t recognise calendars or diaries, so after 7 or 14 days there won’t be any major overnight rejuvenation.  At the most, a 60 or 70 minute easy run on the weekend two weeks after the marathon can be attempted.  Depending on your level of eating in this recovery phase, you may have gained a kilo or two of bodyweight for the obvious reason that your calorie requirements will have been somewhat less than when in training.

Week 3 – if you have been honest with yourself about allowing a real easy period in the previous fortnight then you may now feel ready to slightly raise the training. If so, then running  on however many days per week you did in your marathon prep should be fine, but do spare yourself the rigours of intensity and long distance at this stage. As a guideline, about half of whatever has been your maximum weekly mileage should be manageable, and no need to run any of it quicker than your average marathon pace. This may be a suitable time to recommence some strength and conditioning.

So, three weeks later and if you have stayed at about racing weight then there should now be a balance between absorbing the major physical challenge of the marathon and the benefits it can bring to training, and allowing recovery and a level of regeneration from this immense effort.

Injuries - Guidelines

I've set out below extracts on injury management and avoidance from my book. 

  Bear in mind that ‘overuse’ is a deliberately generic word that in running injury terms can simply mean ‘too much’ in the widest sense. Too much mileage per se, of course, but it can also include any of the following causes:-

 

-       too much running on pavement or tarmac

-       too much running in inadequate shoes

-       too rapid an increase in the volume of training

-       too rapid an increase in the intensity of training, even if the volume has stayed the same

-       too sudden a change in the training regime, whether related to the running and/or non-running elements of the training programme

-       too much uphill or downhill running

-       too much running on an uneven road camber

-       too much training on an inadequately nourished or dehydrated body

-       too much training on a sleep-deprived body

-       too much running for the body’s particular state of biomechanics

 That’s a lot of factors so it’s no wonder that so many runners suffer some sort of injury at some point. It does however back up the overarching philosophy of making training progress gradually rather than suddenly. 

 Working with medical advice

 If we exclude degenerative conditions such as advanced osteoarthritis, and trauma injuries which may permanently damage your musculo-skeletal structure, then there really should be very very few injuries that are somehow ‘caused’ by running that should need to end your running career. You may need to do extensive rehab exercises; you may eventually need to consider the benefits from minor surgery; you may need to be very careful about surfaces; very long distances; frequency of running; or footwear but one way or another there should be a source of treatment that keeps you as a regular endurance runner.  

 The word ‘conditioning’ has just as wide a coverage and for distance running we can maybe think of it in modern management speak as meaning’ fit for purpose’. There are elite runners whose marathon preparation may include up to 130 miles weekly on the roads and if they can sustain this without any of the above factors taking a toll then one way or another they have become adequately conditioned to do so. 

 The runner’s perception of the quality of their medical adviser is key in the recovery process, and is linked to their diligence in following the recommended rehab programme. So, just as with your running, do set some goals and structure to your non-running recovery process.  If your practitioner is as committed to eliminating and preventing the injury’s recurrence as you are likely to be, there may be a regular and precise set of exercises and drills that you are advised to do. Two or three sessions per day is not uncommon from sports medicine specialists, maybe spending up to forty or fifty minutes daily building up the conditioning needed to reduce the prospects of the injury recurring. This has the added benefit that mentally you will still have that structure and commitment to a training plan, albeit it won’t involve belting round your most scenic training routes.

 When you decide that an injury does need some medical diagnosis and advice, take a pen and paper to your first appointment (which may be your only appointment if you are lucky) and ask your specialist all of the following, and note down and act upon the replies:-

-      What caused the injury?

-       What exactly should I do to prevent the injury recurring?

-       How often should I do the rehab exercises and how long should I continue to do them for

-       How long should I cease running for?

-       When I start running, how should I build up the running duration and frequency?

-       What cross training options can I pursue in the meantime?

-       Can I do these cross training options with the same intensity as my running?

 Your practitioner may not be able to provide all these answers, but it’s definitely worth asking. Bear in mind that the healing process may vary in duration and that a second or in some case third appointment may also be recommended.  It’s an annoying scenario for any runner to be in – not only are you unable to run, but you are incurring extra expense in doing so and probably spending what would be training or leisure time in travelling to appointments and doing the recommended rehab. Do follow the rehab advise precisely as recommended, however time consuming and boring it may be. If you don’t, you are more likely to be making recurring visits if the injury recurs.   

 There is a major link between the conditioning of a runner; their biomechanics and their incidence of injury. So if you find that you increase your average mileage from say 30 to 40 over two months and become injured in doing so, on one hand it may well be that the increased mileage partly caused the injury. On the other hand, don’t take this to mean that you will repeatedly become injured when you run 40 miles weekly. It should be a matter of increasing the strength/strength endurance qualities of whatever caused the injury (quite often more than one factor is involved) so that you can in future withstand a higher training load, if that is how you wish to progress.

The often quoted guideline of avoiding mileage increases of more than 10% per week has its general uses but it doesn’t acknowledge that each runner will have an injury threshold, which will vary as their robustness increases or decreases, so if you are having recurring injuries keep a tab on how your mileage has evolved and look for indicators of what may be your cut off point.

Marathon Menu

Here is a list of recommended marathons that cover the UK, Europe and indeed the world. I have coached people who have done all these races and they all have come back with positive feedback. A few guidelines:-
- the races are all on normal road surface
- they are all timetabled at times of the year when favourable marathon weather is likely, although it can never be guaranteed and several of them can have some occasional extremes of weather 
- they are all courses where you can set a PB; none of them would be classed as difficult or, overall, hilly,  although some do have some elements of climb and descent
- websites for these events can change as new headline sponsors come on board so I haven't put web links
- these races all have their own individual entry procedures and some have qualifying standards and/or ballots, so don't expect me to know at any given date whether a race is full up!

 I have shown in bold my subjective Top 10 for perhaps the best odds of having everything right in terms of weather and a fast course in an interesting location. I have also shown in bold six races where the slightly undulating course and the likelihood of hotter than ideal weather gives slightly reduced chance of the ideal race day scenario but these events are all still worth considering and include some of the world’s great cities  

Of course, the other big variable can be the cost to travel to and from these races and clearly someone in Southern England may have a different budget if they plan to choose Sydney rather than Abingdon or Bournemouth as their autumn marathon. However, travel and hotel costs across different parts of the UK are not always much less than a similar round trip to Europe so  it's often worth looking at some of the Euro options that combine a great fast course in an exciting city in a well organised event.
 
Nearly all races go for the same weekend each year although those in March and April can fluctuate depending on Easter dates.

Moving from subjectivity towards self-indulgence I'd mention that I won one of the listed races twice. No prizes for deducing which one
 
Jan

Still searching for Euro-friendly option. For swift Americans and jetsetters, the USA often  holds its

Championships selection race in January in either Houston or Sacramento

 Feb

Seville

Tokyo

 March

Barcelona

Rome 

April

Manchester

Brighton - AVOID

Paris

London

Rotterdam

Boston

Bungay

Taunton

Madrid

 May

Sunderland

Riga

Edinburgh

 June
Stockholm

 July/Aug

Unless you are likely to be running in a major international championship or in

Helsinki I’ll call this the marathon off season   

 Sept

Berlin

Nottingham

Sydney

 Oct
Chicago

Eindhoven

Chester

Abingdon

Liverpool

Amsterdam

Venice

York

Dublin

Frankfurt

 Nov
Florence

New York City

San Sebastian

Philadelphia

Valencia

Istanbul

 Dec

Malaga

Pisa