Walk breaks on long runs:
Note: You must still slow down the overall pace to at least 2 minutes per mile slower than you could currently run in a marathon.
The most important walk breaks are the ones taken during the first mile and the second most important, those taken in the second mile, and so on. When taken from the beginning of all long runs, walk breaks erase fatigue, speed recovery, reduce injury, and yet bestow all of the endurance benefits of the distance covered. In other words, when both cover the same distance, a slow long run with walk breaks gives you the same distance conditioning as a fast run without them.
Doing “the minimum” will decrease your chance of injury and fatigue
The programs in this book might look minimal: only an hour of running during the week! But doing the minimum will decrease injury and fatigue. When you extend your endurance limits on each long run, you’ll stress and break down the muscle and energy systems. The good news comes after rest days. When you give the running muscles a chance to recover, they make dozens of adaptations, gearing you up for an even greater challenge between one and three weeks later. If you’re not getting enough rest, your muscles will accumulate pockets of microtears, which will continue to accumulate until you experience extreme fatigue or injury.
Tens of thousands of average people have gone through our program, with almost no injuries among those who follow the minimum. There are always some, however, who just have to push the envelope. The few who get injured in our training groups are almost always those who add distance, speed, or exercise days to our recommended schedule.
Because this is a bare-bones program, it’s very important to do every one of the 50 minutes of exercise during the week to maintain long-run endurance and to speed recovery by increasing the blood flow to the muscles. You can run or walk in segments as short as 10 minutes, accumulating the magic 1 hour of exercise over a four- to five-day period. As is true with “cramming” before exams, it’s not effective to get in all 60 minutes during the two days before the next long run. The day before the long run, avoid exercise, or at least avoid exercise for the calf muscles in the lower leg.
Rest and cross training
Significant rest is as important as the stress components of the program are. It’s actually during the rest days that your muscles rebuild themselves, become stronger, and make adaptations for greater efficiency. Only if you refrain from stressing them will the muscles recover enough to prevent injury or lingering tiredness.
To maximize the chance of having resilient legs, you need to rest the muscles on the day before the long run. Cross training can be done on non-running days. Make sure that the lower leg muscles can recover and you don’t seem to be accumulating overall fatigue. Avoid stair machines, leg-strengthening exercises, cycling that involves standing up, and step aerobics classes. The most useful cross-training exercises are water running, cross-country ski machines, walking, swimming, cycling, and upper body weight training.
Only those who have run a marathon before should even consider a time goal. The primary benefit in this program comes from gradually increasing the distance of the long run. Having run more than 60 marathons for time and more than 90 just to finish, I believe that time improvement is for the ego, although there’s nothing wrong with that. The speed game can be interesting, but most of the satisfaction in running in a marathon comes from crossing the finish line. Your first marathon should be done at a pace slow enough so that you reach the finish line knowing that you could run faster and that you want to run another.
Veterans who have run a marathon or few and want to improve their times can add a speed component on some of the alternate (“off”) weekends. (See pp. 119120 for my recommended schedule of hill play.) Please be careful: The addition of speed will increase your chances of injury. As long as your goal is realistic, you’re taking sufficient rest, and you adapt the pace to weather conditions, you’ll give your body the creative stress it needs to help you improve gradually.
Veterans will increase their chance of fulfilling their time goals by increasing the length of the long run to 28 or 29 miles. This builds extra endurance, which gives your legs the capacity to keep pushing during the latter stages of the marathon itself. On these extra-long runs, reduce the pace from the beginning by running at least 2 minutes per mile slower than you could currently run in a marathon.
Don’t mix and match
Beware of mixing components, that is, don’t add speed-training elements to your long runs or try to extend or speed up the speed-training sessions. Running too fast on the long run will leave you much more tired, and with more damaged muscle cells, than you would experience by following the Two-Minute Rule. Not only are you increasing the chance of injury, but veterans who try to put speed into the endurance run will sacrifice the quantity or quality of their speed play later in the week. Often this fatigue is subtle, because of the release of stress hormones which mask the sensations of tiredness, and you won’t feel it for two or three long runs.
Maintenance runs that are too fast will slow down recovery and increase the buildup of fatigue. It is important that your 60 minutes of maintenance exercise during the week is done slowly enough so the muscles will recover from the previous weekend. When in doubt, go slower.
Running too long or too fast during speed-play sessions will reduce the prospective benefit. In endurance events, speed, like endurance, is developed in a series of many speed sessions, each pushing only a little further than the one before. Going further or faster than you have been in the recent past will increase the time you need to recover and complicate the rebuilding process. When too many of the muscle cells are damaged, the muscle takes longer to rebuild itself.
It helps to have a group
One of the most delightful things I do is help set up training groups around North America. Each group member finds a significant motivation boost to do the long runs and to get in the 60 minutes during the week. You’ll be inspired by your “teammates” some days, and you’ll inspire them on others. Choose a team that has the same fitness condition as you. The goal is to go slowly enough on long runs that even the least-conditioned members of the group can keep up. In each of the cities where we have groups, we have several sub-groups, based upon fitness level.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Where is the wall?
Most marathoners who push themselves by starting their long runs too fast, or exceeding the distance of their current long run by more than 3 miles, or both, will experience a “wall” of fatigue at the end of the run. The wall hits you quickly as you reach your limits. Within a few meters, you go from feeling tired but capable of going on to feeling as if you can’t go more than a few steps. The muscles have gone too far beyond their limit. Because of the physical stress, your left brain is sending you streams of messages that tell you to quit, question your sanity, and ask you philosophical questions such as, “Why am I doing this?”
Your wall is normally the length of your longest run within the past two or three weeks, provided you are running at the correct long-run pace. Going even a little too fast in the beginning will make you hit the wall sooner. On a hot, humid day if you don’t slow your pace down, way down you’ll bump into that wall before you know it. Even those who have missed a long run in their training schedule have been able to do the next long run by slowing down and running at least 3 minutes per mile slower than their current marathon pace, taking walk breaks much more frequently. The more conservative you are, in pace and in the number of walk breaks, from the beginning of the run, the more you can push your wall back farther and farther with little risk of fatigue or injury.
Why do I need to run a 26-mile training run before the marathon?
To prove to yourself that you can do it. On each long run, including the 26-miler, most people who are training for their first marathon are running farther than they have ever gone in their lives. After running the 26-mile training run, your training is complete. You won’t have to push your wall back during the marathon itself. You have arrived. The confidence bestowed by that 26-mile achievement will take away much of the nervousness leading up to the marathon itself. You’re going to have some discouraging messages from that left side of the brain whenever you attempt a challenge like this, but you’ll reduce them to a manageable level after completing this, the ultimate, long training run.
I’ve heard that going beyond 20 miles breaks you down. Is this true?
Only if you run too fast. Impatient runners and Type-A running personalities are the source of such rumors. They are so tired after an 18- to 20-mile run that they can’t imagine how anyone could run longer than that without dire consequences. When long training runs themselves become races, the body accumulates fatigue, which may not be erased by marathon day.
It’s an entirely different story when you follow the Two-Minute Rule and take the walk breaks you need. On each long run you gently push your endurance barrier back another 2 to 3 miles. Gentle fatigue, yes; breakdown, no.
But I have a time goal, even if it’s my first run …
A time goal puts stress on you before and during the first marathon, which will reduce your enjoyment of the big moment. By backing off by two minutes per mile slower than your current marathon race pace, you’ll be able to enjoy the course, talk to other runners and share the experience. You’ll cross that finish line knowing that you could run faster, and this will motivate you to do just that … if you want to.
I ran my first 60 marathons hard. Now I’ve run more than 90 running within myself. I’ve received the same satisfaction, sense of achievement, and internal glow from all of the slow ones as I did from the fast ones. The main difference is that I could appreciate the satisfaction and celebrate the achievement on the slow ones. I wasn’t very social for very long after the fast ones.
Doesn’t slow running produce a slow runner?
Actually, running a fast, long training run will make you run slower your legs will be so dead they won’t recover between the long runs. The long run has only one purpose: to build endurance. The most effective way to do this is progressively, by slowly covering 2 to 3 miles further than you covered on your previous long run. The slower you run, the more quickly you’ll recover so that if you want to go for a fast time, you can do the speed training necessary to get faster.
What type of medical clearance do I need?
Before you start a strenuous training program, be sure to get clearance from a doctor who knows the benefits of exercise. Chances are slim that you’ll have a problem that will prevent you from continuing, but let’s make sure.