The secret to running a marathon faster really is quite simple.

Boat Shed Sunrise by Paul Harrison. If you lay in bed you miss these views… why wouldn’t you get up early ?

After my last post about the marathon being two separate distances , encompassing a 32k warm-up before a 10k ‘sprint’ to the line,  I thought I’d share one of the sure fire ways to improve your marathon finishing time.  As readers of my ‘ramblings’ will know I have some golden rules to improving your running , summarized below.

  1. Run Further. Add distance, not speed.
  2. Run Faster. This is about adding pace after you have got your foundation after rule 1.
  3. Don’t get injured. This is the hardest rule to obey as you always want to do more of rule 1 and 2 which can result in an injury. (I even hate typing the word!)
  4. Nutrition, nutrition and nutrition… Did I mention nutrition. It’s all about the proper fuel.
  5. Weight. So important, use to believe because I ran 100k+ a week I could eat what I wanted. Not true.
  6. Baseline, document and evaluate everything. If it isn’t on www.strava.com it didn’t happen. Once you set a goal you have to be able to know how far you have come to achieving this, small steps but constant feedback. So buy a Garmin and start recording , everything !!!
  7. Sleep. So underestimated but the bodies way of refuelling and preparing for the next day of running. Common sense but so often ignored.
  8. Consistency. No point running 100k one week and then nothing. Marathon fitness is built up over time and this works hand in hand with rule number 1.
  9. It’s all in the mind. After 32k a marathon is down to mental strength and the ability to persuade your body you can still perform at your desired pace without falling to fatigue, which is the minds way of protecting itself. Never underestimate the power of the mind in long distance racing

Without doubt the most important rule, in my opinion, is number 1, ‘Run Further. Add Distance, Not Speed’ This is the foundation on which you build success. Whatever distance you are currently running, do more,  with the caveat of avoiding injury of course (Golden rule number 3)  I have said many, many times ‘running is an honest sport’ , there are no short cuts, to really improve you need to run more distance and more often. For a runner there are no Zip wheels, Death Star helmets or mega-buck carbon-fibre bikes to gain an advantage , it’s just down to physical and mental strength and who wants its the most. ( This may now not be as true as the new Nike Vaporflys 4%  do seem to give the wearer an advantage over your Asics Kayano’s type marathon runners, albeit only a 4% efficiency improvement if you believe the hype; which I do.)

I believe there is no such thing as ‘junk miles’, every run you finish has helped and thus if you run more, and more often, it stands to reason you will improve quicker. Another way to turbo-charge your improvement is to run twice a day. Most runners struggle with this concept but all the professionals run minimum twice a day. Of course, I hear you say, they have time on their hands and it’s what they are paid to do but even us mortals can find time for a second run with a bit of time management. Personally I am lucky enough to be able to run every lunchtime in near perfect conditions , the curse of living in the colonies. I then normally run mornings, pre-work,  as for most of the year this is the best time to run anyway. In summer especially it can be the only time to run as my home town , Perth, is situated in a desert and for three months of the year can be unpleasant after the early morning sunrise.

Some runners find is hard to find time in the mornings with family commitments etc. so will need to step-up in the evenings and this may involve running in the dark. I personally find no enjoyment from this but understand you have to put in the hard yards to continue to improve so take one of my David Goggins ‘suck it up’ pills and off into the night I go. ( http://www.davidgoggins.com ) What I found was, in the evening, if you’re sitting at home watching rubbish on TV you should be running. This is where you can get your second run, substitute sitting down at the end of the day wasting time to doing something constructive towards your next goal race, it really is that simple, go for a run. The second run of the day is all about time on feet anyway , there are no objectives bar the actual time spent running. No pressures, no time constraints, the second run of the day can be liberating because it is running for running’s sake, nothing more , nothing less.

The second run is where the magic happens, this is the reason the professionals run minimum twice a day. It allows then to add the distance needed to see the improvements required without the risk of injury, if they are careful and the run really is a time on feet exercise. Recreational runners will also see the same benefit and probably more because they will starting from a lower level with greater opportunity for improvement.

Of course it is to be noted that this is only one of the jigsaw puzzle that is running improvement but it is one I feel every runner needs to embrace as much as possible. I understand most runners will not be able to hit the 14 times a week goal,  that is a double run a day, but any additional run to your weekly schedule will be beneficial. Small steps for big gains, maybe try one double day a week initially and then build up. Of course if this puts too much strain on you then move back to the single run but maybe try and add weekly distance before trying a double day later. Remember adding distance is all about adding to the foundation of your running and this foundation needs to be stable and strong before you start to add pace.  There are several coaches who support the distance theory of running including the late, great Arthur Lydiard ( http://lydiardfoundation.org/ ) Phil Maffetone  ( https://philmaffetone.com/ ) and Matt Fitzgerald. ( https://mattfitzgerald.org/ )

So next time your sitting at home watch that mind-numbing soap or a reality show making overweight people exercise to the brink of death maybe think ‘I could be doing something more constructive’. Go and do what you love and ‘smell the roses’ (or whatever wild flower is available in your area?) with a relaxing second run. Payback will be so sweet when you rock up for your next race and find you’ve fitted a turbo-charger and leave the pack behind as you explode towards the finish line.

 

Christine Junkermann sums up the Lydiard method below from a Runners World post in 2000. ( https://www.runnersworld.com/

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Forty years ago at the Rome Olympics, athletes guided by legendary New Zealand coach Arthur Lydiard made history. Among Lydiard’s protégés were a total of 17 Olympic medalists, including Peter Snell (800 and 1,500 meters), Murray Halberg (5,000 meters) and Barry Magee (marathon). Lydiard, now 82, toured the U.S. last fall, speaking to runners on the Lydiard method of training. He was as passionate as ever about sharing the methods he developed 50 years ago.

Lydiard hasn’t changed his training advice over the decades, and why should he? His ideas work. Moreover, if you look carefully at the most popular and successful programs today, most have a Lydiard emphasis. For Lydiard, running to your potential is about having a substantial mileage base and not overdoing your anaerobic training. There are no shortcuts.

A Revolutionary Method

Lydiard discovered running for sport when he struggled to run five miles with a friend. Forced to confront his own unfitness, he self-experimented with training, including running more than 250 miles in one week. He developed a plan that he felt confident in using with other runners. Central to his method was the importance of training in phases and peaking for major events.

According to Lydiard, any successful training program must culminate in a goal race or racing period. This means planning several months. The ideal training schedule is at least 28 weeks: 12 weeks for base conditioning, eight weeks for hill training and speed development, six weeks for sharpening and 10 days for tapering/rest.

Phase 1: Base Conditioning/Aerobic Training

This three-month period is the most important in the Lydiard system. If you want to give yourself every opportunity to reach your goal, you must commit to developing your aerobic capacity, says Lydiard. Why? Because although every runner has a limited anaerobic (speed-building) capacity, that limit is largely set by one’s aerobic potential—the body’s ability to use oxygen. Thus, the aerobic capacity that you develop determines the success of your entire training program.

The foundation of Lydiard-style base conditioning is three long runs per week. These are steady runs done at more than recovery effort. To determine your pace, choose a relatively flat course and run out at a strong pace for 15 minutes, then run back. The goal is to return in the same time or slightly faster. If it takes you longer for the return trip, you paced yourself too fast. The objective of these runs is to be “pleasantly tired,” says Lydiard. Running slower will produce positive effects, but the results will take longer. Do not run to the point of lactic-acid buildup.

An ideal training week during this period includes a two-hour run and two one and one half-hour runs. On the other days do short, easy runs; one run with some light picking up of the pace; and one 5K to 10K tempo run (below lactate-threshold pace). Decrease the times and distances if you don’t have the mileage base to start at such high volume, then build gradually.

Phase 2: Hill Training/Speed Development

Lydiard-style hill training, the focus of the first four weeks of this period, involves a circuit that includes bounding uphill, running quickly downhill and sprinting. These workouts develop power, flexibility and good form, all of which produce a more economical running style. Ideally, you should find a hill with three parts: a flat 200- to 400-meter area at the base for sprints, a 200- to 300-meter rise for bounding and a recovery area or moderate downhill segment at the top. Alternatively you can work out on a treadmill with an adjustable incline.

After a warm-up, bound uphill with hips forward and knees high. Lydiard describes the stride as “springing with a bouncing action and slow forward progression.” If you can’t make it all the way up, jog, then continue bounding. At the top jog easily for about three minutes or run down a slight incline with a fast, relaxed stride. Then return to the base of the hill for the next bounding segment. Every 15 minutes (after about every third or fourth hill), intersperse several 50- to 400-meter sprints on flat ground. These sprints mark the end of one complete circuit. Lydiard recommends a total workout time of one hour (plus warm-up and cool-down). Do this hill circuit three days per week.

On three of the four remaining days, focus on developing leg speed. Lydiard suggests 10 repetitions of 120 to 150 meters over a flat or very slight downhill surface. Warm up and cool down thoroughly.) The seventh day is a one and one-half to two-hour steady-state run.

During the second four weeks, shift from hills to traditional track workouts. The objective here, says Lydiard, is to “finish knowing that you could not do much more nor any better.” This sensation of fatigue matters less than how many intervals you do at what speeds, though the workout should total about three miles of fast running. Perform these track sessions three times per week. Use the remaining four days for a long run, leg-speed work and sprint-training drills traditionally done by sprinters to develop strength, form and speed.

Phase 3: Sharpening

How many times have you died in the last half of your race? Or alternatively, finished with too much left? Sharpening allows you to test for your strengths and weaknesses as you prepare for your goal race. Three workouts do not vary. The first is the long run, done at a relaxed pace. The second is an anaerobic training session done at a greater intensity and lower volume. Lydiard suggests five laps of a 400-meter track (about seven to eight minutes of running) alternating 50 meters of sprinting and 50 meters of easy, but strong, running.

The third consistent workout is a weekly time trial at or below the distance for which you are training. A 10K runner would do a 5K to 10K trial; a 1,500 meter runner would do 1,200 to meters. Ideally, do this workout on a track and record every lap to determine your weaknesses, and work on them throughout the rest of that week and the following week. For example, if the second half of your trial is slower than the first half, run a longer tune-up race that week and a longer time trial the next week. If the pace felt difficult but you were able to maintain it pretty evenly, work on your leg speed.

Round out your training week with a sprint-training session, a pace judgment day (4 x 400 meters at goal race pace), a leg-speed workout and a tune-up race. All these workouts should be geared to your goal distance and pace.

Phase 4: Tapering and Rest

Lydiard calls the final 10 days before goal race “freshening up.” This involves lightening your training to build up your physical and mental reserves for the target competition. Train every day but keep the faster running low in volume and the longer runs light in effort.

Unquestionably, Lydiard’s program tests your commitment and desire, and it requires a solid understanding of your individual needs. If you are serious, start counting out those 28 weeks.