How to Train for a Marathon

According to Marks daily apple he writes a blog geared towards this question; How would I train to do the least damage and get the most benefit? As a marathon runner he focuses this post on not winning a marathon but how to finish the race without embarrassing and/or hurting yourself. The marathons is about accomplishing something big, something special, It’s about training for a decent, respectable showing in a marathon.
He focuses on dietary and stored body fat, that provides much of the aerobic energy you will need to maintain reasonable pace for 26.2 miles. “If you have spent the few weeks reprogramming your body to derive most of your energy from fat while at rest and at a low level of activity. You’re basically training your body to become more efficient with its energy so that you can run a marathon. You’re actually reapportioning how your body uses various types of fuel at different activity levels.”

He says that there should you have three primary goals:

1. Achieve mitochondrial biogenesis and optimality.

Increasing the number of mitochondria (Muscle Fibers Type I slow twitch fibers are preferred) will spread the aerobic workload –when you improve the number of your mitochondria their is less reliance on glucose and/or glycogen as a primary fuel and more reliance on fat.

More slowtwitch fibers
For endurance athletes, Type I (slowtwitch) fibers are preferred. They are able to be worked longer before fatigue sets in. Slowtwitch fibers are also more efficient at using oxygen to generate fuel.In effect, this will increase your “miles per gallon.” Only instead of filling the tank with gasoline, you’re using stored body fat.

2. Increase the amount of fat burnt relative to carbs at a given work output.

Avoid a hit Glycogen depletion aka “hitting the wall,”  the more fat you’re able to burn and turn into useable energy, the less glycogen you’ll go through. As Mark states, “Muscle glycogen storage is very limited so whether you’re a sugar-burner or a fat-burner, you’re still going to store the same amount of glycogen – the rate at which you deplete is what counts. If you can access fat more efficiently and use fat for work that would normally require glycogen, you’re winning”. “If you can train to use fat for higher workloads, you can increase or maintain the intensity without dipping too deeply into your muscle glycogen.”

3. Increase your aerobic threshold

The aerobic threshold is the maximum level of output as long as you stay under that aerobic threshold, you can train using fat because again once you cross that threshold you start burning more sugar. Sugar burns faster and it doesn’t last as long as fat. By increase your aerobic threshold, you should be able to increase the intensity of your runs without dipping too deeply into your glycogen stores. Train to increase your aerobic threshold so you can save the glycogen for the finish line!

How to do this…

Keep your heart rate at or below 65% of your max on longer runs (and this might eventually become 70-75% of max as your training benefits accumulate).

To determine a person’s aerobic threshold,  do a long run “long” (6-12 miles after a few weeks of sufficient low level training) runs on back-to-back days on fewer than 150 grams carbs per day. If you can complete both runs, both days, without adding back extra carbs, you’ll know you haven’t been dipping too deeply into your glycogen stores. If so, that’s your aerobic threshold pace. Remember it.

Training Plan

According to Mark Sissons here is the Training Plan he recommends for every week, beginning at least 12 weeks before the event.

1.2-3 low aerobic threshold runs.

Easy runs performed below or at your aerobic threshold at the type of pace you can easily maintain. If you are starting out these can be long hikes with easy jogs thrown in. Great to increase log mileage and improve fat oxidation efficiency without too much stress, where you can actually think about stuff other than the run. Also great for improving mitochondrial efficiency  through exercise.

To really promote fat oxidation, limit your carbs or even go into these runs in the am with no carb intake. When you begin dipping into glycogen ( hitting the wall) becoming soon-ish back off. You want to stay away from the anaerobic pathway. The length of these runs will depend on your baseline endurance, and you’ll soon be able to stay under the aerobic threshold for longer.  Then you can add a mile each week to the longest of these runs.

2. One interval session, followed by an active recovery day.

Run intervals one day a week – alternating repeat 400 m one week, 800 m the next. Walk or jog for two minutes in between. For the 400s, start with as many as you can comfortably do the first week and add one each week until you are at 12 intervals for the workout; for the 800s, work your way up to 10. On a scale of 1-20 with 20 being the most intense, keep the intensity at about a 14-16. The next day, go for a walk or hike or go bike somewhere. Keep it pretty light.

For the intervals, carb-load the day before. Slam the sweet potatoes and yams, about 400 carb grams  since you’ll purposely be blasting through your glycogen that next day.

3. One race-pace run.

You are trying to emulate the race. Higher intensity than your regular runs, just at or slightly above your aerobic threshold. It’s going to be tougher, too, with some glycogen depletion.

Start with at least two or three miles, or a bit more than whatever length your threshold runs are, and add a mile each week (minimum).

If you plan on doing this barefoot or in minimalist running shoes, be absolutely certain your lower body is acclimated to it.

Lastly, in order to finish your race you need 3 more things:

Race simulation
“train like you race” practice for the event. Use these long training days to find your best morning meal. Try different pairs of shorts, shirts, socks, etc. Gear starts to act very differently after 10 or 15 miles!

Mental confidence
Being able to perform a 20 mile run at race pace is a perfect confidence boost for an upcoming marathon.

Running is 90% mental. Author Tim Noakes, MD said Fatigue sets in when the brain feels that the body is approaching it’s limit. Performing long runs shows the brain that it can safely achieve these feats.

Happy Running!


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