Coach's Column - February 1998


from Max Jones

(photo by Steve Fritz)

First, a very Warm Welcome to our Leeds MaraMembers, be you 1st claim Striders, 2nd claim, or claiming that you haven't had time to make up your mind yet.

The (17th) Leeds Marathon is on May 17, just 18 weeks away at the time of writing this (19th) edition of the Valley Striders Coach's Column, which this time is especially for you. While marathon running is primarily for enjoyment and for raising huge sums of money for charity, its also about challenging ourselves first to finish one and then to run another, and another, either faster, or easier, or both. To do that, we must firstly build up our bodies to perform at a higher level than before and then, secondly, under different training regimes, to maintain that enhanced fitness, a distinction always overlooked by the writers of schedules for the masses in the monthly running magazines. We need to construct our own personal schedules, based on sound principles and matched to the resources which we individually, with our own unique set of family, job and other more important priorities, can commit to training for the Leeds Marathon.

Given enough time, almost everyone could get from point A to a point B 26.22 miles away : it's the speed which you run it that's the problem, not the distance. To race over the distance you need a much better heart-lung system and stronger leg muscles than the avid TV watcher and of those physical attributes, the heart is by far the most important. To increase speed, you have to supply more oxygen, in the red cells in the blood, to the muscles. Even if they're not well developed, though, you could make some improvement in your times by pounding out, say, 200 strides a minute instead of only 150, but without the extra oxygen that you require you wouldn't be able to sustain that increased stride rate for more than a few minutes.

Training for building up your power rating consists, therefore, first and foremost in putting load on your heart to increase its physical size. By making it work harder than it has ever done before, it will gradually grow, its own muscle fibres getting bigger, so as to make it easier for itself to cope next time. That extra power enables your heart to squeeze out more blood each beat - the "stroke volume" goes up - and hence the amount of oxygen delivered each minute to the leg muscles. And, incidentally, your heart has a higher stroke volume when you're at rest, too, so you can easily check on how great an improvement has been achieved by taking your resting pulse rate at least once each week. Don't be satisfied that you've done all the work your heart can stand until its resting pulse is in the 30's (for men) and 40's (for women), unless, of course, you have more important things to do, in which case pulse rates in the 40's and 50's will enable you to achieve more limited road racing ambitions

There are basically two ways of putting load on your heart. One is to run, slowly, for a long time : the Long Run. The other is to run, much faster, for a much shorter time : the Tempo Run. There is some, mainly psychological, gain in running 18 to 22 miles in one go - if you can run that far on your own then you feel you can cover the full marathon distance in a race - but the greater physical gain, i.e. the more rapid increase in heart size, comes from 4 to 6 miles, "flat out", tempo runs. The best tempo runs in your marathon build-up are races. Try to get at least two races in every month : anything from 5km to 20miles will do.

The best way to increase leg muscle bulk is by training on a hill. Find a side road with a 10% slope. Standard bricks are 9" horizontally, 3" vertically, so if the garden wall is level and 3 courses (i.e. 9") disappear as the hill climbs 10 bricks (90"), that's a 10% slope. Step out 200 paces (i.e. 200 yards), run up that 10 times with a walk down between. Time each ascent. Start gradually, but as you gain confidence get up on your toes and run the odd numbered ascents flat out, on the even numbered ones concentrate on lifting up your knees with each stride as high as they'll go.

Assuming you're in the body-for-marathoning build-up phase, try to get in 4 training sessions each week before the 20th Coach's column appears - in order of priority 1. Race 2. Tempo Run 3. Hills 4. Long Run. The Long Run can be anything from 6 miles upwards at a steady pace, depending on how fit you are. If you can train for 5 sessions a week, add another tempo run; for 6 sessions, add another steady run, 2 miles further than the other one that week.

Winter Training

The weather in February and March in Britain is typically unfriendly to athletes training for April and May marathons, which is why, like migrating birds, the professional marathoners fly out to warmer climes at this time. Left at home in the bleak mid-winter, we shall find it difficult to follow our chosen schedules when the snow lies a foot deep outside. Don't panic : it's time to improvise! Try these: