Take it easy over the holidays when training for a marathon

2012-12-29 00:00

HOLIDAYS are often seen as a time to bump up the training, but many would regard the festive break as a time to recover.

For many runners the year-end holidays in South Africa have almost become a marker to increase the overall distance in preparation for the Old Mutual Two Oceans or Comrades Marathon.

To compete in these two ultras, a runner needs a qualifier in the form of a five-hour marathon, which makes the Weekend Witness Maritzburg City Marathon an obvious choice for most Comrades runners.

Given this, it is clear why many consider the festive week as a great time to cram in the distance, but in many cases this may be a mistake. Keep in mind that there are six to seven weeks after the holidays to prepare for a qualifier and this is almost an ideal build-up period.

For most runners, everyday life requires the juggling of work, family and social life around their training objective. This time manipulation is a consistent and draining stress. Holidays offer the opportunity to remove this from the equation. However, removing the stress of work and replacing it with added family, social and training commitments do nothing to relieve the pressure or to have a break.

Holidays can also be seen as a time to catch up on DIY projects or the overdue house or car maintenance, and while it is true that a change can be as good as a holiday, most runners would benefit from switching to low gear in their training over the festive period.

No matter how you celebrate the year-end festivities, it is hard to get around the extra calorie intake on offer wherever you go, and for some the fear of gaining extra kilos is a driving force to being out on the road.

Again this tends to be overstated. A nominal increase in the natural energy belt could well be the foundation for a quality running season.

After all, the main peak in training will come a few months down the line and if you are already in lean-mean-running-machine shape, then you will be risking over-training by the time you reach the key distance or high intensity phase.

From the above it should be clear that there may be significant benefits to dropping the distance and even the number of sessions over the holidays.

That does not, however, mean you need to lose all the hard-earned fitness, but what it does mean is that you should take a different perspective on your running.

Start by cutting the running down to, say, three sessions per week.

Keep one longer, easy run to about two-thirds of the full distance of your longest run in the past six weeks, and ideally at least 90 minutes.

Then, for your next run, have some fun with street furniture. Lampposts, telegraph poles, litterbins, seats and road signs all make ideal markers for picking up and slowing down the pace of a 35-45 minute run after your first 15 minutes of warm up.

As many people will be in hotels or have access to gyms, one of the most beneficial sessions can be to use the treadmill.

Begin by warming up on the cycle or rowing machine with some easy work, but preferably at a high cadence or row-rate. Aim for over 95 cadences on the bike and above 30 strokes per minute on the rowing machine. When warmed up, move to the treadmill. As these often have a 20-minute time restriction this session fits in well.

Start with an incline of one percent and a speed just faster than your 10 km pace. For example, if you run 10 km in 50 minutes, your race pace is 12 km per hour, so start at 12,5 to 13 km/h. Now run on the belt for 35 seconds, then use the side arms lift yourself off the belt and stand with your feet at the side for 20 seconds. You now have five seconds to lower yourself back on to the moving belt for the next 35-second burst.

This gives a total of one minute for an interval ,so you get 20 minutes out of this session. As the session proceeds, increase the speed by 0,2 or 0,3 km/h, as you feel able (particularly over the first eight to 10 minutes).

An alternative way to increase the load is to raise the incline for a couple of efforts and then you may drop it back to one percent, but increase the speed.

Play with the workload in this way until you have completed the 20 efforts, by which time you will probably be running at a speed closer to your best 1 500 m time.

This is a short but exceptional session that boosts all the key physiological markers, yet takes only 30 or 40 minutes, including the warm-up and cool-down.

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