Sunday 17 December 2017

Marathon training: Do even better next year

Library Image. Photo: Getty Images
Library Image. Photo: Getty Images
Well-earned rest: Paul Mac Donagh, Kevin Magee and Niall King take a break after crossing the finish line of the Dublin marathon

Damien Maher

It's been a week since the Dublin city marathon. By now most of the participants have started to get the feeling back into their bodies, as the aches and pains subside.

The achievement of completing a 26.2-mile marathon is fantastic but it is not just the journey that makes it special but the person you have had to become in achieving it.

You will have become disciplined and dedicated but you will have also developed skills in time management and the organisation of your training schedule.

The next few weeks should be spent resting and allowing your body to regenerate, as long-distance aerobic training is associated with an increase of the catabolic stress hormone cortisol.

Your situation may be worse if you didn't continuously perform resistance training during your preparation for the marathon.

Cortisol leads to muscle wastage, which causes that sinewy and emaciated look on experienced long-distance runners, as the body starts to lose muscle in response to long aerobic efforts. It's also why some beginner runners can still look a bit on the heavy side, despite four months of consistent training.

It takes about 50 calories to maintain 1lb of active muscle per day so 10lbs of muscle kept active for seven days is equal to 3,500 calories, which will burn off 1lb of fat per week. These are estimated figures but the concept remains the same. You don't want to lose this muscle.

This progressive loss of muscle tissue reduces the size of our engine to burn fat and can lead to between a two and five per cent reduction per decade in our resting metabolic rate, ie, the number of calories we need for our body to sit still.

When our resting metabolic rate slows down, calories that were previously used by muscle tissue are routed into fat storage. This may explain why you didn't lose as much weight as you thought you would in your prep and why your muscles don't feel as toned.

So what have you learned from completing your marathon? US marines write what is known as a 'log of lessons' learnt when they return from a mission.

The marines will write a list of mistakes they made and what they learned from them. Before they ever step on the field of combat again, they will review the lessons prior to their new mission so as not to repeat their previous mistakes.

In long-distance running, it is very common for athletes to forgo resistance training and concentrate on building up the miles every day. Research by Bassett and Howley, published in 'Med Science and Sports Exercise' in 1998, stated that "if two runners have the same VO2 max and the ability to sustain the same per cent of the VO2 max during a run, the more economical runner will run faster."


In other words, the better a person's running economy (the measure of how efficiently their body uses oxygen at a given pace) then the more of an advantage that person will have over another person with the same oxygen uptake.

This was reinforced in a study by Storen, Helgerud, Stoa and Hoff (2008). This showed that resistance training has a beneficial effect on running economy, covering more distance with less effort and therefore the time to exhaustion is increased.

The study consisted of 17 well-trained runners (nine male and eight female) randomly assigned into one of two groups -- an intervention group or a control group.

The intervention group performed a resistance training programme. The control group continued their endurance training as normal during the same eight-week period.

Both groups were tested before and after the eight-week period. Testing consisted of heart rate, blood lactate concentrations and oxygen consumption during a five-minute run on a treadmill at a slight incline.

Both groups were also tested on strength for a one-rep maximum (1RM) on the half squat, rate of force development (RFD) on the half squat and running economy.

After the eight weeks, the resistance-trained group showed significant improvements. Their one-rep maximum half squat improved 33.2pc, the rate of force development in the half-squat improved 26pc, running economy improved five per cent and the time to exhaustion improved 21.3pc. None of these improvements were found in the control group.

The lesson is that resistance training can greatly enhance your marathon preparations. Strengthening up muscles like the vastus medialis obliques, referred to as the tear-drop muscle, on the inside of your thigh, reduces the stance phase in running.

This means that the ground contact time is reduced and you can propel forward faster with each step. The hamstring muscles act like reins of a horse to steer and control the knee during deceleration and change of direction.

World-renowned back specialist Stuart Magill has also demonstrated that strongman training strengthens the muscles that stabilise the hip, which will also increase your running economy and therefore increase your time to exhaustion. These ideas may be added to your log of lessons learnt.

Once you accomplish the feat of completing a marathon, the question becomes -- what are you going to challenge yourself with next? There is a difference between success and mastery. Success is the achievement of a goal but when your outcome is mastery you are never done.

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