Perhaps the most basic Principle of Training is “Specificity” which
simply states that your body responds very specifically to the types of
training that you do. If you do not prepare your body for the demands of
racing, then you cannot expect it to be ready to handle those demands. For
marathoners, if you do not train for the specific conditions your next
marathon will throw at you, then it is very likely that you will have
problems on marathon day.
the important aspects that are easy to overlook in your marathon
preparation are the unforgiving hardness of the road, the marathon’s
terrain, and the appropriateness of the shoes you will wear on race day.
Let’s look at each of these factors:
Miles of Pavement
major marathons in the world are run exclusively on paved roads. That
means 26.2 miles of repetitive pounding on a hard, uniform surface. A
marathon represents over 25,000 steps landing with a force of three to
four times your bodyweight. To successfully run the marathon, your body
must be prepared to handle this abuse.
it appears that too little road training makes it more likely that you
will get in trouble during the second half of the marathon. For example,
in discussing an Olympic 10K runner’s relatively poor performance in the
2002 Chicago Marathon, he revealed that he does 90% of his running
off-road, and that his legs felt progressively more beat up with each
successive mile of the marathon. Despite putting in high mileage and doing
a respectable number of long runs, his legs just weren’t up to the task.
After running the first 20 miles at 2:13 pace, this world-class runner’s
sore muscles forced him to slow dramatically over the last few miles of
do You Need to Hit the Roads?
the differences between running on trails or a treadmill versus the roads
have not been studied extensively, the scientific literature provides
insight into why it may be beneficial to prepare your legs for the
specific task of running 26.2 miles on the road. Studies have shown that
when you run on a hard surface your achilles tendon and foot work together
to conserve energy by returning stored elastic energy into your next
stride. When you run on soft surfaces, however, the re-utilization of
stored elastic energy from your achilles tendon is reduced because the
softer surface absorbs more of the energy. Biomechanist Liz Bradshaw, PhD,
explains, “This difference in the action of the achilles tendon and calf
muscles makes running on soft surfaces less specific to the requirements
of road racing.”
you need to do a portion of your training on the road. Yet you must also
get to the starting line uninjured, and as you increase your mileage on
the roads (or worse yet, sidewalks), your risk of injuries to your
legs and back also increases. What is the optimal balance between doing
enough road mileage to be ready for the marathon while keeping your injury
risk at an acceptable level?
toughen your legs for the pavement, you should do at least 30 miles per
week on the road during the last 10 weeks before the marathon. Depending
on your weekly mileage, this may represent as little as 25 percent or as
much as 75 percent of your total running. That should be enough to prepare
your legs for the marathon. Ideally, you would do most of your other
training on softer surfaces to reduce your likelihood of injury.
also recommend that you do a minimum of five long runs primarily on the
road during the last 10 weeks of training to ensure your body is primed to
handle the repetitive stress of the marathon. At least two of those runs
should be over 20 miles. If you are an off-road fanatic, you could do the
first hour of your long runs on softer surfaces, and then hit the road for
the last hour or so. The objective is for your muscles and tendons to get
used to the pounding of the road when they are becoming fatigued.
some courses, like the New York City Marathon, include significant uphills
and downhills, others are almost dead flat. Both types of courses require
specific preparation. A pancake flat marathon uses your muscles in exactly
the same way over the same range of motion for thousands of strides. This
lack of variety enhances fatigue as your hamstrings and calf muscles and
quadriceps repeat the same cycle over and over again. To prepare optimally
for a flat marathon, you should do most of your long runs over similarly
running uphill may slow you down a bit it is the downhills in courses like
the Boston Marathon that can destroy you. When running downhill, your
muscles work eccentrically to resist the force of gravity, which causes
microscopic muscle damage, inflammation and our old friend delayed-onset
muscle soreness. The good news is that training on downhills has a
protective effect that reduces subsequent damage and muscle soreness.
than doing hill repeats in which the downhills will make you incredibly
sore and could leave you injured, practice hill running by training over
rolling terrain. The best simulation for a hilly marathon course is to
incorporate a similar sequence of hills into your long runs. This was one
of Bill Rodgers’ secrets for winning both the Boston and New York City
Marathons year-after-year-he designed his training to prepare for the ups
and downs on those courses.
if you plan on wearing racing shoes in the marathon, make sure you know in
advance whether they will provide the support you need over 26.2 miles. To
try out your shoes for both sustained speed and long distance, you should
wear them in a half-marathon and a long run before the marathon. One
factor to consider is that racing shoes almost always have a substantially
lower heel lift than training shoes. If your calf muscles are not used to
the lower heel lift you can be pretty sure they will rebel when you ask
them to work over an increased range of motion for 26.2 miles. Generally,
a more supportive, but still reasonably lightweight shoe will be well
worth the extra couple of ounces during the second half of your marathon.