Written by Chris Hamilton and published on RunnersWorld
For many marathoners, training consists of running as much as they can, as far as they can, as fast as they can. The inevitable result of which is burnout, injury, or dashed raceday expectations. While you do have to push beyond your limits when you’re preparing to run long distances, there are time-tested methods of doing so that have worked for millions of runners that don’t involve pain and anguish. In fact, we here at Runner’s World pride ourselves on being the experts when it comes to safely–and successfully–preparing for marathons. We’ve been telling people how to do that for more than 40 years.
We tapped a few of our running superstars–Bart Yasso, RW’s Chief Running Officer and veteran of more than 100 marathons; Editor-at-Large Amby Burfoot, author and winner of the 1968 Boston Marathon; and Jennifer Van Allen, the 2008 National 24-Hour Championship winner–to sift through reams of advice and compile the most valuable tips for running long.
1. Warm up and cool down
It’s tempting to jump right into your run, but don’t. A five- to 10-minute warmup raises your heart and breathing rates and gets blood flowing to muscles. Insert a few strides to wake up your nervous system and get fast-twitch muscle fibers firing. In general, the faster or farther you intend to go, the more you should warm up. Cool down after a hard run so your heart rate gradually falls. Stop abruptly and blood can pool in your legs, making you feel faint.
2. Start slow, build gradually
Coaches say the best way to avoid injury is to follow the 10-percent rule: Increase your weekly mileage and the length of your long run by no more than 10 percent each week. Your muscles and joints need time to adapt to the workload.
3. Go easy most of the time
Complete about 80 percent of your runs at a pace that’s about 60 to 90 seconds slower than your goal race pace. It should feel comfortable–if you’re huffing and puffing, you’re going too fast. Your heart and lungs adapt more quickly than muscles, tendons, and bones when you increase mileage. Frequent running at an easy pace gives your musculoskeletal system a chance to get stronger and catch up with your cardiovascular gains.
4. Hit the hills
Once a week during the first half of your training, run the hilliest route you can find. Hill work builds leg strength, aerobic capacity, and running economy (how efficiently your body uses oxygen), which gives you the strength and stamina to run faster later in the program.
5. Alternate hard and easy
If you don’t push yourself, you’ll never develop the ability to run farther or faster. But if you don’t rest enough, you’ll burn out or get injured. Follow speed sessions or long runs with an easy run or rest day, and every few
weeks cut back your mileage by 20 percent. These recovery periods allow
your body to repair and rebuild damaged muscle tissue, thereby helping you get stronger and more resistant to fatigue at faster paces and longer distances.
6. Remember to cross-train
When you run, your muscles, joints, and connective tissues absorb a lot of shock. Cross-training gives your body a break from the pounding while maintaining your cardiovascular fitness. Yoga, Pilates, and strength
training promote recovery, build muscle, and develop a strong upper body. Swimming, cycling, elliptical training, and rowing improve your aerobic fitness.
7. Measure your effort
Go too hard on easy days and you won’t have the energy for speed sessions and long runs. Go too slow during hard workouts and you won’t push your fitness to the next level. Use pace, heart rate, or the talk test to ensure you’re working out at the right intensity and reaping the intended benefit of every run.
8. Turn it up
Even marathoners looking simply to finish should do speedwork. Running fast builds cardiovascular strength by forcing your heart to work harder to deliver oxygen to your leg muscles, which, in turn, get stronger and more efficient at extracting oxygen from your blood. Speed sessions raise your metabolism, increasing calorie burn even after your workout. Turning your legs over at a quicker rate also sheds sloppiness in your stride–you’ll run more efficiently and it will take less effort to run fast.
9. Run at race pace
Spend time practicing your goal speed during training and it will feel like your body’s natural rhythm come race day. Mentally, logging dozens of miles at race pace will help you feel more confident when the starting gun goes off.
10. Trust the taper
In the final three weeks before race day, drop your weekly mileage by 25 to 50 percent, but maintain the intensity of race-pace runs and speedwork. Many runners fret that they’ll lose fitness. But a 2010 study by researchers at Ball State University found that runners who maintained speedwork but dropped their weekly mileage by 25 percent three weeks before race day lost no cardiovascular fitness, gained muscle strength, and improved race times.