Archive for February, 2007

Marathon Training Plans – The 5 Most Important Elements Of Any Running Training Program

Marathon training plans are simply the tools that runners use in order to reach their goals. If our goal is to finish a first marathon then we choose a conservative and relaxed plan that will get us to the start line in good shape and then onto the finish line without an injury. If our goal is to finish a marathon in under 2 and a half hours then the training plan will have to be more rigorous, perhaps more risky, and definitely more involved.

No matter what our marathon goals are, every good marathon training plan will include at least some of each of the 5 essential ingredients:

1)Quantity. It is ridiculous to assume that you can succeed at your marathon goals if you don’t expect to put in the appropriate quantity of training. This is usually looked at simply in terms of miles or kilometers, but it can also be defined by hours, heart rate beats, VDOT points or even number of strides. This quantity will vary drastically with regard to your goals, but if your training plan doesn’t refer to the specific quantity of training then it isn’t a valid training plan.

2)Quality. This is a little more controversial, but it is true to say that every good training plan will refer in some way to the quality of the training involved. This can be very specific such as “7 times 200m sprints at 86% Max heart rate with 1000m slow run at 5minute per kilometer pace”. It can also be very general like “half hour slow jog”. Either way, a good marathon training plan will always make it clear how fast or how intense any workout should be.

3)Purpose. A good marathon training plan will be clear about the purpose of each of its elements. Each workout (or even each recovery session) should have a specific and valuable purpose. You should be able to explain exactly why you are doing what you are doing and you should be able to reasonably expect that you will achieve those benefits from doing that particular session.

4)Timing. The best marathon training plans include timing for various sessions as well as various phases of the program. They will refer to specific training phases through out a season, variations from week to week, the location of hard and easy days within a week and sometimes even the best time of day to do various workouts in relation to rest or other key sessions. Those programs that don’t specify timing, leave it open for a runner to be doing the optimum training with sub-optimal timing, leading to less than satisfying results or even injury. The timing must be optimized to make the most of the work that is being done while giving the greatest opportunity for recovery to do its job.

5)Recovery. Some call it, recovery, others call it rest, repair, growth, adaption, or even non-running-training. The most important element of training that many marathon training plans ignore is structured rest to make the most of the structured work. Every plan must include the correct balance of work and rest. It is in this rest time that our bodies respond to the loads we have placed on them. If there is no recovery then there is no improvement. A good training program recognizes this and does not leave recovery up to chance. The quantity, quality, purpose and timing of each of the training sessions are optimized to ensure that there is just the right amount of recovery to rebuild the body before the next load is introduced.

These are the basic 5 points that I use in evaluating any marathon training plans or any running training program for that matter. Of course there is a lot more to it as well, but this should help you to start evaluating any of the millions of ready made marathon training plans.

Tom O’Leary is an Australian author and runner who currently, runs, writes and lives in Japan. His main event is the marathon but he also runs and writes about other distances. He prescribes a carefully balanced mix of work, rest and play as the only way to achieve goals in running. If you would like to read other running related articles, please visit his blog.

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Posted by The Running Guy - February 27, 2007 at 7:35 pm

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ChiRunning by Danny Dreyer: A Long-term Book Review

Danny Dreyer opens his book with one eye-opening statistic – that out of 24 million runners and joggers in the United States, 65% will have to stop at least once a year due to injury. However, he contends this is not due to running itself, but to the way we run. Our running is often determined by self-imposed goals and external factors, instead of focusing on just enjoying the running process. The stated goal in the book is to help the reader run the way they used to run as a child – happy, relaxed and carefree.

I first picked up Chi Running more than a year and a half ago, recommended to me by word of mouth. I read it through, tried for a while to incorporate some of the goals into my running, and then both the book and its methods faded from injury. Then last autumn, I realised how much I was enjoying my running, and that I should probably take action to make sure that I can continue enjoying injury-free running right into old age. I was very much inspired in this regard by Arpan DeAngelo, who at 52 became the oldest man to complete the 3100 Mile Self-Transcendence race, the longest road race in the world – his philosophy of placing enjoyment of running and looking after the body has certainly served him well. So I picked up ChiRunning for the second time and resolved to take time to put this method into action.

ChiRunning aims to change the runners form so that instead of using easily injured parts of the body like calves, we instead engage core muscles like abdominals and hip flexors to do the running. The runner’s basic stance in ChiRunning reflects the ancient art of T’ai Chi; this wisdom is combined with commonsense principles of physics, such as leaning forward whilst running to put less pressure into the foot strike and enable gravity to do some of the work.

The explanation of the technique takes up only a few pages in the book, but the author leaves you under no illusions that it wont take work and dedication to change your habits of running to incorporate this technique. Indeed, he suggests that switching to ChiRunning will involve nothing less than a whole change in one’s philosophy and reasons for running, and that a runner making the transition should put aside any racing plans until the technique is properly assimilated. Hence much of the book is a motivation for this change, as well as some extremely practical tips to overcome our natural reluctance to changing long-held habits.

With this book, the author is not just trying to explain the technique for ChiRunning, but to develop a complete runner’s handbook that covers everything from stretching and loosening to diet to race preparation. Information that has been common knowledge in the running community for many years is juxtaposed with some very original suggestions, all with the aim of increasing the joy that one gets from running. The wealth of information here means every time I open its pages I invariably read something new I didn’t pick up on previously, and I always make sure to leave it on my kitchen table so I can pick it up every so often and refresh the good habits I have acquired.

The author, Shane Magee, currently has a 3:09 best marathon time. He also helps out with the website of the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team, the largest ultrarunning organisation in the world. Among other events the Sri Chinmoy Marathon team put on the 3100 Mile Self Transcendence Race – the world’s longest road race.

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Posted by The Running Guy - February 20, 2007 at 9:55 pm

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Does Racing 42 km Put A Heart At Risk?

In 2005, 382,000 people completed a marathon in the United States, an increase of more than 80,000 since the year of 2000, according to Mathematically, the risk is very small: Runner dying from a heart attack during marathon is about 1 in 50,000.

But, does racing 42 km put a heart at risk?

Let’s take a look of a new study published in the Nov 28, 2006’s issue of Circulation, a journal of the American Heart Association.

60 entrants (41 men, 19 women) from the 2004 and 2005 Boston Marathon were tested before and after the race. Each was given an echocardiogram (ECG) to find abnormalities in heart rhythm and was checked for blood markers of cardiac problems, in particular for troponin, a protein found in cardiac muscle cells.

If the heart is traumatized, troponin can show up in the blood. Its presence can determine whether there has been damage from a heart attack.

The runners had normal cardiac function before the marathon, with no signs of troponin in their blood. 20 minutes after finishing, 60 percent of the group had elevated troponin levels, and 40 percent had levels high enough to indicate the destruction of heart muscle cells.

Most also had noticeable changes in heart rhythms. Those who had run less than 56 km a week leading up to the race, had the highest troponin levels and the most pronounced changes in heart rhythm.

None had reported chest pains or shortness of breath at the finish. All had felt fine.

Within days, the abnormalities disappeared. But something seemed to have happened in the race. Their hearts appeared to have been stunned and the race does have some effect on the cardiac muscles.

Nevertheless, marathons may present an opportunity for silent symptomless heart disease to introduce itself abruptly. The pulsing excitement, adrenaline and unpleasant process of hitting the wall may trigger physiological changes that loosen arterial plaques, precipitating a heart attack.

The advices given to the runners with any heart trouble is to train for the race, getting the cardiac benefits of endurance exercise, and then watch the event on television.

Anyone considering joining the marathon should undergo a full medical screening, with a visit to a cardiologist for those over 40, and are covered by insurance if recommended by a physician. Those with the family history of cardiac problems should be especially cautious.

Nonetheless, it is still too early to draw any conclusion. According to the researcher, more bodies will be piling up if there were real lingering long-term cardiac damage.

Overall, the evidence is strongly in favor of the idea that endurance exercise is still helpful in terms of cardiac health.

America’s Most Trusted Doctor Reveals … How to Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease – Without Drugs or Surgery. Read more about his confession at:

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Posted by The Running Guy - February 9, 2007 at 7:59 am

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Increase Running Speed

In this article, we’ll address what I consider to be the critical training components that are a part of every successful speed development program to increase running speed of your athletes.

After all, the fastest athletes on any team and in any sport are almost always the quickest and fastest on the field or the court. and every coach and athlete wants to know the most effective methods to increase running speed.

So the question becomes: what are the training elements that must be addressed in order accomplish this goal?

To start, no athlete can be expect to succeed with their speed training if they aren’t properly warmed up. Many programs still use that old school warm up philosophy of jogging around the field a couple times, getting in a circle and holding static stretches as the whole team counts to 10. Now, I don’t know any sports that require holding a stretch for an extended period of time in order to get prepared to compete or practice. That being the case, such an outdated warm up philosophy is not going to increase running speed.

Instead, athletes must do a dynamic warm up that progresses from slow, simple movements like jogging and skipping to the high intensity speed drills that actually prepare them for an intense practice.

Another critical element to speed development is that of improving coordination. Moving the limbs at the speeds required to get faster requires very high levels of coordination. Even the best athletes overestimate their ability to properly do speed drills or go through a series on an agility ladder. That’s why I often do these types of drills at the beginning of the season to give them a first hand experience that shows them just how much room for improvement they have.

One overlooked training element that is proven to increase running speed is that of regular focus on improving flexibility. We often hear about the role of stride length in speed development. And it makes sense that, all other things being equal, if Athlete A has a longer stride length than Athlete B, than Athlete A will always beat Athlete B. Thus a more flexible athlete will clearly cover more distance with each step, but without exerting any extra effort. The benefits to this are clear. If athletes cover more ground with each step, not only will they get to where they want to go quicker, but it will also take less steps to get there.

The three elements that I have discussed so far are all important supplements to any speed training program. However, at the end of the day, improving any athlete’s ability to run as fast as they can is dependent on one thing: training fast. The only way to run faster is to practice running at full speed.

As obvious as this seems, many programs confuse what real speed development actually is. Sprints with short rest periods (less than 2 minutes, minimum), interval training at medium intensities (less than 95-100% intensity) and runs lasting longer than approximately 8 seconds are all common training components that will not improve any athlete’s top speed. As long as your intent is to increase running speed, you must make these training elements an active part of your program, especially the final point regarding how I defined true speed training.

Train hard, work smart, get fast!

Patrick is the owner of Athletes’ Acceleration Inc., your final resource for developing the fastest athletes. To learn more about speed training and to access Patrick’s free Speed Training Report – Secrets to Developing Dominant Speed – go to

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Posted by The Running Guy - February 5, 2007 at 8:02 pm

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