Okay, I admit, the title is click bait. What we’ll really be talking about is how to run a marathon without “marathon” training. You know, the typical four days of short to moderate runs and the one dreaded long run day. I want to tell you that it’s possible to run a marathon without completing a single run over thirteen miles – and with minimal running otherwise – and still live to talk about it.
A few disclaimers:
- I am not a fitness professional. I followed my training from the very best fitness professionals I know over at South Baltimore Strength and Conditioning, and was incredibly happy with the outcome. If you are going to run a marathon without the typical marathon training, you should work with a fitness professional. I’d suggest Sean and Troy because, like I said, they’re the best.
- I was/am not training to qualify for Boston. My running philosophy has always been “not fast, not last.” I finished the 2015 Marine Corps Marathon in 4:57:28. It was the fastest I have ever run a marathon (and it was my fourth), and I came out of it uninjured and feeling pretty freakin’ great. So, again, I was not “fast,” but I was fast for me and I was still able to lift like a boss afterwards without the nagging knee injuries that had accompanied my true marathon training from earlier races.
Okay, now that the legalese is out of the way, let’s dive in.
I’m sure your first question is, “but Jen, people have been training for marathons with the long run forever. Why would you change that? Don’t you love distance running and that’s what you run marathons?” And while, yes, I love long distance racing, I really don’t love 20 mile long solo runs in the dead of summer. They’re hot, they’re a little boring, there are no fans cheering me on, and my playlist gets old (Pro tip: GirlTalk is a great way to get through long runs).
But here’s the thing: It’s accepted in the running community that you’re going to get injured training for a marathon. In fact, the American College of Sports Medicine found that anywhere between half and three quarters of first time marathoners never even make it to the start line.
Not only that, but studies show that marathon training, as prescribed in the past, doesn’t just open you up to injuries, it can also have negative implications for your immune system and your digestive system. Why? because prolonged cardiovascular stress requires your body to divert resources from other systems in order to continue to propel you forward.
Here’s what my training looks like:
A focus on strength building. Three times a week, I spend anywhere from an hour to an hour and a half in the gym focused on strength. My strength training primarily includes Olympic lifts like the snatch and clean, front and back squats, dead lifts, and bench press, as well as work with dumbbells, kettlebells, and body weight exercises like pull-ups and push-ups. Why? Strength training is essential to injury prevention. It helps to increase bone density, collagen content of connective tissues, and, of course, increases muscle strength helping to prevent muscular injury.
Adequate mobility work, prehab, and rehab. Before I started at SBSC, I had a nagging knee injury that made it painful to squat. Through working with Sean and Troy, I was able to “cure” my knee problem with some serious foam rolling of my quads and calves. All parts of our bodies are interconnected, meaning that pain in one area could be the result of an issue elsewhere. Mobility work, including stretching, rolling, mashing, etc, helps to increase flexibility and range of motion – allowing us to reach our peak physical capacity. It prevents injury because it allows your body to do what it is supposed to do, rather than lifting or running in a compromised position, thereby increasing our chance of getting injured.
High Intensity Interval Training. Using what’s seen as CrossFit style workouts, Sean’s built in multiple opportunities each week to get my heart rate in. the. zone. This past week, for example, I had a ten minute workout where I alternated 45 seconds of rowing at over 1000 calories an hour with five burpees each time the minute bell chimed. HIIT helps to build endurance, allows your body to efficiently use energy, promotes fat loss while maintaining muscle, and pushes your heart while also allowing for adequate rest.
Running, trail running, and hiking. Finally, a few times a week, I get out on the street. One day a week is an interval running day where I run a few minutes and then walk a minute for a specified number of rounds, and another day a week is a longer hiking or trail running day. Hiking and trail running are awesome because they get you outside (hello fresh air!), build muscle through hill work, and also help strengthen your ankles as your body has to work to stabilize itself on uneven ground. Bonus, longer hikes help get the mileage in in order to prepare for the mental game of 26.2 miles.
Don’t get me wrong: I LOVE long distance racing. Completing a marathon is just as much a spiritual experience for me than a physical one, and there is no feeling in the entire world quite like crossing the finish line after a 26.2 mile long trek. But it is possible to have the church-like experience of completing a marathon without sacrificing your body in the process.
If you love distance running (not just racing), but are still interested in keeping your body injury free, check out Hanson’s Marathon Method, which decreases the length of the long run.