Monday, September 03, 2007

Ask the Mystery Coach

My next question deals with weight training. Whats your thoughts on weight training for distance runners? Lydiard says it numerous times that his guys didn't use weights, just ran hills. Weight training just seems to be such a common practice amongst runners today. I tried time and time again to apply the "hill running as strength training" principle and time and time again wound up injured. Without fail I develop a muscle imbalance in my quads that results in a tracking problem within my knee. Last time I developed ITBS.

So whats your thoughts on weight training? Will the strength gains carry over into running? If so can you offer some suggestions on how to weight train so that it complements a running schedule(i.e rep ranges .exercises etc.)?


Jesse, Arthur had an interesting view on weight training, if you had time for it that you would be better served doing more running instead of weight training, yet he also recommended weight training for some of the national teams that he advised when they did not have hills available. I have found that weights can be used to replace the hill phase. Squats and reverse lunges are very effective for developing the upper leg in a balanced way. (2-3 sets of 10 resting about a minute between, 2-3 times per week (We used less than 1/3 body weight working more on form and full range of motion).

Before you give up on the hills though I have observed that many runners start too quickly, too steep and with too great of volume when first starting on the hills. You can get excellent results with something as short as 100 yards and not very steep. Since you have an imbalance in your quads concentrate on the pull through (almost like a pawing motion) and the extension behind your hips (you'll feel this in your butt and hamstrings). Jog 4-5 minutes easy at the top then stride down the hill, working on bringing the knees up and a light quick push off. Work on this 1 to 3 times in a session 2-3 times per week. Think about what you want to achieve on the hills, feel where you are putting the stress (ankles, calves, hamstrings, or quads) and adjust your session as needed.

It always takes me a long time to warm up properly on my runs. It takes between 2 and 3 miles each day to get up to my target pace, and I usually feel slow and stiff for those first 15-20 minutes.

For any race up to the half marathon distance, I can easily warm up by jogging for 20 minutes. That's not a problem. But for a marathon, I would hesitate to spend so much time and energy before the start of the race. On the other hand, I don't want to start with 3 slow miles. I know the marathon is a long race, but if I lose 30 seconds per mile for each of the first 3 miles, I'm well behind my target time, and playing catchup-up for 23 miles isn't the most appealing of thoughts - it also might put me into the wrong frame of mind, if I try to make up for lost time and run too fast.

What's your recommendation?

Thank you

Thomas, What I usually recommend sounds like will put you in the wrong frame of mind but let me see if I can prevent that. The marathon is very fuel dependent and there are two critical times during the beginning of the race. The first 10 minutes where the lactate processing engine can get up to it's maximum rate so that lactate can be used efficiently for fuel, the second is at about 30 minutes where the fat metabolism has risen to a high enough level to contribute a good amount of your energy thus saving glycogen. By giving up 40-60 seconds in the first 30 minutes can save far more than that in the last 5 kilometers of the marathon. As you can see a slower start is not all that bad, but how can we get you up to those speeds (10-15 seconds slower per mile) with out giving up the 30 seconds per mile (for the first three) and not wasting fuel running with a long warm up? Try and running 5 to 10 times 100 meters with a slow walk back as a warm up. The first 100 should be just a jog then each one after that should be a bit faster until you get to marathon pace on the last one. This might take a bit of experimenting on your part to find the right number and whether it will work for you. You should try this before some of your training runs and see if it get you to the desired level of being loose. Two other things you can try. The first is run your regular warm up the day before the race. Many runners take the full day off and end up feeling stiff the day of the race. The second may not be practical but a 5 minute hot soak about an hour before the race then changing into a warm up suit to keep the warmth in the legs can help speed up a warm up. Experiment with these suggestions a number of times before your race so you gain confidence that the warm up will work the way you need it to.


Thomas said...

After I had pressed the "send" button, I actually wondered if I had asked a stupid question, but now I'm glad I did ask. I don't think the hot soak is logistically possible - certainly not for my next marathon, where we will be driven to the start, and the buses will leave 2 hours before the start. But I will definitely give the 5-10x100 warm-ups a go, at least in training initially.

Thank you!

Grellan said...


Surely the time lost in the warmup, even 30 seconds per mile over 3 miles can be made up over the following 23 miles without a noticeable increase in effort. After all at worst it is a 3 second per miles increase in pace.

I would imagine that the 5 to 10 x 100m warmup may only work in a small marathon where you have the opportunity to warmup in the last 5 or 10 minutes before the gun goes off - bearing in mind that the fitter you are the quicker you cooldown after warming up.

Thomas said...

Grellan, I was thinking about last year's Dublin marathon, where I fell behind by over 2 minutes over the first 6 miles. In that case I actually managed to make up for that over the next 20 miles, but I think I could have run a bit faster with a better start.

What I'm mostly afraid of is getting into my head that I HAVE to make up for lost time, and run too fast. 3 seconds per mile might be insignificant, but I know myself. I might run 15 seconds per mile faster, and that would definitely come back to haunt me.

(Apologies to Mike for using his comment section for a private discussion.)

Joseph P. Wood said...

Mystery Coach,

What are your thoughts on plyometric drills? How about medicine ball work? Jesse's bringing up weights--if I read his post correctly--as a way to deal with structural weaknesses (which are important to address). However, Ritzenheim and a few others (especially under Vigil's eye, if I'm not mistaken), have had good results with the use of explosive drills and med ball work in ancillary drills. Granted, these probably are more like cherry's on the cake, but still...

Chris Field said...

Mike -

Congrats on your race and great improvement from last year!

Looking forward to the race report.

Mike said...

Thanks Chris, I'll write something on it tomorrow. Lots of fast runners in Tucson these days.

As someone who is often running in the heat, I was hoping for some clarification on the 5 minute hot soak and warm up suit suggestion by the coach. Is there any danger in staying "too warm" during the minutes before the race. I'm reminded of Meb and Deena in the ice-vests in Athens here.

Then again, I don't think I've ever started a marathon too slow, which in retrospect is a shame.

Mystery Coach said...

Mike, The short soak is to warm the legs and not the core. It has been shown that lowering the core temperature improves race times in distance events. This leads to the trade off with someone needing a long warm up which waste fuel and not having your core over working to eliminate heat. Stiffness is an indication of over worked muscles (my and my athletes best races were when they needed little stretching they were loose because they were well rested for racing). Like I said to Thomas a minimal warm up is better than over doing it and you have to experiment to find that sweet spot.

Jesse said...

Thanks again Mystery coach!

I don't really care for the idea of replacing the hill phase with weight training. Whats do you think if I just drop all leg workouts during that phase and contunue with them for the rest of the year?

Also your always talking about muscle fibers activating and conditioning, would working out with weights say during the conditioining phase have a negative effect on the endurance/stamina building process? Correct me if I'm wrong but doesn't weight training stimulate all fibers at once? Is it imperative to only work on say fibers 1-9 during the conditioning phase?


Anonymous said...

Hey, my name is Carissa Halliday, and I'm a sophomore (second year) cross- country athlete. I have a few questions for you. When track season ended in may , the coach from the high school (it's a three year high school/ junior high) came over to talk about our season. He told us to run a lot of miles over the summer, to get better at running. Well, earlier this year i had run my first half- marathon (1:53), and I felt quite ready to accept the challenge. When i tried to do long run run (9, 10, 11 miles, and etc.), my coach and my family got frustrated and told me not over seven. Since I had just gotten out of track season (I ran long- distance in track, who would of guessed it), I decided to spend more time and energy sprinting 3, 4, or 5 miles. During the summer I got amazing times! [ mile-5:52 (formerly 6:13 in city), 2 mile-12:49 (formerly 14:05 in city), and 3 mile was somewhere in the 20's before now it had progressed to 19:16 {these were all around the track} ] I was doing great, however my coach kept on telling me to slow it down and keep it down. Unfortunately, I didn't listen to him. At first we had time trials around a flat, dirt, track-like canal, and I got 19:35. Recently we've been going to invitational meets, and I've been getting in the 22's, even when think i am working hard. My coach has been telling me to learn percentages, and i am trying. He also says that I've been running hard since june, and that I'm working too hard. Well, I've got questions to ask about this. Is it really true that if you work hard every day that you get better? Because, as you've seen in my times, i've digressed a major mount. Also, why was I faster in the summer than now? Isn't it way colder now , than the summer? Does this mean I'm not going to do good in any of my meets for this season? Is there anything I can do to get better, so I can go faster (like maybe even close to this summer)? Finally, just a random question, is there backwards races. It would be greatly appreciated if you would reply. Thanks bye. Carissa h