Here I am in my final preparation for my 6th career marathon, the Lake Biwa Marathon in Otsu, Japan on March 1st.
Biwako Mainichi Marason (in Japanese) is an IAAF Gold Label and male elite only race with an entry standard of 2 hours 30 minutes or under. Due to its high standards it is one of the world’s top marathons and is broadcasted all across Japan as one of its major sporting events of the year. The course record of 2:06:13 is held by former World Record holder Wilson Kipsang of Kenya.
My personal goal is to improve on my best time of 2:22:55 set in Zurich in 2013. I was running well in last year’s Biwako Marathon until the last 6 kilometres when I started to get severe leg cramps and lost a few minutes finishing 69th in a time 2:23:47 out of 314 starters.
After pulling out at the recent Berlin Marathon in September 2014 due to sickness, I have now slightly changed my approach of my preparation. I am feeling ready to run a fast time and avoid both sickness and cramping this time. I am following my running.COACH training schedule which is based on world-class distance runners such as Viktor Röthlin, European Champion from 2010 and 6th at Olympic Games in Beijing 2008. I was very fortunate to train with Vik (as he calls himself) and the Swiss national marathon team at high altitude in July last year for their final preparation for the European Athletics Championships in August. I learned a lot there that added to my own experience of 20 years of competitive running.
Some of the key changes to my marathon training since learning from Vik and running.COACH included to put more emphasis on my three main sessions of each week while taking my easy days easier for recovery.
First key change was to increase the length of my interval sessions to regularly run 10km total efforts at around 5-10km race pace with a focus on improving my VO2max and LTVO2. Though VO2max work is an important part of a marathon training plan, it is not as crucial as for a 5k and 10k runner. The other benefit of doing longer interval sessions are improvements in running economy (oxygen consumption at marathon pace) as well as LTVO2 (oxygen consumption at lactate threshold pace) which is a better performance predictor for marathoners than VO2max. I have run these sessions alternating between a natural walking path as well as a synthetic 400m track. An example session would be 10x 1km in 3:00 – 3:10 (on natural path) on 4.5 minute cycles. Or 8x 1200m in 3:40 (400m jog recoveries) plus 1x400m on a 400m track.
Second key change: My long runs have become faster with average pace aiming for 85-90% of my marathon pace (approx. 3:50 pace) and including more marathon pace efforts (3:20 pace) towards the end of my 30 to 38km long runs, simulating marathon conditions as closely as possible. Often starting at 5am or earlier to avoid the heat and associated dehydration.
My training partner Jonny and I included one over-distance long run on hilly trails of 52km 7 weeks before the marathon, conditioning the body to that distance, increasing capillarization of muscle fibers and blood vessels as well as training the mind to push for over 4 hours. This was part of beautiful but challenging trail running event through the Glasshouse Mountains. The race started at 3:30am and the first hour was run in darkness with just our headlamps trying to guide our way on technical trails with water holes and fallen tree logs. Not our usual or favourite type of running as marathoners, but once we got some daylight we could start running a bit more of a steady pace over the many hills. We got to the halfway turnaround point in 5th position with 9 minutes to the leaders, many of whom had gone out too fast. I changed into my lighter On Cloudracer shoes and we started rolling in the field, taking the lead around 36km. Jonny and I finished 1st and 2nd in our first ultra-trail event.
Third key change to my training schedule has been to increase the length of my tempo runs to anything from 40 to 80 minutes aimed at marathon pace of around 3:20 or bit quicker. This has been the most challenging element of my new training so far and one I still need to master. Often I would break up these tempo runs into manageable parts of e.g. 3x5km or 4-5x 4km as I was trying to keep the quality of my run up.
With 2 runs most days, this brings the total km to anything between 150 and 205km of running per week with an average of 170km over an 11 week period (including 2 recovery weeks of around 120km).
I am now starting my tapering, the most crucial phase of any marathon preparation. Another difference in my training schedule this time is to start my tapering 3 weeks instead of 2 weeks out with a focus on more recovery, a strict diet, good sleep quality, boosting immunity and lots of muscle release, foam rolling and relaxation. Training will be shorter and I am aiming to spend a slightly increased portion of my time running fast at goal marathon pace of 3:15-3:20.
The last few months of marathon training have definitely been made even more challenging by adding in the hot summer we just had here in Queensland with temperatures reaching 30 soon after sunrise and humidity of anything between 60-90%. There is some research that says that benefits of training in the heat can have similar effects to training at high altitude. Hope this is true! I am looking forward to flying to winter in Japan and enjoying the light feel of running in perfect 5-10°C conditions.