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Train Less to Run More?

Doing the Dublin City Marathon last October, it was always supposed to be a one and done thing. I was never the biggest fan of running and before the event, I had only run over 10km once. Around the mile 10 marker, I struggled to make it up the steep hill at Chapelizod. Unlike the first 10 miles, the last 16.2 miles were a complete grind to the finish. Somewhere during this 16.2 miles, I knew that I would have to do the marathon one more time.

In January, I signed up for the Dublin City Marathon for this year. My attitude to running hasn’t changed. Anything over an hour is nothing but tedious, despite any podcast/playlist to distract me. But above all that, I’m stubborn. I’m not proud of how last year went. I want to be able to say I ran it, did it right and can help anyone with advice on how to train for one. 

I was talking to a couple of people before one of my classes a few weeks ago about doing the marathon again and one thing, in particular, stood out from the conversation. “It’s a huge commitment with the number of hours on the road training.” 

He was right.

But what if there was another way.

Remembering a book I read a while back by Tim Ferriss (a fan of his books since my trip to the Body Expo last May in Birmingham), there might be another way.

I was in an airport, in a different country, with hours to kill, of course this PT had a beer

I was in an airport, in a different country, with hours to kill, of course this PT had a beer

Ferriss’ second book, “The Four Hour Body”, is all about body hacks through experimentation and learning from the best in specific fields. On top of enjoying the “Tools Of Titans”, I was interested in his chapter on hacking the NFL Combine with Strength Coach, Joe DeFranco. The same Joe DeFranco, whose CPPS course (along with James Smith) I participated in last September in Orlando, Florida. The chapters were under the section ‘Running Faster & Farther’. DeFranco has trained many athletes for the NFL by working on their strength. Instead of pushing a light sled for a little resistance, for example, he would use a heavy sled. It would look slow but would translate to a faster 40-yard dash. The 40-yard dash is one of the main staples of the NFL Combine, where milliseconds can result in the difference between a multi-million dollar NFL contract and nothing. Of course, the 40-yard dash is slightly shorter than 42 kilometres.

In the second part of the section, Ferriss meets with Ultra-marathon runner, Brian MacKenzie. Brian MacKenzie claims he ran Angeles Crest 100 (yeah, the 100 stands for 100 MILES), one of the hardest races in the world, with under 6 and a half hours of training a week. 3 hours of which was strength training. The most he ran each week? 13 miles. A little over 10% of his distance. This, to me, seems crazy and he is ridiculed online by the traditional long distance, slow speed aerobic runners.

To do this type of training, you would need a good strength training base. When you first start running past the 5km barrier, the first part to break down can usually be the body. Strength training can help overcome that. But enough to run a marathon? I was skeptical as I continued to read Tim Ferriss’ journey. 

An injury set him back which results in the next 10 or so pages focusing on correct stretches and exercises to get the body ready for running and lead nicely into the next chapter. ‘Going from 5km to 50km in 12 Weeks’. As skeptical as I am, I’m even more interested.

The 12-week plan is based on two assumptions. 

1. Muscle Soreness is due to a weak sodium-potassium pump that can be overcome by strength training. MacKenzie claims that increasing a runner’s back squat will help their marathon time drop with maximal strength training improving endurance recovery. 
2. If you can run a decent 10km, you already have the aerobic base to run 50km. 

Most runs in the training plan involve runs less than 10km. If I’m making out that this plan is the easy way out, I apologise. It’s a shorter route but by no means easy as the full 12-week programme involves CrossFit style training involving Back Squats, Deadlifts, Push Presses etc along with trial runs. Most of the workouts are under 20 minutes. But they are very intense and workouts are prescribed twice a day in some cases.

So, after the 12 weeks training, how did Tim Ferriss get on? Well, in his own words: “That’s where we have a cliffhanger.” According to Ferriss, this chapter was the last minute add-on and the book went to publish before he could finish the 12 weeks training. However, he did leave a link in the book to follow up on his progress. 

With the book being 8 years old, I don’t think that we are ever going to get an update on it. 

So I decided to do some research online to see if anyone had followed this type of training. Christopher Solomon of outside seems to believe in it

Going back to my own marathon experience, what let me down was my body after running uphill after mile 10. Before then, I felt I could have jogged the whole marathon on a flat surface. Maybe that’s too optimistic. But I never felt tired, nor out of breath. I was sore. My body seized up. My lower back ached. Walking was difficult after the marathon and oh God why am I putting myself through this again?!

If the goal is to do 50 squats without stopping and you achieve this goal, what’s the next step to get stronger? Well, you could either add more reps or you could do what most people would do in a gym environment, increase the resistance. Enter Hill Runs.

For the last couple of Saturdays, I have gone to the Phoenix Park before my 10 am classes and timed a 1km hill (and steps) run. The steeper hill run going off the DeFranco philosophy in adding more resistance to increase speed. Hill runs can help increase your speed and endurance over flat distances. However, the studies behind using them for long distance endurance running are inconclusive at the moment. Some books, like Running Anatomy, note that hill running should be done only once a week. 

hill nike running run club incline decline sprint time marathon 10 km 5 push

Hill runs can be beneficial, however. Logic would state that if you can do 5km of steep hill work, you would definitely have the endurance for longer flat surface runs. And with the hill runs requiring more of a push off for each step and forcing your to raise your knee higher,  it should also help your stride length and efficiency over on flat surfaces too. The muscles will get stronger, your V02 max will increase due to how difficult they are. They’re possibly even safer on the joints as well. The decline in the hill running is also good for strengthening the posterior muscles in the body. 

That’s where the new challenge and motivation comes in. I can't get into the mindset of spending hours on the road, wearing down my body to run one more marathon. And if I do run and complete it this year by doing that method, I haven’t really changed anything except massaged my own ego by completing it in a quicker time. However, if I can kill myself in the gym. Get stronger. Move better. To get faster on hill runs once a week. Increasing my distance until I get an hour’s work in. Document the process and then complete the marathon and be able to actually walk properly after it? That would be an achievement.

There’s not much scientific research to back up this theory, there’s not a whole lot to say it’s wrong either. The plan is to get up to 3-4km on the steep hills first before transitioning that into longer runs after. I don’t want to go past the 10km mark with a few exceptions. The 10-mile event in August and half marathon in September, both of which I have signed up for in Dublin. I will have a fair idea by September if this training will work. And it’s going to be a long 5-6 weeks if it doesn’t until the day of the marathon. 

In the meantime, I will be helping my Booty Camp class in Castleknock run after their class every Monday and Wednesday as we continue to increase the mileage on top of my strength training and my own hill runs on Saturday morning.

The hill doesn't look that steep, right?

The hill doesn't look that steep, right?

I have a few friends that want to join in on the hill run training on Saturdays (shout out to Eric who killed it in the 10km Phoenix Park run)  as well as starting my 10 am class 15 minutes earlier for those in my Castleknock class.

If you want to come down and get the hill runs in plus timed as well, you’re more than welcome to meet us in Phoenix Park, just inside the Chapelizod gate around 9:30 every Saturday morning as I will continue to update these blogs (and newsletters) with my training programme as I get closer to October. We're going to start off light with 1 km hill runs for the next few weeks. If you feel like you can do more after a recovery, I can show you a 5km route. Having a set time and place to train will no doubt help you with your motivation. I can’t promise that the training will help you run a marathon. That comes in October. I can promise you that you will get fitter, stronger and more competitive and less amount of time on the road, pounding the body, by popping down every Saturday to the Park and starting the weekend off right.