How I Incorporate Strength Training Into Marathon Preparation

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I've been running regularly for about six years. In a normal week, I'll go out for a run three or four times each week and have progressed from being a total couch potato, through a Couch to 5K program and then beyond to running lots of half marathons and a couple of marathons. But over the last few months I've committed to doing more strength training and it's paying off. Here's what I'm doing.

I've mentioned before how my plan for 2019 is to incorporate 30 minutes of exercise into each day. Given a number of factors, it's not practical for me to run every day. So I needed an alternative I could use on my non-running days.

I don't want to spend hours at a gym - I really dislike commercial gyms. I occasionally use them when I'm travelling and don't like the bright lights, music and crowds. I like to train in a quieter place with my own music. More often than not that's in my backyard in the fresh air.

My main running goal for 2019 is to complete the Melbourne Marathon in a personal best time for that distance. It will be my third marathon so I think I have the mental part covered. But the training for a road marathon is quite different to my previous marathons which were on trails.

I'm also conscious that as I'm over 50 now, I really need to consider keeping my bones strong. Resistance training is a great way to do that.

Trail running stresses the body in ways a road run can't touch. For example, most trail runs include very steep gradients, clambering over rocks, the occasional water crossing and uneven surfaces. That helps to strengthen muscles in a different way to road running. So, I've committed to regular strength training.

My 'go to' strength workout

When I talk to other runners about strength training, often their minds jump straight to "going to the gym". My workout is something you can do at home with minimal equipment. I use cheap kettlebells that I picked up from Aldi and Kmart which do the job. And I have an old skipping rope as well which I use for my warm-up.

I push reasonably hard so that I get through this workout in about 30 minutes.

  • Warm-up: 3 minutes of skipping
  • 7 minute workout: 1 round of 7-minute workout using whatever app you like
  • Kettlebell routine
  • Core routine: 3-5 30 second planks alternated with ab crunches

My kettlebell routine isn't complex. It consists of six exercises that are performed as supersets. I do each superset three times before moving to the next pair.

  • Superset 1: 10 front squats and 20 upright rows
  • Superset 2:10 deadlifts and 20 kettlebell swings
  • Superset 3: 10 clean and press on each side and 10 bent-over rows on each side

If I have some extra time or am feeling particularly good, I add a minute or two of skipping between each superset.

I use this Seven Minute Workout app with my iPhone but there are dozens to choose from. They prompt you through 12 different exercises for 30 seconds. Once you throw in the transition times between exercises, that's your seven minutes.

When I have to go to a gym, like when I'm travelling, I start with 15 minutes on an elliptical and then do my squats and deadlifts along with bench press, lat pulldowns or rows, and shoulder press.

I prefer to use free weights but that's not always possible as many hotel gyms only have machines. But that's not a bad thing as it adds some variation to my routine.

My running routine

My running routine is pretty straightforward at the moment. I need to add a speed session into it at some point but, at the moment, I'm keeping it fairly simple.

  • 2-3 5km runs - one of these is a little harder with the others at a comfortable, but not too comfortable pace
  • A 90 minute trail run with my trail running club - the Peninsula Trail Runners
  • A long run on the weekend - this will build to about 36km in the lead up to the Melbourne Marathon

Has strength training helped?

Over the weekend, I ran a half marathon up at Halls Gap, west of Melbourne. It's very hilly terrain and can be quite challenging. I fell there, during another race, about two and half years ago, and ended up in an ambulance because of an injury to my knee.

In the past, when I hit a really steep hill, I found my calves became fatigued quickly. This time around, because of my focus on strength training to complement my running, other stronger muscles were more easily recruited and took the load. I could really feel my glutes, hamstrings and quads pick up the load.

It wasn't just because they were stronger. Because my weight training focussed on these muscles, they were recruited into the climbing effort more easily.

As well as being stronger going up hills, I really noticed it during the last three kilometres or so. During the last part of the race, heading to the finish line, my legs still felt strong and I was able to accelerate to the finish line.


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