Monday, November 3, 2008
Marathons & Triathlon
This subject routinely comes up at this time of year on triathlon forms and message boards: Should I run a marathon in the off-season? It seems counter intuitive, but if the desire is improving ones running in a triathlon - any length triathlon, the straight up answer is, "no, don't run a marathon in the off season"
Deeper questions need to be asked though before leaving it there: What is the athletes focus? Is it triathlon or do they have a singular goal of running a marathon, maybe qualifying for the Boston Marathon? How is their running in relation to the other two sports? Do they come from a running back ground? The answers to these questions, will give some guidance as to what direction to go.
If the triathlete has a burning desire to run a marathon. Great! My suggestion to them would be to take 6 months to maybe even a year and really focus on the marathon and do it right. The problem is many triathletes look at running a marathon in too short a period of time, just bolt on a few extra long runs, and hope/pray that running the marathon is going to somehow totally transform and improve their triathlon running. The actual impact on how they run in triathlons is minimal and over the short term, depending on the timing of the marathon and key tri races, can me detrimental to their triathlon running and performance. If they take the time to really train for a marathon and do it right ( and it's not just about all long runs all the time), they will have some very positive long-term impacts on not just their stand-alone running but their triathlon running to.
Now if the focus is overall triathlon improvement with a concurrent desire to improve their triathlon running, then the wise triathlete will eschew the off-season marathon completely. Again, seems counter intuitive, but if you understand what running in a triathlon is you will perhaps see where I am going with this. Tri-running is about running while tired. You start out with tired legs and often with poor running form after the bike. The pace you run has to be that all-day, I can run-this-on-trashed-legs pace. A potent builder of this sort of run fitness is high frequency running - running as many days/week as you can. Get out and run almost every day - for 20 minutes to up to 2 hours. Just get out and run. Don't worry so much about pace, or heart rate. At first just try and build up to running for some bit of time ( 20min minimum is a good place to start) for upwards of 6 or even 7 days/week. Once getting in 6 or 7 days week, then start to increase weekly volume slowly. Do this for 3 - 4 months in the off season and you will really deepen the base running fitness you have and your ability to run while tired. If the triathlete wants to race - do a few 10K or even 1/2 marathon races. These distances push key fitness parameters like lactate threshold, but you can recover quickly and get back to the high frequency program quickly without a lot of down time.
My wife, Paolina Allan (pictured above), has become a very consistent 3:20 marathon runner in Ironman runs. She is not a natural runner and she has never run a stand-alone marathon. She has achieved this standard of triathlon and IM runnning by using a program of high frequency running through the winter months and she races a number of 10K and 1/2 marathons and uses these as training efforts and benchmarks of fitness.
Hope this helps.