Marathon Performance Training Tactics to Break Through that Plateau [7]

marathon performance training

Marathon Performance Training 

Discover how best marathon performance training tactics to break through any plateaus that are holding you back.

And to help you take your endurance running to a higher level… 

Access your FREE Fasting Long Run Guide

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Mark: Now, one thing I notice from a lot of the things that I do, whether it’s in weight loss, in fitness, or it’s training, or whatever it happens to be:

You’re training or dieting, or whatever it happens to be, but then you reach a point where it’s almost like you plateau.

Dave: Yeah.

Mark: How do you deal with plateaus when you’re training for a marathon?

Dave: Great question!

Well, the first thing is, you wouldn’t reach a plateau if you hadn’t improved from the foothills…

Mark: Okay, yeah, that makes sense.

Dave: So congratulate yourself, because a lot of things are psychological here.

And you’ve got to remember where you’ve come from to start off with.

But that said, we always want to move on and improve.

Why would I call it Marathon Time Breakthrough if people were satisfied with the first time they did?

Mark: This is very true.

Dave: If you always rely on the same patterns of behaviour and expect different results, that’s the definition of insanity (Einstein’s famous quote).

Mark: Yeah, yeah.

Dave: So what you need to do is freshen things up.

And whatever you were doing, you acknowledge and you reward the fact that it got you where it got you..

But you realise that you need to break the cycle of training that’s not working.

Mark: Right, okay. Yeah, that makes sense.

Dave: More specifically, what I would say then, is, to keep the plateau analogy going…

You need to break that plateau up into peaks and troughs.

Because that is where you actually make the gains.

What people mistakenly believe is that improvements are rigidly linear in going up but biological systems…

And runners are biological systems.

Don’t work like that.

Mark: No.

Marathon Training Adaptation

Dave: The best ways that things improve are always in peaks and troughs and cycles.

What that involves, and this is a psychological challenge for people…

Is they have to accept poorer performance to then rise up and get better performance.

And that’s what it comes down to.

It’s the basis of all training adaptation.

Because when you train, you actually cause your performance to temporarily suffer.

So that the body doesn’t want to be embarrassed by that performance.

And it has to improve so that it performs better the next time out.

Mark: Okay.

I know when I’m counselling people on the dietary side, and they reach, say, a plateau in their weight loss…

One of the things that we do is completely change what they’re eating.

Dave: Yeah.

Mark: And I’m guessing it’s a very similar process as far as performance goes as well. A complete change.

Dave: Not so much a complete change.

Because it’s marathon running, we can’t get away from the general principles of:

“Endurance is King” and

“Consistency is King”.

Mark: Okay, right, yeah.

Marathon Specific Training

Dave: Because of the specificity of marathon running, the peaks and troughs are more about spicing things up in terms of introducing some harder sessions…

Be it Faster Repeats or Faster-Longer (tempo-type) Runs.

And then accepting the greater need for recovery to respond to that increase in training intensity or duration.

Because another factor, of course, is slowly incrementing the Long Runs that you do.

We’re tweaking up the level of challenge that the runner is asked to do to reach that new performance level.

But accepting that that is going to entail, almost kind of paradoxically, more recovery than there would have been before.

Mark: Okay, so how does a runner know what to work on specifically, then?

Personalised Marathon Training

Dave: Firstly, as we’ve said in previous episodes, identify what your strengths and weaknesses are.

And then marry them up to what is required by a marathon campaign.

So if, for example, you were struggling with running faster for longer…

You would try and increase, by maybe 5 minutes a week, that Faster-Longer Run.

You would take it from say, 20 minutes to start off with, up to 25 and then 30 minutes…

Until you saw a measurable improvement.

It’s all about working specifically on known weaknesses.

So that’s a physiological example.

But there’s also physical ones.

Looking for a physical therapist, maybe identify weaknesses in core areas.

And then being prescribed some core exercises that might help with building that core strength.

So you’ve got a platform to actually do the more intense training without breaking down.

You might have been held back in your core area by the threat of injury.

Mark: So in essence what you’re saying is if you reach a plateau, there’s a reason for it.

Dave: Yeah, yeah. And it’s finding it.

We’ve identified there the physiological example and the physical example.

Marathon Motivation

But here’s a psychological example…

We might deliberately cut the Long Runs short.

Not because you’re physiologically under stress…

Not because you’re physically breaking down..

But because you’re just bored and you’d rather get back and do something else!

And you might mistakenly think you can get by with just Steady Runs and some of the faster runs.

Mark: Yeah, yeah.

Dave: That’s another weakness to pinpoint.

That could be another plateau.

And that one is quite a subtle one, because it might be softer than the other one.

You might be saying: “Well, what’s the point of running another half an hour?

I’ve already done an hour and a half!”

Well, I’m sorry. For marathon running, we do have to do that extra half an hour eventually.

Because that’s what you need to do.

Because 26.2 miles …

Mark: Is a long way.

Dave: Even for an elite. The world record is around 2 hours.

Mark: So you’ve spoken about having variety, time, and terrain, that sort of thing…

Dave: Yeah.

Mark: What about distance?

Marathon Practice Races

Dave: Yeah, distance is a factor.

And I know we’ve spoken a lot about having training sessions that cover different distances and you bring in the different paces.

So you’ve got Long Runs, you’ve got the Faster-Longer Runs and you’ve got Faster Repeats that are different distances but also different intensities.

What I would encourage people to do to break any kind of performance issues is experiment with different distances when you do practice races.

Because this can often be the solution!

They will be so locked in to the idea that they’re training for a marathon that they may neglect to do anything other than maybe a half marathon at most…

And often even longer 20-mile runs as practice races.

And what I really encourage, particularly in what I call the Steps Phase when transitioning to marathon-specific training…

Is doing a 5K or a 10K and getting your body attuned to these kind of faster paces under race conditions.

This gets back to the idea of freshening things up.

It might give you that extra spark that breaks down that performance block.

Mark: Yeah, and I suppose if you’re doing a different distance at a different pace than you would normally do that distance, you’re going to pick up different things.

Your body is going to start telling you different things about how it feels.

Dave: Absolutely! I’ve come at marathon running from a middle distance perspective, and I remember even when I moved up to half-marathons and certainly for the marathon…

The great benefit was the pace seemed really pedestrian to me!

Obviously, I had to cope with the endurance, but that was still a real benefit.

And you will find, if you have a healthy sprinkling of the shorter races, which, by the way, take a shorter time to recover from, that the actual paces of marathon training feel much more comfortable.

Advanced Marathon Training Workout

Mark: Now, how about some more advanced advice for people who really should know what they’re doing?

Dave: Okay, this one is a ‘handle with care’ health warning:

Don’t try this at home if you’re not prepared for the possible adverse consequences!

But with some of my more advanced clients, I get them to do what I call Fasting Long Runs.

What I mean by that is I encourage them not to consume carbs on their longer runs, during running.

And they can progress this kind of adaptation by going out before breakfast or anyway before a substantial meal.

Mark: Yeah.

Dave: What that does is it unlocks a different kind of performance mechanism, because it allows your body to be even more adept at using fats for fuel.

Why is that beneficial for marathon training and running?

It means because fats are an abundant fuel source that you’ve got a ready-made supply.

So if you’re good at metabolising it, it’s almost like what I would call ‘free fuel’, compared with the very limited carb stocks that you’ve got in your liver and your muscles…

And which you inevitably have to supplement with additional fuel sources.

I use a food shopping metaphor to help my clients understand this.

Imagine your fat stores as a huge wholesaler, plentiful and cheap in supplies, but it’s out of town.

So it’s not so easy to make use of just when you want them.

Your carb source is your local convenience shop. Readily available, but more expensive, and even more costly when supplies are very limited.

Being fat-adapted then, is a way of coping with those limited local carb supplies and it’s a bit like arranging to have that wholesaler deliver the fats right to your door!

Marathon Improvement

Mark: Okay, so you’ve given a lot of advice there, even some ‘don’t try it at home’ advice.

What type of performance gains can people expect to break through those plateaus?

Dave: It’s sometimes unrealistic for people to expect massive gains anyway, from endurance-based training.

So if you’re a well-trained distance runner, particularly if you’re experienced at these marathons, you can only really expect (and when I say ‘only’ this could mean the difference between a glory run and a mediocre run) 1-3% improvements through a campaign.

But, that said, this is where I keep banging on about the value of not only setting a really well-designed marathon schedule…

But then being very watchful, and ready to modify it according to how you perform.

If you’re vigilant and you do that really well, then, inevitably those percentages go up.

Mark: Right.

Dave: You get a better return on your training investment.

If you’re a beginner, you’re in the foothills, and so you can expect a far higher percentage gain in fitness for your efforts, before you reach the inevitable plateau!

Mark: Excellent! A lot of information there from Dave. Before we finish I just want to take you back to the advanced stuff.

Dave: Sure.

Mark: Is there any last thing that you want to bring out for people who might be wanting to try that, so they do it safely?

Dave: Yeah. The Fasting Long Run isn’t for everybody…

And because I want you to do that successfully and safely, there’s a clip from the Marathon Time Breakthrough online course that I run that takes you specifically through the guidelines and goes into a little bit more detail about that important but advanced session.

Have you applied these or any other marathon performance training tactics to break through your own plateau? Please comment below. 

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