TAMPA, Fla. (FOX 13) - Marathon season is upon us, and training sessions have -- and should be -- in session.
Whether you’re preparing for your first race, a seasoned pro, or someone who’s simply a bit distance-race curious, we can all learn a thing or two from a coach like Earl Walton. Walton is the global director of training and coaching for IRONMAN. Over the last two decades he’s helped athletes of all abilities train for some of the toughest races on Earth.
Good Day caught up with Walton ahead of Sunday’s Iron Girl Clearwater Half Marathon and 5k race to get his advice on training to go the distance:
Obviously marathons and half-marathons attract runners of different abilities so every training program is going to look a little different, but what are the core workouts that every distance runner should be doing as they prepare for race day?
Earl: We want to see a really good mix of workouts. Cross training is really important, strength and stability work is really important. Make sure you fit it in and you’re being efficient with your time. We also want a real mix of running speeds. There should be one day that’s super easy, 30 to 45 minutes at a light, easy pace. One day that’s called a tempo run: so you’re running at like a seven out of a scale of 10. A nice, hard effort that’s 10 or 12 minute intervals like that. Then we want to see a couple days that are hard effort. Get some track work in. Really push yourself and see what you’re capable of. Then of course you need to get a couple of long runs in and progress your distance.
What’s the biggest mistake you see people make in their training?
Earl: When we get into longer marathon type stuff you’re looking at people emphasizing the long run over all other things. Basically they forget about consistency. A lot of times what happens is that people won’t work out all week and then they’re so scared that they have to get their 20-miler or their long run in and they go out and they run hard not realizing that when they go out for that long run it’s going to take a long time to recover from that. By going out and running for two hours on a Saturday, they’ll need three or four days to recover from that. So you end up losing training time. Consistency over a long run this is always the most important thing. I’d rather see someone run four times a week for 30 minutes to an hour than to just do one or two hour or 90 minute runs in a week.
We’re in Florida where there simply aren’t a lot of hills to train on. For those preparing for say, the Boston Marathon, how can they train for hills without a hill?
Earl: One thing we do have plenty of is wind. One of the great things about wind is it’s resistance. If I wanted to do hill repeats with 2 to 5 minutes of hill work, I would substitute 2 to 5 minutes of running against the wind and then recover two minutes back out. Those are great intervals and that’s going to work on resistance training. That’s essentially what the hill is.
Stairs and treadmills are great, but honestly what I like to see is people doing heavy gear work on a bike and weight training. Those things are going to build the muscle groups that you want. The other thing is speed work on the track, which is actually closer to a hill rather than doing stairs because you’re working with different muscle groups.
Some distance runners are sometimes apprehensive about weight training because they’re afraid of bulking up. Legitimate fear? What’s your pitch for making weight training a part of marathon training?
Earl: If you asked a bodybuilder how hard it is to put on weight and to bulk up, they would pretty much tell all of our skinny little runners that you’re not going to bulk up that quickly. It doesn’t happen overnight. You have to do a lot of work to get bulky so I’m not afraid of the weight room for that reason. You should spend one or two days in the weight room.
What kinds of strength exercises do you recommend?
Earl: Do things like squats and lunges. Step back lunges are one of my favorite exercises for runners. You step back, engage your core and drive your leg forward just like you’re in a running motion. It’s really great for your posture. I love to see core work and using resistance bands to work the glutes. Make sure you’re also doing lateral movements from side to side. We tend to run in one direction but we want to make sure we’re covering all the bases because you have to have that stability in your core and glutes.
What about time goals? How do you work on getting faster?
Earl: If you want to get faster, you’ve got to run faster. That’s a mantra that every coach will say. That’s why we do intervals. To run fast you need to work on having great running form and you also need to open your eyes and your mental awareness to the fact that you can run faster. If I’m used to running eight minute miles then I head to a track for a speed work out and I realize that one of my intervals was at a six minute mile pace I’m going to realize, oh my gosh I can go faster! So the next time I do a long run, rather than doing eight minute miles I might start to bring that down to 7:50. Over time I’ll start to see my times improve. There’s a physiological benefit to track work, but the mental benefit is the bigger part of it.
A progression run uses the same mentality and is an awesome way to look at it. Whenever we look at our plans, 85% of your race should be run at the pace you know you can do, but that last 15% should be what you think you can do. That’s where you’re going to push and test your training. A progression run does that. Let’s say you’re running 10 miles. You start off slow and you start to build and ease into it. By the final two miles you’re pushing as hard as you can. The whole idea is to see what you’ve got in the tank. You see that finish line and you push as hard as you can.
How long do you recommend runners devote to a training program for say, a half marathon?
Earl: There’s different theories but typically 16 weeks is what we like to say. 16 weeks gives you the proper amount of time to set a base of fitness and then build on that. I like to focus on race-specific training for eight weeks of that program. That’s where you’re doing those intervals and really testing how fast you can run.
What should one do if they fall off their training during that 16 weeks? How can they salvage their race?
Earl: That’s One of the biggest questions I get. You have to rely on your fitness and you have to go in with a realistic goal. You should race to what you’ve trained for. If you’ve only trained for three weeks, then just go out there and have fun. Take in the crowds, meet the people, have fun with what you’re doing. If you’ve been training hard, then test your training. Take that 85-percent of the race at what you know you can do, and then push yourself for the last 15-percent and run for the finish line. The most important part is preparing for the time you’re going to be on the course.
What’s your take on crash training? E.g. I’ve only been training for Sunday’s race for three weeks?
Earl: I have to caveat everything because if you have injuries or other issues then obviously you have to be safe and you have to know what you’re capable of. But if I have three weeks and I haven’t been training, but I’ve done a couple of long runs to kind of go out and just see what I’m capable of distance-wise: how long it’s going to take me, a set a mental time in my head for how long to expect to be out there, that’s much different than thinking about going and running 13 miles. Maybe I make a plan where I’m going to run for four minutes and walk for one minute, then when I get to mile 10 and I still feel good I’ll push myself for that final 85-percent. That’s a common strategy for people who have under-trained. If you’re fit and you’re capable of running 13 miles without stopping then you should be fine, just don’t expect a PR.