August 25, 2021
Many marathon run programs have 4 to 5+ days a week of run training, with the idea that if you condition your body enough in training, it will be able to handle the demands on race day. I’d like to introduce a mantra for this blog… “Anything done too much loses value.”
Most runners I work with come to me after they’ve been living that life. Many spent months, or even years on a run program, only to end up in chronic pain with some injuries completely stopping them in their tracks.
Any runner can reduce their injuries and improve their running performance by focusing on less volume, and more on strength training and recovery. Of course, everyone is different and needs different amounts of training to reach race day strong, but you can pay attention to some key indicators during your season to make sure you’re not overdoing it.
You may be thinking “I don’t run too much, my body needs volume,” or wondering, “how do I know if I run too much?”
The questions you should be asking yourself are:
Your body tells you a lot if you listen, and if you're experiencing any of these symptoms, chances are you're running too much. Keep in mind, pain is a lagging indicator that something is wrong.
When it comes to those aches and pains, I always tell athletes that our bodies are designed to run, from the arch in our foot, to the muscles in our neck… so, we shouldn't be in pain. Running should feel natural.
Many people say that running is tough on their bodies. The problematic points revolve around the following:
A: I find that when people weigh too much for their frame, long runs tend to hurt. They can usually get away with short interval runs, but anything lasting a few minutes or longer causes pain. This means that you may need to consider shedding some excess weight through diet and resistance training.
B: The number one issue I find with runners is bad movement patterns. From old injuries that changed their fundamental movements to bad sleep positions that cause daily movement distortions, if the wheel wobbles enough, eventually it’ll jack up the axle.
C: Stride length and foot strike position are both dependent on your size and gait, as well as the speed or distance you plan to run.
A: Many people just have the wrong shoes plain and simple.
B: High heel or Minimalist.
Start with the mindset: "Strong before long, fast before far." Spend time getting stronger and faster before getting into higher mileage to reach the finish line quicker.
We all know that feeling when you take off for a run and your legs feel like springs with fresh lungs and you feel like you can keep it going all day… Only to be breathing fire at mile 4 wondering what happened. To understand this phenomenon, you need to look at metabolism. The metabolism of the human body is very complex, and consist of many pathways, but for the simplicity of this conversation we’ll focus on 3 Systems:
A: Phosphagen System – This is a form of anaerobic metabolism and uses creatine phosphate to generate ATP for the first few seconds you have of Incredible Hulk strength and speed. Activities that use this system are explosive, require maximal effort, and are short in duration.
B: Glycolytic System – The process of glycolysis, which is the breakdown of glycose, to make ATP.
C: Fat Oxidation – This is the breakdown of fat for fuel.
For more information on this, please read the following:
If you were to correlate this to typical training Zones:
A: Phosphagen System = Zone 5 (Running from a Bear)
B: Glycolytic System = Zone 3-4 (Running for a Jog with Friends)
C: Fat Oxidation = Zone 1-2 (Walking)
One thing to note, we’re always dancing between all three systems, but dominant in one depending on our activity. It’s a continuum that is dialed in according to your exertion and understanding this can make or break your race.
The best way to understand all of this is to look at it this way:
System C is always being used. When you’re just sitting watching TV and breathing, to when you walk to the car to go to work. System C is our primary fuel source when our effort is low. The less intense the exertion, the more System C is in play. When we start to increase our effort, maybe traffic was rough making you late for work and you jog from the parking lot into the office, System B will start to kick in. It’s not until you’re running at your max effort that you start to tap into System A.
We mention this so that you understand that it’s important to train all three systems, and many run programs keep us in Systems B & C. The reason we see benefit in training System A is what it does to our body on a neural and muscular level. Simply stated,
There are many benefits to strength training for running which we’ll discuss shortly, but let’s spend a minute evaluating contact time in reference to the amount of time your foot is on the ground during locomotion. Notice as you walk slowly you spend quite a bit longer on the supporting leg than if you walk briskly. As you speed up your walk, to a jog, to a run, you’ll note that the amount of time your supporting leg is on the ground reduces concurrently to your speed increase.
Research shows that by increasing power in the legs of marathon runners, that contact time per stride went down. Less time on the ground means faster running…
The caveat is, it takes more power to get you off the ground quickly. This is where strength training comes in (details below). By increasing the strength of your legs, your power output increases, which translates into less time on the ground.
Training like this taxes the body, which leads to our next point. If you put in the hard work, you’ll need hard recovery. To run with long-term sustainability in mind means taking the time to strengthen your body, instill proper form, and focus on recovering completely after these intense bouts.
Life’s impact on your body is just a balance of stress and breakdown, with rest and recovery. The body is always trying to heal from the chaos we put it through, and it’s damn good at it when we give it time to work its magic. The real concern is, if we don’t give ourselves adequate recovery from the stress we put ourselves through, it’s not always apparent (reference death by a thousand cuts on injury blog).
Our bodies adapt to the regular stress we put ourselves through. Although anytime we lift weights or run faster/farther than we previously have adapted to, the additional stress causes slight damage to our muscles called microtrauma. This sounds a little worse than it is, but essentially, we’re creating slight tears in our muscle fibers. This can cause inflammation and soreness. Ever go into the gym feeling like a boss, knock out a bunch of sets, only to barely be able to walk the next day? This is DOMS, or Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. Research shows that the recovery window from DOMS can last from 24-96 hours. This means if you’re running 5 days a week, the chances that you’re fully recovered and performing at your best is slim. This means you should turn your focus on the things you can do to help your body recover quicker and adapt to the new demands.
Recovery shows up in three places:
In this blog, we’ll spend time on recovery points 1 and 2. Point 3 we will address on a later blog.
The Time and Type of rest we craft for ourselves is directly tied to the quality of performance. Less time pounding pavement means more time reaping the benefits of recovery training. Recovery training means we implement practices and activities that help our body flush toxins out of our tissues and nutrients back in. We use the term ‘craft’ as it takes time and planning to get this right. There are many ways to do this, but we’ll focus on three that we highly recommend.
All of these will help you to recover between sessions. Meaning you can approach your next workout fresh and recovered and perform better during your workouts.
At best we spend 25-30% of our lives sleeping. There are many natural phenomena that occur during sleep, but most importantly the recovery cycles the body goes through are imperative for quality performance. Once again, we use the term ‘craft’ as there are many things we can do to improve our quality of sleep, other than just going to sleep. Some things you can do to improve those z’s.
There are many benefits of strength training. First, if you don’t load your bones, they get soft. Holding and lifting heavy things, your bones will stay strong. (More on this in a later blog). A second advantage is that you reduce the risk of injury having stronger tissues and ligaments. But we know that’s not why you’re reading all of this.
How does strength training make you a faster long-distance runner?
The stronger your body is, the more stable and 'in line' your body will be, which translates to more power that you can create. As we discussed above, increased power leads to increased running efficiency. Putting more power into your strides means less contact time on the ground, making you faster!
Stronger Muscles = More Power = Faster Running What workouts should runners do?
If you’d like some exercises to try, I’ve highlighted the Three Best Kettlebell Exercises for Runners here. Although, if you’re looking for how to program a week, a month, or even a whole season, I’ve laid out a simple-to-follow model so that you can structure your week.
You’ll see a big difference in our Facet Seven Strength for Running programs versus other strength or endurance programs.
Some differences with our programs include:
I know I’ve thrown a lot at you, but not to worry. I’ve created a simple-to-follow sample program pdf for you to get an idea of how to structure all of this.
If your program is on point, you should see some form of improvement. Whether it be a reduced HR while holding (or increasing) your speed, getting comfortable in a lower gear, or hitting a new PR, use our programs for best results!
Founder & Training Director
Layn has spent his life immersed in the worlds of fitness and physical performance. As an athlete, he’s completed multiple endurance events such as the Texas Bandera 50k Trail Run, Austria’s Ironman 70.3, and the Alaskaman Extreme Ironman. He’s been coaching since 2008 with certifications in USA Weightlifting Level 1, CrossFit Level 1, Strong First L1, and the National Academy of Sports Medicine.