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The Basics Of Smart Marathon Training

  • By Jeff Horowitz
  • Published Feb. 28, 2012

Specificity Of Training

Here’s the problem in a nutshell: To run better, you have to run more. Runners need to run. That’s called specificity of training. You can’t be a better runner by playing racquetball, no matter what other health benefits might come from that activity. And alongside that fact sits this conundrum: To improve in any activity, you need to practice that activity, but when you do nothing but that activity hour after hour, you raise the risk of developing a repetitive stress syndrome and other overuse injuries.

But you don’t have to settle for one extreme or the other. You can improve your running economy without battering your body.

This book presents an alternative to high-mileage training. It focuses on quality runs over quantity of miles, supplemented by other activities that not only produce better overall fitness but also develop the kind of strength that wards off running injuries. By running less frequently and at a lower volume while running more purposefully—and developing balanced strength—you can run better and be stronger and healthier.

Although much of the running and coaching community still sticks by the older method of training, which calls for running six to seven days a week, building up to 60, 70, or more miles per week, there’s a growing body of evidence supporting the view that less is often more. Research has linked the relationship between mileage and injury onset and has established that as the miles pile up, so, too, does the rate of injury. For example, a 2007 British Journal of Sports Medicine review of running injury studies found strong evidence that running more than 40 miles per week increases men’s risk of lower extremity injuries, especially to the knees, from as low as 19 percent to as high as 79 percent (van Gent et al. 2007).

Clearly, then, there’s a point at which most runners top out on the benefits of running, after which more miles bring more harm than good. Research shows that this point hovers somewhere around 35 miles per week (Eyestone 2007).

All this seems pretty straightforward, so the question, then, is, why do so many runners continue to log more than 35 miles per week?

There’s no single answer to this question, but here’s what I suspect: We’re stubborn people. We wouldn’t be distance runners and marathoners if we stopped every time we got tired or sore. I don’t know if running distance makes people stubborn, or if stubborn people are drawn to distance running, but in the end these just seem to go together. If we believe that running more than 35 miles per week is what it takes to become better, many of us are willing to live with the pain and injuries that come with that. At least up to a point.

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