Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Marathon Training!

The Pune marathon always seems to be a great hit amongst the locals and foreigners alike! Marathon training has been gaining popularity over the last few years as an attractive option not only to athletes but also to non-athletes who choose it for the challenge and excitement among other reasons.

Running a marathon, needless to say, takes a different approach altogether with respect to physical training, nutrition and mental/emotional training. Without any previous training, running for such long durations and distances, on tarred roads makes a perfect case of serious injuries which could affect health for years to come.

First and foremost, running a marathon is all about endurance and stamina, instead of short bursts of heroic strides. Short energetic sprints not only depletes valuable energy resources but also builds substances in the body that inhibit adequate supply of energy from other resources.

Some basic rules for beginner marathon trainers include
o Training gradually by increasing the number of miles run, during the training session gradually and progressively, instead of training too much too fast.
o An important goal in the build-up phase of the training is to avoid injuries and ensure adequate rest and not neglect these at the cost of adding the number of miles run per session.
o Running for such long durations requires both - cardiovascular endurance and muscle (local and general) endurance.
o Mostly the running is done at 55%-70% of your Maximum Heart Rate (220-age) in order to build up cardiovascular stamina and endurance. Running above these levels may not help in building endurance and instead tire you out faster. For well-conditioned individuals, the heart rate ranges may vary depending on the level of conditioning.
o Another very important point to consider is getting adequate practice of running on the ground/road, and not just on the treadmill. Even the best of performances on the treadmill will fall short of actual performance on the road/ground. Though the initial training may include using the treadmill to build you up gradually, ultimately you will need to practice on-ground running to consolidate on your endurance and perform at the marathon!

Marathon – what does it take?

The key to running a marathon successfully or at least un-injured are contained in two simple words – Planning (for physical and mental training) and Progression.
The training needs to start couple of months in advance with regular and consistent routines focusing mainly on endurance – cardiovascular and muscular. Also, the training needs to be built up slow and steady and progressively in order to manage long distances with minimal exhaustion and injuries.

Running is a high-impact activity (in which both feet are off the ground at some point for a fraction of a second) and places excessive impact forces on the joints, especially the ankles, the knees and the lower back. These joints which are supported by the ligaments and the associated tendons (connect muscles to the bones on either side of the joint) also bear the brunt of these forces and hence need to be conditioned well.
Usually most of the injuries arising out of improper training are associated with these ligaments (tears, ruptures etc.) and joints (stress fractures, dislocations etc.) which have the power to negatively affect health in the long term also.
A slow and gradual training schedule will ensure that the muscles, tendons and ligaments adapt to the overload (or excessive stress for extended periods) optimally. Sudden and unplanned intense training can place excessive stress on these and lead to tears or fractures.

However, another important area of training is the ‘mental’ aspect. Mental concentration and internal motivation are key elements to effective training and performance. Visualization exercises are popularly used to keep the runner focused and distracted from the exhaustion. It is helpful to break the total distance down into smaller units to keep the motivation levels up. Different strategies can be used depending on the mental state feedback during the practice sessions, like for example some people have the habit of looking downwards while running. However, looking downwards will only increase the feeling of fatigue and hence shifting the gaze upwards or straight ahead, while running will help them cover longer distances as compared to the former.

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