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In it for the long haul: Marathon training takes time, dedication and miles

Tanner Cook • Updated Oct 24, 2017 at 8:13 PM

I have learned over the past six months that training for a marathon is not an easy task. It does not make it any easier that I am currently training for my first marathon, which will be the 40th Annual Richmond Marathon in Richmond, Virginia, on Nov. 11.

My training has been largely on my own, but I have had quite a lot of input from fellow runners in the area on tips for training and much more encouragement.

The basics

I have been training for Richmond since the middle of June, which was a 20-week buildup with a few races mixed in. I decided to go with a marathon plan that would fit a strength runner like myself, so I went with the Hansons-Brooks plan of a long buildup with a long run every nine days instead of the usual seven-day cycle with a long run on the weekends.

This meant that my long runs would fall on odd days during the middle of the week instead of on a Saturday or Sunday. The plan also benefited me because I run better with higher mileage and long, endurance workouts rather than the lower mileage with lots of speed workouts.

The numbers

During my training, I have hit up to 123 miles during a seven-day week and the most I have hit during a nine-day cycle is 173 miles. I have missed a grand total of four days since June 1, and three of those days were due to a minor setback with an ingrown toenail.

Since June 1, I have run 2,076 miles and averaged just over 14 miles per day.

The workouts

Over 90 percent of marathon training is recovery runs with the other 10 percent being divided up between races, long runs and workouts. The workout days are the harder efforts and should be spaced out accordingly to allow enough recovery between the harder efforts.

These are some of my more notable workouts:

-A 36K (about 22 miles) fartlek with alternating fast 4K segments and slower 2K segments. I averaged 6:01 pace for the 22 mile workout with lots of recovery in between hard segments. A fartlek is a Swedish word meaning “speed play” and the workout is designed to alternate between hard segments and easy segments. The fartlek can either be distance-based or time-based.

-Two six-mile repeats with one mile of jogging rest. This is another endurance based workout which is basically doing two 10K’s back-to-back. My splits on the Tweetsie Trail were 32:20 going toward Elizabethton and 32:25 coming back uphill to Johnson City. My pace was essentially 5:23 or so going up and down the hills on the Tweetsie.

My long runs have ranged anywhere between 16 miles and 24 miles. The longer long runs have been to get used to being on my feet for more than two and a half hours at a time.

The races

My first race of the summer was actually in May when I won the Bill Gatton Honda Honda “Run for Phil” 5K in Bristol in 16:21. This race was essentially a rust-buster to get my legs used to moving fast again.

My second race was in Burkes Garden, Virginia, at the Varmint Half Marathon where I won again and set a new course record of one hour, fourteen minutes and fourteen seconds. This broke a record that had stood for more than 10 years by over a full minute.

My third race was the Rhododendron 10K in Bakersville, North Carolina, where I won for the first time in six tries.

My final race of the summer was at “The Bear” five mile run up Grandfather Mountain (over 1800 feet of elevation gain in five miles). I finished a disappointing ninth place. I had finished second place in 2016 and was looking to win the race.

After a long training block through the rest of July and all of August, I finally toed the line again at the Eastman Food City 10K in Kingsport. I finished second overall by three seconds and felt good about the way I was running.

The next race was the Bluegrass Half Marathon in Johnson City, where I won the race and set a course record of one hour, eleven minutes and two seconds, breaking the old record by over 30 seconds.

My seventh race was at the High Knob Hellbender 10K in Norton, Virginia, which is an ascension of the High Knob (over 2,000 feet of elevation gain in six miles). I won this race in 43 minutes and 42 seconds, breaking the old course record by seven minutes.

My most recent race was at the Overmountain Victory 10-mile run from Sycamore Shoals to Rocky Mount through Watagua. I won the race in 57:11 and broke the course record by over 10 minutes. I used the race as a workout to tempo the hilly course at about 5:40 per mile pace.

The supplemental stuff

Running is a sport where you must take care of your body in order to run what you want to run. I pay very close attention to what I eat during my main meals of breakfast, lunch and dinner in order to get in the proper amount of calories to fuel myself for the upcoming runs.

The other essential parts of proper training are doing things that pertain to recovery like stretching, taking ice or epsom salt baths to help repair muscles or drain lactic acid from the legs.

An additional or optional part of trying to run fast is doing supplementary exercises with core workouts and/or weights in order to improve explosiveness and maintain speed.

The expectations

I hold high standards for myself and will accept nothing better than my absolute best. With that being said, there are a lot of outside factors that I cannot control during the race that could affect how I do. The biggest variable is the weather on race day.

The second major factor is what my fueling strategy during the race with volunteers will be. I do not expect to win a major marathon in my first try, but I would like to place high.

My current time goal is to finish in under two and a half hours, which would be a solid debut, in my opinion.

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