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March 2017
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THE MARATHON

A bit of history

The marathon, the most well known resistance race, was a part of the first, modern Olympic Games held in Athens in 1896. It was included in the games so as to commemorate the legendary, athletic achievement by the soldier Pheidippides (also written Philippides) who ran 40km to report the victory against the Persian army at Marathon to the Athenians, only to die on arrival due to exhaustion.
Following this occurrence, the organisers decided that the race should cover the same distance that the celebrity Greek soldier ran and the Olympic race was won by the Greek shepherd Spyridon Louis who ran 40km in 2:58:50.

Louis’ run enthused many people, especially some American athletes from the Boston Athletic Association who, following Louis’ victory, decided to organise a marathon of 39.75km in their own city. Fifteen athletes took part in this marathon on 19th April 1897 and John J. Mac Dermott from New York won with a time of 2:55:10. The appeal of this exhausting race spread like wildfire and, after just a few years, various sporting associations from many different cities started to organise marathons.

After 10 years of marathons, the distances of which varied from 38-42km, and on the occasion of the London Olympics Games, the marathon competitors were confronted with the classic distance of 42.195km, which was actually the distance from Windsor Castle to the White Chapel Stadium (this distance was then officialised by the I.O.C. at the Paris Olympic Games in 1924). On the 3rd July, just one month before the marathon in London, the first Italian marathon was held in Rome over a distance of 40km. It was won by Umberto Blasi, from Cecina (RM), with a time of 3:07:04. The famous Dorando Pietri was also at the start line but he stopped at the 33rd kilometre for some insulation. At the historical London Olympic marathon, Pietri caused the one hundred thousand spectators to hold their breath as, staggering from exhaustion, he crossed the line in first position but was then disqualified as he had been held up by the judges in the last few metres of the race.

Interest in the marathon continued to grow in the following years, as can be seen by the fact that winners of the Olympic marathon and World Marathon Cup (this was first held in Helsinki in 1983) come from all over the world. In fact it is quite rare that so many countries from each continent can boast important champions in the same athletic event and even small, almost unknown countries can end up winning, like Djibouti who won the first, male World Marathon Cup in Hiroshima, in 1985.

The spreading of the marathon was very ripe between the 60s and 70s when jogging became very popular in America. Running on the streets began to be considered a mass phenomenon thanks to media propaganda. Many Americans, who were victims of the sedentary lifestyle, also took up this sport as it is healthy, practical and cheap. In just a few decades dusty streets, water flasks, alcoholic drinks and improvised sports clothes and footwear turned into tarmac pavements, saline and energy drinks and technical, researched clothing and footwear, suitable for both for training and for competitions.
This phenomenon aroused interest in millions of people all over the world and many companies in the sports sector started to invest large amounts of money in advertising, which contributed to the increase in the amount of people who practised this sport. The big investments were the real lifeblood of this movement and, consequently, running races began to grow in an almost exponential manner.
In the 1990s, many organisations became commercial companies who represented the New York, London, Chicago, Berlin, Rotterdam, Venice and Rome marathons, to name but a few. A whole year needed to organise a marathon and thousands of volunteers join in on the day to guarantee that the race and day runs smoothly.
After more than 100 years of marathons and continual thrashings of records, the current world record of the 42.195km stands at 2:03:59.

Physiology

The marathon can be defined as a typically aerobic speciality. This means the athlete, who has to endure over 2 hours of running, uses energy (for ATP resynthesis) that comes almost exclusively from the mechanism of aerobic respiration. The presence of oxygen, which is introduced via respiration and transportation of red blood cells to muscle fibres, allows the runners’ muscles to use up fats (lipids) and sugars (glycogen).
It must be kept in mind however, that taking on very long races means that the limited amount of glycogen that is stored in the muscles and liver are used up quickly and this irreparably compromising performance. Due to this fact, it is absolutely necessary to do preparatory training for a long distance race that allows you to take part and use as little carbohydrate based energy as possible, therefore training should get the body used to burning more fats than sugars so that sugars are available for the last part of the race, which is notoriously known to be harder and faster.
The muscle fibres that are specialised to work in the presence of oxygen are called red fibres (slow) and they mainly sustain the runner during training and the marathon. During training the athlete should increase the functionality of their muscles and the number of red fibres because, as mentioned, these are the most adept at using energy produced from the mechanism of aerobic respiration.

Training

Almost all marathon training methods are aimed at producing the maximum amount of ATP, per minute of running, through the mechanism of aerobic respiration. It is important that the athlete can, if necessary, run fast without accumulating too much lactic acid in the muscles and blood. The training methods used to improve aerobic capacity and resistance, specifically regarding the marathon, are:

  • the long method (long runs for more than 2 hours, slow pace; mainly aerobic work based on 32-37km);
  • repetition (short runs carried out just under the anaerobic threshold, recovery time in between each run, 1-2km run at marathon pace, practice distances ranging from 1-7km; total work should equal 21-25km; mainly aerobic work);
  • marathon pace (runs similar to a real marathon covering 15-25km).

Other methods used to complement preparation are:

  • the medium pace method (running at a speed that is 10% lower than the speed you expect to able to maintain over 10km. The distance can vary from 10-16km);
  • fartlek (running continually over different terrains, up hill and down hill, etcetera);
  • interval training (work involving high intensity runs broken up by recovery periods or low intensity activities; total work should cover approximately 12km);
  • up hill training (running and sprinting over various distances from 60-80m to 200-300m, overload using own body weight so as to strengthen and maintain muscle toning);
  • gentle running (this can be used for recovering and as a way to encourage capillarisation);
  • stretching (a series of exercises at the end of an activity to lengthen muscles).

According to the aims of the training, the above mentioned training methods must be inserted into the programme, either weekly or bi-weekly, and be rotated. If, however, your only objective is to take part in a marathon, it is sufficient to carry out the preparatory work (muscle conditioning) and then follow the training methods aimed at developing your aerobic capacity.

EXAMPLE OF TRAINING FOR AUTUMN MARATHON

After the summer break and before starting specific running training for the marathon, it is a good idea to subject yourself to a period of muscle conditioning.

MUSCLE CONDITIONING - 4 WEEKS

MONDAY  1 hour of gentle running
TUESDAY Warm-up of 10 up hill sprints with 1 minute of recovery time in between each one and a 10 minute gentle run after
WEDNESDAY 1 hour of gentle running and stretching exercises
THURSDAY Warm-up followed by 10 x 400m with 2 minutes of recovery times in between and then a cool down
FRIDAY 1 hour of gentle running and stretching exercises
SATURDAY 1 hour of running, progressively getting faster in the last 20 minutes
SUNDAY Long distance run, 20-24km

11 WEEKS OF MARATHON TRAINING

1ST WEEK

MONDAY 1 hour of gentle running, 10 x 100m sprints
TUESDAY Warm-up and 10 x 400m with 2 minute of recovery time in between and a cool down
WEDNESDAY  40 minutes of gentle running and stretching exercises
THURSDAY 1 hour of running, progressively getting faster in the last 20 minutes
FRIDAY 1 hour of gentle running and stretching exercises
SATURDAY 40 minutes of gentle running and 10 x 100m sprints
SUNDAY Long distance run, 22-26km

2ND WEEK

MONDAY 40 minutes of gentle running
TUESDAY 1 hour of gentle running, 10 x 100m sprints
WEDNESDAY Warm-up, 6 x 800m with 3 minutes recovery time in between and then a cool down
THURSDAY 40 minutes of gentle running and stretching exercises
FRIDAY Warm-up then 40 minutes of running using marathon pace
SATURDAY 1 hour of gentle running and stretching exercises
SUNDAY Long distance run, 22-26km

3RD WEEK

MONDAY Rest or 40 minutes of gentle running
TUESDAY 1 hour of gentle running and stretching exercises
WEDNESDAY  Warm-up and 2 x 5km runs, running progressively faster
THURSDAY 40 minutes of gentle running and stretching exercises
FRIDAY 1 hour of running, progressively getting faster in the last 20 minutes
SATURDAY 40 minutes of gentle running then 10 x 100m sprints
SUNDAY 12-15km race or marathon pace training

4TH WEEK 

MONDAY 40 minutes of gentle running
TUESDAY 1 hour of gentle running and stretching exercises
WEDNESDAY Warm-up and 3 x 2km runs with 4 minutes of recovery time in between and then a cool down
THURSDAY 1 hour of gentle running and stretching exercises
FRIDAY 40 minutes of gentle running and stretching exercises
SATURDAY 1 hour of running, progressively getting faster in the last 20 minutes
SUNDAY Long distance run, 28-32km

5TH WEEK
MONDAY 40 minutes of gentle running
TUESDAY 1 hour of gentle running, 10 x 100m sprints and stretching
WEDNESDAY 1 hour of running practising your marathon pace
THURSDAY 40 minutes of gentle running
FRIDAY 1 hour of gentle running
SATURDAY 40 minutes of gentle running and stretching exercises
SUNDAY 12-15km race

6TH WEEK

MONDAY Rest or 40 minutes of gentle running
TUESDAY 1 hour of gentle running and stretching exercises
WEDNESDAY  Warm-up and 12km run practising marathon pace
THURSDAY 40 minutes of gentle running and stretching exercises
FRIDAY Warm-up, 10 x 200m with recovery time of 1 minute and then a cool down
SATURDAY 40 minutes of gentle running
SUNDAY Long distance run, 32-34km

7TH WEEK

MONDAY 40 minutes of gentle running
TUESDAY 1 hour of gentle running, 5 x 100m sprints and stretching exercises
WEDNESDAY  Warm-up, 10 x 800m with 3 minutes of recovery time in between and then a cool down
THURSDAY 50 minutes of gentle running
FRIDAY 1 hour of gentle running and stretching exercises
SATURDAY 1 hour of running, progressively getting faster in the last 20 minutes
SUNDAY 18km run practising marathon pace

8TH WEEK

MONDAY Rest or 40 minutes of gentle running
TUESDAY 1 hour of gentle running, 10 x 100m sprints and stretching exercises
WEDNESDAY  Warm-up, 3 x 3km runs with 5 minutes of recovery time in between and then a cool down
THURSDAY 40 minutes of gentle running and stretching exercises
FRIDAY 5km gentle run and 12km run at medium speed
SATURDAY 50 minutes of gentle running
SUNDAY Long distance run, 34-38km

9TH WEEK

MONDAY Rest or 40 minutes of gentle running
TUESDAY 50 minutes of gentle running, 10 x 100m sprints and stretching exercises
WEDNESDAY  16-18km run practising marathon pace
THURSDAY 40 minutes of gentle running
FRIDAY 1 hour of gentle running and stretching exercises
SATURDAY 1 hour of running and 10 x 100m sprints
SUNDAY Half marathon

10TH WEEK

MONDAY 40 minutes of gentle running
TUESDAY 1 hour of gentle running and stretching exercises
WEDNESDAY  5km warm-up and 10km run at medium pace
THURSDAY 50 minutes of gentle running
FRIDAY 1 hour of gentle running and stretching exercises
SATURDAY 50 minutes of gentle running and 5 x 100m sprints
SUNDAY 12km run, marathon pace

11TH WEEK

MONDAY 40 minutes of gentle running
TUESDAY 50 minutes of gentle running and stretching exercises
WEDNESDAY  Warm-up and 3 x 2km runs with 4 minutes of recovery time in between
THURSDAY 40 minutes of gentle running and 5 x 100m sprints
FRIDAY Rest
SATURDAY 40 minutes of gentle running
SUNDAY

MARATHON

THE MARATHON

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