Cumulative Fatigue

Cumulative Fatigue {Marathon Monday} + Portland Training Week 12

Hi, everyone! How was your weekend?

I’m now six short weeks away from the Portland Marathon and I am definitely feeling the effects of training fatigue. This is not a sign of training burnout; rather, cumulative fatigue can play a key role marathon training. It’s one of the major tenets of the Hansons Marathon Method and one reasons why the plan calls for high mileage but shorter long runs. 

Cumulative Fatigue

What is Cumulative Fatigue?

As the Hansons Marathon Method defines it, cumulative fatigue is “the accumulation of fatigue over days, weeks, and even months of consistent training” (p. 6). Cumulative fatigue trains you for the specific demands of the marathon, namely, running well on tired legs. The last 10K of the marathon are challenging, no matter how fit or fast you are; beginning your goal pace workouts or long runs with lingering fatigue in your legs will prepare you mentally and physically to maintain goal pace at the end of the marathon and avoid slowing down.

Cumulative fatigue is a lingering fatigue, which is quite distinct from the inescapable soreness of overtraining. In fact, cumulative fatigue, if done right, will help you maximize your training gains without pushing yourself beyond the point of recovery (overtraining). There is a huge difference between having tired legs and completely stale, heavy, and exhausted legs; cumulative fatigue leave you with tired legs but still with the ability to complete your workouts.

Cumulative fatigue is not produced from a single difficult run, but rather through the long build up of high mileage, physiologically stimulating workouts, and partial recovery. Instead of taking the day off before your long run or after a goal pace workout, you run very easy miles for active recovery but not complete rest. 

How is Cumulative Fatigue Built?

The Hansons training plan builds cumulative fatigue through high training volume, intense key workouts, and partial recovery. Practically, this plays out as six days of running, three key workouts per week (speed, tempo, and long run), and only one day of rest each week. During the last two months of training, I average 50-65 miles per week. As the mileage builds up, so does the fatigue, especially throughout each individual training week. By the time I reach my long run at the end of the week, I feel as if I’m running the last 16 miles of the marathon, rather than the first 16. 

If high mileage puts you at risk for injury, you can still achieve a state of cumulative fatigue through cross-training, such as cycling, swimming, and strength training. These workouts will still leave you in a state of fatigue without aggravating any past or potential injuries for runners who can’t handle running almost every day. 

Cumulative fatigue is in part achieved through maintaining a balance of training stress and recovery. Since I only rest from running one day per week, it’s vital to get enough sleep, eat a nutritious diet with a sufficient caloric intake, foam roll, practice yoga, and not push myself too hard in supplemental workouts or recovery runs

How Does Cumulative Fatigue Benefit Marathon Training?

As I mentioned above, cumulative fatigue prepares you to run on tired legs. This preparation is both mental and physical; sometimes, the biggest challenge of the Hansons training plan is the mental aspect of the runs: overcoming doubts, defeating negative self-talk to focus, and motivating yourself when you want to quit. 

Another benefit of cumulative fatigue is that it allows you to fit in all of your key workouts, thus maximizing physiological gains during training. Long runs of 20 miles or more require a couple days of recovery, which limits how many workouts you can do in the following week. Shorter long runs, albeit those done on tired legs, allow you to recover faster and be able to complete your speed or tempo workout two days later. 

Cumulative fatigue, if done right, also helps avoid injury during marathon training. Cumulative fatigue relies on a gradual build up of both intensity and volume, and one of the most common causes of injury is running too frequently, too hard, too soon. Very long runs can also increase your risk of injury, so fatigued but shorter long runs decrease the risk of potential overuse injury.

Portland Marathon Training Week 12

This week of training was hard. I handled last week’s 60 miles really well, but I definitely felt the fatigue from that mileage throughout this weekly. Thankfully, every other week in the Hansons plan is a minor cutback week, as to balance the effects of cumulative fatigue and prevent overtraining. I still successfully completed all of this week’s workouts, despite less-than-fresh legs.

I did have to adjust my workouts this week due to a busy day on Monday. Still, I was able to fit in all my miles and prescribed workouts plus just enough strength and flexibility workouts.

Monday: 5 miles easy, treadmill, 1-1.5% incline, 9:02/mile average pace.

Tuesday: 11 miles with 4 x 1.5 miles at half marathon effort. This was a challenging workout and I wasn’t feeling my best, but I pushed through and maintained a 7:33-7:38 min/mile pace for each interval. 

Wednesday: 5 miles easy with Charlie, on a hilly route, 9:54/mile pace, immediately followed by 30 minutes of Pilates.

Thursday: 12 miles, 8:10/mile average pace. 2 mile warm-up, 9 miles at goal marathon pace (7:50/mile), 1 mile cool down. This run felt great and I finished feeling strong.

Portland Marathon Training

Friday: AM: 10 miles easy, 9:19/mile average pace. PM: 30 minutes of kettlebell strength training.

Saturday: AM: 10 miles on the treadmill, 0.5-2% incline, 8:45/mile. PM: 11 mile hike, 8 hours, 3000 ft. elevation gain—the most difficult and longest hike we’ve done yet, but more on that later this week. 

Sunday: 25 minutes of gentle yoga and foam rolling. 

53 miles of running for the week.

Questions of the Day:
How was your week of training? Did anyone race this week?
How many days per week do you run?
What helps you mentally prepare for racing a marathon?

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29 Responses

  1. Even though I don’t run nearly as many miles as you and others on Hansons, I think that I actually operate off of similar principles but mixed with the traditional long run set up: i accomplish cumulative fatigue with my cross training simulations of runs on my off days. My body just doesn’t care to run as much on consecutive days.

  2. I did a cumulative fatigue based plan for my Spring marathon and it worked wonders. I was inspired by Hansons, but I didn’t do one of their plans (I don’t run 6 days a week. No thanks). I ran 5 days a week, but I still did long runs up to 20 miles. The first day of running was speed work and the middle three were easy runs or 2 easy/1 MP.

    My cumulative fatigue training, I believe, was the key factor in getting me a 15 minute PR in my Spring marathon. I would stress that anyone looking to do a plan like this needs to be really prepared and know what they’re getting themselves into – physically but, more importantly, mentally as well. I began to dread running and feel like a training zombie by the end of my cycle. It felt like a chore and there were days when the thought of another 7 mile run made me want to cry. It’s taken me months and a totally new training plan/running outlook to get my love of the sport back. Cumulative fatigue training is dynamite if you want to nail a time goal and it will be SO worth it once you do; but if you’re not that concerned about time I would definitely loosen the reins a bit. It’s definitely not for everyone all the time.

    1. Great job on running a 15 minute PR – that’s amazing! I definitely agree with you that’s it’s not for everyone and not for all the time – it’s really best when chasing a big time goal, because you need that motivation behind it.

  3. I typically run 6 days a week, although sometimes I will just do 5 and cross train more that day or take it off if I’m gonna race. I raced this week, so just 5 for me (39 miles total). I am a Hansons “fangirl” when it comes to running 6 days a week even though I don’t do marathons. Someone actually asked me on Saturday if I considered cutting back, but why because I PRed Saturday, so no use to change what I’m doing, right ;).

    You had a great week of training. I have no clue how you managed an 11 mile hike AFTER a morning run. Great job!

    1. 6 days a week and cumulative fatigue seems to be magic for a PR in any distance – and congrats on yours! And thank you – I’m not even sure how I managed that hike, and talk about fatigue from it.

  4. Great week of training. I find this really interesting. Although I have not read much about cumulative fatigue previously, it is definitely something that I have felt to be beneficial in my training plans. I try to run at least 6 days a week, with a longer mid-distance run before my long run for the week. It makes my body understand and work through tired and heavy legs for my long run. However I usually try to keep those runs 45-60 seconds slower than MGP. Awesome information – thanks so much for sharing 🙂

      1. This makes me feel better! I am just starting Hansons and had 13 today and felt like it was the last 13 of my marathon! I ran 45-50 slower the MGP and am not spent so to speak but it is such a new feeling I am trying not to doubt myself. Thanks for posting.

  5. I am using Hanson’s too. I just started Week 15 and did my 3×2 mile workout this morning. I completely understand the fatigue part. My bedtime went from 10:00 pm to between 8 and 9 pm! Not to mention my frequent naps. I am hoping for somewhere between 3:20-3:25. My nerves get to me too much so I do better with a time frame vs. one solid time. 🙂 I love seeing others out there using Hanson and am antsy to see the end results.

    1. I have my first 3 x 2 mile workout tomorrow – I hope yours went well today! I hope your upcoming marathon goes well – it sounds like you’re really well trained! 🙂

  6. Great week of training! Its interesting to consider the benefits to cumulative fatigue and running a marathon. I have not run a marathon yet but can see how training your body (and mind) to adjust to performing when its tired would be essential. Thanks for sharing!

  7. One of the things that definitely appealed to me about the Hansons plan was this idea of cumulative fatigue. I think it makes a lot of sense to get used to running on tired legs. I really think following that plan helped me to complete the Raleigh marathon last spring without stopping- even though I didn’t hit my goal due to the weather.

  8. Laura, this completely explains why I feel the way I do, and why it will be so beneficial in the end! I have never heard of the concept of cumulative fatigue, but it really makes sense. I’m not doing high mileage, but those CrossFit workouts are killer. Thank you so much for this! Sharing…

  9. His old girl knows ALLLLLL about cumulative fatigue. It’s been about 15 years since my oldest child was born. HaHahaha! You’re doing so well Laura! What a great week you had. Such great training for this marathon!

  10. Such great info! I’ve heard from so many clients when in the thick of marathon training – why do my legs feel so tired? It’s because you are constantly building and repairing new muscles to prepare you for those last brutal miles when your legs will feel like lead.

  11. Hi Laura,

    Thanks for the post. I just ran the Seville Marathon in Spain as a marathoner novice and completely buckled in the last 12k. I was on for sub 3hr but ended up with 3.25.

    This theory makes a lot of sense now you have brought it to my attention in this post. I’ve been scratching my head of how to overcome that last part of the marathon (apart frim just fueling). I think I got my whole training regime wrong- I was just doing one long run a week and then recovering the reat of the week.
    Any further tips would be welcome!

    1. I’m glad you found the post useful! Long runs are definitely valuable in training, but there does need to be a balance between long runs and weekly workouts (especially tempos or marathon pace runs). Marathon training is tiring, but running on tired legs prepares you for those last miles of the race. You just want to make sure you taper so you don’t go into the race on tired legs (which happened to me on the Hansons plan). A coach can help you specifically with workouts for those last miles of the race; for my clients, I personally love progression long runs where you pick up the pace during the last quarter of the run.

  12. Great explanation. I heard the term in a webinar today and you had the best explanation I could find. I’m training for a fall marathon and was thinking 6 running days per week seemed high, but when I view it through the lens of cumulative fatigue it seems more purposeful.

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