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.
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.
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?