In Medias Race (The Training in between Training)

I am one of those runners who loves training more than racing.

Don’t get me wrong, I love race day: that feeling of pushing yourself to the limit for that distance, the exhilaration of the crowds, the range of emotions, the thrill of a PR, and then all the celebratory food afterwards (brunch and beer never taste better than after a race). 

But, routine-lover that I am, my favorite part is the training for the race. Each day has a specific workout with a specific purpose and specific paces. However, marathon and half marathon training demands a lot of the body, just like racing does, so it’s not wise to train intensely and specifically year round. Our bodies need periods of recovery and easy running to balance the training cycles full of long runs, speed work, and goal pace training.  

My marathon training will start the first week of June, which really is not that far away (especially considering that May is the month of our cross-country move). I’ll be following the Hansons Marathon Method, which means I will get plenty of speedwork, marathon-pace runs, and long runs over the 18 weeks from early June to the Portland Marathon on October 4. 

So what do I do for the training in between training? Base building. 

Training in between training

I’ve talked about base building before on the blog, as back before my short training cycle for the Go! St. Louis Half Marathon I spent January and February building up my running mileage. Unfortunately because Indiana winters are atrociously icy and snowy, I spent almost all of that base building period on the treadmill, which is never ideal for training. Because of being stuck on the treadmill, I neglected some essential aspects of base building: strides, drills, hills, and even just running in a variety of weather. 

So this time I’m aiming to incorporate more of the “little things” into my base building. including strides, drills, and more strength training. If you’re preparing to soon start training for a fall marathon or half marathon or some shorter summer races, hopefully you can find some valuable information from my “training in between training” plan! Well, “plan” is a word to be used lightly here, as this plan is more a checklist of different training elements but allows for more flexibility in the day to day routine of running.

Drills: What are running drills? Also called form drills, these are short exercises that help improve your running form, help injury-proof your body, and make you a more efficient runner. Elite runner Tina Muir (who has a super-informative blog that you should check out!) demonstrates several running drills in this post. I’m aiming to include drills such as high knees, butt kicks, bounding, and grapevine (carioca) at least twice a week after easy runs. 

Strides: Strides are the perfect speedwork for a base building period, as you want to stick to mostly easy running but not neglect your speed overall. Strides are short little burst of speed (think a controlled sprint) done for about 100 meters or for 20 seconds. Strides don’t pose the same fatigue and risk of injury as speedwork does, but they help improve your foot turnover and running efficiency. Begin with 4 strides after a run and work up to 8 strides. I’m incorporating strides at least 2 or 3 times a week after easy runs or long runs. 

Strength: Since less intense runners will wear less on my body, I’m stepping up my strength training a bit. For months I’ve been doing primarily simple bodyweight strength training, and now it’s time to mix it up a bit. I used to love kettlebells, stability balls, and medicine balls, so those are all returning to my strength routine for some dynamic total-body moves: medicine ball throws (which Boston 5K and NYC Half winner Molly Huddle does!), kettlebell swings, jump squats, stability ball hamstring curls, and lots and lots of push-ups and planks. When you’re running less miles (or at least less intense miles), use the extra time and energy to build stronger core and legs. 

Prehab: Prehab, not rehab! Ending up in physical therapy or even just out for a few days due to injury and aches is not fun.  Instead of waiting for issues to emerge, I’m adding physical therapy exercises to my strength routine to get strong and balanced so that the increase in mileage and intensity won’t cause injury! Since my weak areas are my ankles (that’s what landed me in PT 5 years ago) and women naturally have weaker hips, I’ll be doing band exercises for those areas. You can easily find physical therapy exercises online, so pick one that works your weak areas and focusing on getting strong before training so that your training cycles are injury-free!

And, of course, lots of running! Most of my runs will be easy runs, or slower than my goal marathon pace (which is an 8:00/mile). My base training will follow the below progression, with strides, drills, strength, and prehab added in as described above and at least one session of yoga and/or Pilates per week.

Week 1: 30 miles, with one long run of 90 minutes (10-11 miles)
Week 2: 35 miles, with one long run (10-11 miles)
Week 3: 35-40 miles, with one long run and a 25 minute tempo (~10K pace) workout
Week 4: 40 miles, with one long run and one workout with 3 x 2 miles at ten seconds faster than marathon pace 
Week 5: 35-40 miles, with one long run and one workout of 10 x 1000m at tempo pace
Week 6: 40-45 miles, with one long run and one workout with 2 x 3 miles at ten seconds faster than marathon pace

Question of the Day:
What does your running and fitness routine look like between training for races?
What change did you make to your running that had the most impact?

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12 Responses

  1. I think it is really great you are focusing on all these areas, as they are really important to stay injury free and strong! I really like the running form drills in Meb for Mortals and the strength training work in Running Strong. Excited for you and your marathon training to begin! xo

  2. Looks great! I love using the time in between training cycles to build up mileage and I love being in that 45-50 range for a training cycle. One other thing I sometimes do in between cycles is not pay attention to pace and just go by effort (but I wear my watch so I have the data afterward). Looks like a good plan!

    1. Thank you! Between training cycles is a great time to run by effort – there’s something mentally refreshing about that but also I’m always surprised by how fast my “easy” effort has become.

  3. I am just like you–I am truly happiest when I don’t have a race on the schedule any time soon and can just work on my running and all that goes with it. I really think its valuable to keep races to a reasonable count. I am always trying to pull clients back a bit when they want to load up the schedule with races!

    1. I agree! I went years without racing because I just enjoyed working simply on my running (and, well, college and grad school took up a lot of my time!). It’s nice to just run for the joy of it and it sounds like you do a great job teaching your clients that 🙂

  4. In between races is all about maintenance for me… running just enough to stay fit but not too much to avoid injury. I REALLY need to incorporate more drills and strength training. I feel like I really lose focus on strength when I am training for a race because I focus 100% on that one goal.

  5. This is such a great overview, and I like your focus on “prehab.” I’m still working on that hip but this time I’m working on overall strength and conditioning so I don’t have any other injuries pop up. Sounds like you have a strong base-building plan in place!

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