Tuesday, 3 May 2011

A book with tunnel vision

Ahead of Paris I followed Brain Training by Matt Fitzgerald but had bought a copy of Advanced Marathoning by Pfitzinger & Douglas for future reference. As soon as I got back from Paris I read the P&D book and have been loosely following the recovery schedule from there. In a few weeks time I'll be using it for my Chester training.

On that basis and because there's marathon runners and future marathon runners who are kind enough to read my confused meanderings I thought it worthwhile giving a bit of a resumé contents.

I think this entry's title a fair description of the book and is the major differentiator between this and any other running book I've read.

Whereas Brain Training is concerned with endurance running per se (and correspondingly covers specific training for 5k through to marathon) this book is solely focused on 26.2 miles. To expand on that a little further, Brain Training started with a theory and a resulting approach to training and the latter was then tweaked for different distances. Advanced Marathoning starts with a distance and is single minded in the analysis of training wholly specific to that distance even if that is to the detriment of other running or exercise goals.

That may sound a bit hardcore and maybe it is - its aimed at marathon runners who want to achieve time goals and are prepared/able to focus on that alone. I certainly don't think its a first time marathoners book and the training schedules reflect that, with even the 'entry level' plan reaching 55 miles a week.

However, the style is easy to follow with a logical layout and enough science to leave the reader feeling informed rather than overwhelmed.

Essentially the book divides into two parts which I think of as theory and practice.

The first part explains the rationale behind different training types from long runs, to lactate threshold runs to VO2 max training etc, and then identifies which of these are the key elements specifically for the marathon. It then goes on to discuss nutrition & hydration, training & recovery, supplementary training, taper and race strategy; again, all focused ruthlessly on the marathon alone.

Take supplementary training as an example. Here, there is discussion of flexibility, cross training, running drills and core stability training as well as weight training exercises for upper and lower body. Not that revolutionary in itself but the explanation of why (for example) the triceps need to be worked on is marathon specific - maintaining relaxed arm action when fatigued in the last few miles.

More than that though, there's explicit instruction on elements such as avoiding any muscle gain from weight training as its muscular endurance not muscle size that is the exclusive objective. Again, the rationale is given as to why activities should be carried out (in this case increases in muscle size reduce the capillary and mitochondrial density of the muscle reducing its effectiveness for endurance activities). In other words it doesn't just advise on what should be done but how it should be done solely for marathon success.

Part Two features the training programmes. There's a general introductory section then each plan, based on peak mileage, is listed day by day for 18 weeks. The mileage levels are high and even in a mid mileage plan there are expectancies of weeks where there will be 3 midweek runs of over half marathon distance as well as a genuinely long run at the weekend and one or two medium length recovery runs.

Within the training plans the training types that are missing are apparent. There is very little speed work in terms of VO2 max intervals beyond a weekly session incorporating some strides and a total of 4 longish intervals runs in the peak phase. That's another big difference with Brain Training and another example of where speed for shorter distances is largely sacrificed in the single minded pursuit of marathon success.

Interspersed within the text are a number of pen portraits of famous marathoners such as Haille, Paula, Deana Castor and Ryan Hall. They don't add a huge amount in terms of knowledge but help keep the tone light and readable.

Overall I'd thoroughly recommend the book to anyone looking to fulfil their potential at this distance.


~Jessica~ said...

Thanks a lot for that review: it's great to hear from someone I know will have an informed opinion and not just blindly accept things stated in the book(s).

I wish I could follow a plan but to be honest the science just confuses me. I still can't even get my head around tempos...

Those high-mileage plans sound like they'd suit me though, as I need lots of miles to satisfy my distance addiction...but I probably wouldn't understand the speed sessions (what are strides/drills anyway!?!?)

In terms of tapering, I err...don't. I tend to sabotage my marathon efforts this way but I just ran 'normal' mileage weeks for my previous two. Stupid I know, but I have never run the way you're 'supposed' to. The only other runner I've seen defy convention (haha, rebellious me) in this way is much faster, slimmer and fitter than me at http://www.skinnyrunner.com. She's my idol!

Alison said...

I'l be interested to read your reflections on how this compares to previous training as you gear up for Chester. It's interesting they don't incorporate any speedwork. If the aim of the training is to help you meet a specific time goal, do they just assume that you'll naturally get faster over time? Or is the assumption that you can already run that pace, and that you just need to learn to hold it for longer, hence the high mileage?

As you can see, I'm looking forward to more detail!