As I begin gearing up for the London Marathon, I am feeling a bit overwhelmed. The idea of running the race excites me but the training program continues to confuse me. Some programs recommend a very specific running scheme while others include a combination of running and high intensity interval training (HIIT). For some reason, I don’t feel that I am alone in this predicament and needed to seek out some honest advice.
My friend and fellow Canadian, Amy Coppens, is a personal and group trainer, Lululemon Legacy Run Ambassador and is a true IronWoman! She is so hardcore that her first ever triathlon was a Half-Ironman! That’s a 2km swim, 90km bike and 21km run! To date, Amy has participated in 7 Half-Ironmans, including the 70.3 World Championships and is currently ranked 5th in Canada for her age group. Always looking for a new goal to conquer, Amy will be taking on her second Full-Ironman this summer. Given her background and seriously fierce attitude, she is the perfect person to go to for advice on training, motivation and nutrition.
Areta: What do you find most challenging about training?
Amy: I always say the hardest part about any race is the training that leads up to it. Running is tough on the body and when you are training, even the smallest thing can effect how you feel on any given run. I think the hardest part is finding a balance between the training, your nutrition and the necessary rest required for recovery…not to mention having a life!
Areta: How do you inspire yourself to train on days when you are not feeling motivated?
Amy: Sometimes, I take a couple of minutes, closing my eyes and remind myself why I started this journey. Simply meditating on that thought can be enough motivation! When that doesn’t work, I watch inspirational videos on Youtube, look for support from family and friends, or utilise other aspects of social media. I’ve also blogged about my training on TrainStrongLiveStrong, which has helped keep me on track.
Areta: What sort of training programs would you recommend for a first time marathoner and for a seasoned runner that are training for a new personal best?
Amy: This is really hot topic right now! My marathon running friends and I have found the 80/20 approach to be extremely effective, which is a combination of slow and high intensity training. Stephen Seiler was the first to research this type of training and recently Matt Fitzgerald wrote a book on the same topic called 80/20 Running. The plan which is perfect for beginners and experienced runners, involves quick bursts of high intensity exercise for 20% of your training, with long and slow running making up the remaining 80%. I have seen some awesome results from this type of training, especially when including strengthening HIIT workouts. Upper body strength, in particular core strength, is extremely important for proper form and function when running. When you run faster, it improves your form and forces you to run more on the balls of your feet. By keeping the sprints short, you have more time to recover between workouts. Meanwhile, your long runs will be slower, allowing for a greater opportunity to recover while clocking on the miles. If you are doing lots of longer runs at a medium intensity, you will never fully recover.
Areta: How much time should you allow for recovery? Do you have any advice for how to help it along?
Amy: With the 80/20 approach, your workouts during the week are intense but short. This allows for optimal recovery and performance at your next workout. You can wear a compression kit, which helps the inflammation so that your legs don’t feel as heavy. Inflammation is an important part of recovery as our muscles repair, so hindering it all the time isn’t a great idea. You could also try putting your legs up in the air against the wall or having an ice bath.
Areta: Are there any dietary changes that you recommend runners consider for long distance training?
Amy: Eating a clean diet of 60% complex carbohydrates (whole grains, veggies), 25% healthy fat (avocado, grass fed butter) and 15% protein (lean meats, dairy) is usually sufficient. A lot of people are scared of carbs. We have to remember carbs create glycogen which is our main muscular fuel source and what is eaten up as we run. A good nutrition resource to check out is Racing Weight. I recommend having everything in moderation. Don’t forget to have a cheeky beer every once and awhile; it’s good for the spirit!
Areta: What is/are the biggest mistake(s) someone could make when preparing for a long distance race?
Amy: Getting to the start line on race day is the easy part, it’s all of the miles before which will make or break you on race day. I would say that ‘cheating’ on your workouts and not putting in the training time, is a big mistake. On the contrary, over-training is also something to be careful of! Find a plan that works with your schedule and stick to it. Trust your program and listen to your body; rest is just as important as the workouts. My golden rule is: If I feel sluggish during 2 or more workouts in a row, I take a break. A couple days off wont hurt you, but a couple of weeks might.
Areta: At which point of a race does it begin to get the hardest and what would you recommend at that point?
Amy: I think this is different for everyone. During a race, the most common mistake is starting out too fast which can quickly drain your energy. Typically, the final third of any race is the toughest as you have probably pushed a little harder than you ever have before. While you know that the finish line is close, it doesn’t seem close enough. This is where you need to be mentally tough. You need to remind yourself that you are going to make it and that this is what you have trained for. If you have concentrated on your hydration and nutrition, you shouldn’t have any issues with your legs giving out or cramping.
Areta: Amy, thank you for all of your excellent tips and words of wisdom. I cannot wait to read Fitzgerald’s 80/20 Running and get this show on the road! For more inspiration and training ideas, check out Amy’s blog, TrainStrongLiveStrong. If you would like to hear more about my road to the London Marathon, please click here.