Uta's Running Column
In the 90s I won the BERLIN MARATHON three times, the Boston Marathon three times, and the New York City Marathon once - but I prefer to let others talk about that. Now I am a columnist, fitness coach and recently have become a running expert for the SMS Medical Institute of SCC EVENTS.
As a running expert, I am looking forward to providing you with tips on running and sharing my knowledge with you in a regular column. I hope you enjoy my running column about running techniques, training phases, alternative training methods and many more topics.
- Running Technique: Each Athlete is Unique
- Periods of Training for Your Marathon Preparation
- First Build-Up Period of Your Marathon Training
- Tips for your Recovery Weeks
- Second Build-Up Period of Your Marathon Training
- 5-Points Tapering
- Keeping a Cool Focus
- Recovery after the Marathon
1. Running Technique: Each Athlete is Unique
The variations in our running styles are understandable because we all differ in size and weight as well as in the way we are built. Nevertheless, there are basic similarities common to us all that you can combine with your specific body characteristics to reach your optimal, individual running technique. This way, you will be able to achieve the best results, run many miles injury-free and on top of it enjoy your beautiful sport even more.
Before you start with more extensive training, I recommend that you make a video analysis of your running style. Many running centers or stores offer this. At the same time you can discuss with an expert all phases of your running technique and learn how to check certain details yourself later on. During my time as a professional athlete I regularly analyzed and refined my technique. I still practice it today when using the treadmill or during my easy short training runs or afterwards during several strides.
- Feel how your head sits over your neck. Make sure it is not tilted forward or backward. For your own safety, look ahead and keep an eye out for movements around you as well as uneven surfaces below your feet.
- When the arms and shoulders are moving, they are relaxed, with the shoulders being held straight, not rounded. Your arms move like a pendulum in an even rhythm and in sync with the legs, letting your shoulders hang loose and gently swing with the movement of the arms. Hold the arms close to the side of the body, lower arm and upper arm at approximately a right angle, while keeping the elbow joint relaxed. Make a loose fist or leave your hands almost open and swing them past the waist.
- Focus on a natural upright body posture. Some people run with their legs too far in front of the center of their bodies, in a more sitting position, others bend too far forward. Your center of gravity, which is located approximately in the midpelvic cavity — between the joint of the pubic bones and the belly button —, should move up and down as little as possible while running. You can check this by looking straight forward and running so that the horizon in front of you appears to be only slightly moving up and down.
- Your feet land slightly on the outer side, but predominantly on the entire sole of the foot, slightly in front of the center of gravity. Then roll inwards towards the arch of the foot, while the weight is shifted to the ball. Use feet and legs as one unit by pressing your foot off the ground, using your hamstrings as well as your butt muscles to move your hip forward while the leading leg is preparing to take the next step. Observe the position of your knee: Do not lift it so high that the thigh is parallel to the floor.
Running is such a beautiful natural movement. Use this checklist as an aid if you want to improve or refine your technique. Always make small adjustments only — and slowly, step by step. Give yourself enough time for any change. But not everyone will find them an advantage or advisable. So always get advice from an expert.
2. Marathon Training Periods
Your marathon preparation can be exciting and challenging at the same time. And if you follow a systematic build-up of your training you can run with joy and create the best chance to crown your marathon goal with success.
To make good use of the months-long preparation and to train injury-free, it is important to go through each individual training phase, not to shorten it or even skip it. Because each one builds systematically on the other. Follow each phase and you will most effectively achieve your optimal fitness. In addition, schedule a reasonable distance progression for your long and eventually marathon-specific runs.
Use the following tips in a comparative and complementary way, inasmuch as you have already set up your own customized running plan. I hope you will have recovered well enough from your last running adventure before you tackle the following four training phases with the corresponding recovery weeks of your next marathon preparation:
- Begin with the base period, which normally takes six to eight weeks. The focus is on the continuous development of your general fitness. This gives you the base endurance and strength to be able to train more specifically during the subsequent training phases. First, it is about a strong foundation that can always be built on. The duration of the base period can be shortened, for example, if you have recently completed a marathon. In that case, after a fairly short recovery phase, you are ready to start your next marathon preparation using your form and fitness.
- The first build-up period with a duration of up to three weeks will include higher mileage and longer runs.
- After a recovery week, the second build-up period will follow – again for three weeks – with the highest mileage and longest runs.
- Finally, you will reach the tapering period, or “reduction“ period, which involves shorter and some faster runs. Be sure not to train too intensively so shortly before your race. Train smart — less is sometimes more. Decide on intensities that you can master well and which, rather than tiring you, will make you fit for the coming race. This period is usually scheduled in the last three weeks before the marathon. Some elite athletes "taper" even longer.
- Recover well between each individual training period. Many runners take six to eight days — generally known as a "recovery week." During this time you will strengthen your body and mind in preparation for the next phase by processing the workload of the previous phase and starting the next one at a higher fitness level.
Also pay attention to proper recovery between the intensive running workouts within your training period. Give your body the necessary attention, respond to the first signs of tiredness and possible “overtraining.” If you feel tired and exhausted from the more intense training and higher mileage, it is time for a week of relaxation with easy running and fewer miles — even if your scheduled plan is laid out differently. Recovery is as important as running itself!
Finally, a short note about the distance progression for your long runs. Follow your individual training schedule as well. Length and speed of these marathon-specific runs (as they are called in the two build-up periods) depend on your desired marathon finishing time as well as on your current fitness level. I suggest for beginners that yoube able to run a half-marathontwelve weeks before the marathon at the latest, and plan to make the longest run of the entire preparation not shorter than 20 miles — 22 miles would be very good.
Intermediate runners should be between 14 and 15 miles twelve weeks before the marathon, with the longest run 22 miles. Our advanced and elite athletes complete 15 miles and 25 miles as their longest marathon-specific run. Plan the longest run not too close to your race. Definitely not less than three weeks before the marathon — and ideally at the end or during the final days of your second build-up period.
Enjoy your training! And I wish you success as well.
3. First Build-Up Period of Your Marathon Training
Following the base period you will enter the first build-up period of your marathon preparation. These are weeks 11, 10 and 9 — or 10, 9 and 8, depending on whether you are planning a test race before your marathon. During this time you will develop your longer runs and increase the mileage each of the following weeks.
Go with your uniquely-tailored training schedule and your marathon goal time and carefully build-up your fitness. Gradually improve the speed of your tempo runs as well as the distances of your long runs to avoid overtraining.
You can use the general training principles listed below in conjunction with your specific training plan. They will help you to be best prepared for the second build-up period — usually scheduled six to three weeks before your race — with the highest mileage and the longest runs of your preparation.
- Follow the concept of periodization by completing an easy week of running after a longer period of hard training. A good plan provides up to three weeks of hard and intensive training followed by a recovery week with easy and less intense running.
- One basic training principle of the first build-up period is to increase the mileage of your long runs, which are called "marathon-specific runs", from 18 miles up. For beginners, this means being able to complete between 15 to 18 miles at the end of this training phase; for intermediate and advanced athletes, this can be up to 22 miles. Follow the number of your marathon-specific runs from your individual training plan.
- For beginners and intermediate runners: If you feel comfortable with the distances of your long runs, you can also gradually increase their pace. I recommend that you first master the mileage before you increase the speed.
- Start all runs at a slower pace than you finish them by following the training principle of "Negative Splits." That means taking it easier for the first miles, then running faster the second half of the run.
- For our beginners: In addition to the marathon-specific runs, you can also plan one tempo session per week. This can be a fast tempo run that starts at medium pace or, for those who already have attained good speed, an interval training, such as an 800-meter program.
- For our intermediate and advanced runners and elite athletes: Some of you will have already begun a weekly interval training, like a 1000-meter-program. In the first build-up period, this should be part of your plan, and can be extended in the second build-up period. Gradually increase the volume of these programs as well as the distances of your medium and fast endurance runs.
- During this first build-up period, always hold back some energy in reserve. Your goal is to get into good shape so that you are able to finish this current training phase strongly, without feeling too tired. Then, after a week of recovery, you will feel fresh and motivated again to achieve the best results of your preparation in the second build-up period.
As a short summary: (1) gradually increase the mileage for each week, (2) increase the distances of your “marathon-specific runs,” (3) include one tempo session per week, and (4) complete all workouts with the necessary attention to the training principle of “Negative Splits.” This approach will help you to avoid overtraining and ensure that you start the second build-up period with plenty of reserves and the best fitness level possible.
I wish you good results for these important training weeks.
4. Tips for Your Recovery Weeks
From your training program you have already discovered that recovery is an indispensable part of optimal marathon preparation. Recovery is as important as the running training itself. The more you exercise, the more your body and mind need proper rest. This applies to all individual training periods, from the basic to the first build-up period and from the first to the second build-up period, as well as between the intensive running sessions.
It is all about finding a balance between the workload and recovery throughout the entire training process. This builds up your fitness steadily and effectively until your Marathon Day. You stay mentally fresh, which allows you to better focus on your training and master everyday life more easily. You are also able to give your body the necessary attention so you avoid overtraining and injury.
The state of equilibrium of the effected cells is disturbed by intensive work loads and must be restored and ideally even improved. In addition, our body endeavors to repair structures damaged by physical activity, such as muscle cells, or to replace them with new ones. At the same time, the glycogen stores are replenished and other performance-determining factors are improved in quality and quantity. This is crucial for good performance and your health.
As summarized in my article about the different training phases [See above im my tip: 2. Marathon training periods]: “Many runners take six to eight days to complete a recovery phase between each training period — generally known as a ’recovery week.’ This strengthens your body and mind for the next hard training period. Now you are able to start the next period with a higher fitness level.”
The following advice refers to the recovery week after the end of your basic period (about three months before your race) and the first build-up period of your marathon preparation (about two months before the race). You can add, compare and supplement them according to your specially tailored training plan.
- Beginners: Compared to your intense training weeks, your recovery week should only have a total distance of 50 to 60 percent. The same applies to the mileage of your longest run during this week. Choose lower speeds for your main running sessions. Begin at a relaxed pace and accelerate in the second half — but only if you feel recovered enough from the hard training weeks you just have completed.
- Beginners: Beware of too much intensity! Some strides are an exception — they offer a great addition. Add them to your plan twice during your recovery week, preferably after your shorter and easy runs.
- Intermediate runners: Compared to the hard and intense weeks of training, a total distance of 50 to 65 percent is planned for each recovery week, as well as a 50 to 60 percent duration of your longest run of your hard training weeks. The speeds for the main training sessions should be lower to allow for proper recovery. And your longest distance in these easy days? Many of my athletes would complete up to 10 miles for their longest run and found that to be sufficient.
- Intermediate runners: In the middle of the recovery week I recommend a lighter interval session, for example a 200- to 300-meter program, at the earliest four days after completing the previously hard training period. Run these intervals only playfully and with enough reserves to loosen up your muscles and not overwhelm them with new intensities. I would definitely refrain from high intensities in your recovery week. The exception would be a scheduled competition, but then postpone the start of the next intensive build-up period by a few days.
- Those who want to run faster than three hours: For the respective recovery week, only plan a total distance of 60 to 65 percent compared to the hard and intense training weeks. Decide wisely the distance for your longest run. Avoid a mileage of more than 75 percent compared to the hard training weeks and choose a moderate pace, but only if you have already recovered well for five to six days. Your detailed plan will give you additional information. In the middle of your recovery week, about four days after the previously completed hard training period, you can run a light, short interval program. I recommend, for example, a 300- or 400-meter-program.
- And advice for all runners: Prolong your recovery week by a few days if you are not feeling well rested. It is important to take enough time to be able mentally as well as physically to start the new hard training period. Also, during your training periods, listen to your body. If you feel prolonged fatigue and higher muscle tightness than usual, have less appetite, or experience a change in your sleeping pattern, these are all signs of possible overtraining. Allow yourself to take a step back and give yourself a few easier days than planned. On these, a good massage can be very helpful. You can also add cross-training, such as swimming or cycling, even if your program does not include it.
I wish you success and a good balance between your workouts and recovery,
5. Second Build-Up Period of Your Marathon Training
The first build-up period is finally behind you. You have been preparing for "your" marathon for weeks. Now, after proper recovery with less training (many runners plan about a week) you will be able to start the second build-up period mentally refreshed and with better fitness. The next few weeks of training will be very demanding. You will run the highest mileage and the longest endurance runs — the marathon-specific runs (MSR) — of your entire marathon preparation.
Below I have listed general training principles that you can use in conjunction with your specific plan. They will hopefully enable you to train as successfully as possible. The better you master the second build-up period — usually six to three weeks before your race — the better you will be able to build up your stamina and speed endurance. They are both crucial for the marathon. Use every training day as best you can.
- Prepare yourself well for each marathon-specific run — the 18- to-22 mile runs, sometimes even 25 miles for those with more ambitious time goals. These are demanding workloads for the entire body, so work-free weekends are an ideal opportunity for them. I suggest that you train a little less intensely a day or two before your longest run, sleep well, and pay attention to proper hydration and carbohydrate-rich foods. A day after, a corresponding regeneration is necessary: easy running, sometimes alternative training like swimming or cycling, warm baths and sauna, a massage, perhaps.
- The longest marathon-specific run should be not later than three weeks before the marathon, ideally during the last days of your second build-up period.
- The second focus of the week is building your speed to race pace and faster. This is the tempo run, which is performed near the anaerobic threshold and thus in the area of the desired marathon race pace. It helps improve stamina and develops speed endurance. For beginners it is enough to do a session near the anaerobic threshold once a week. Advanced runners can add interval training.
- Try not to neglect speed or endurance: speed, through shorter runs, and endurance, through the MSR, will best prepare you for the race.
- You may get the feeling that the long running sessions are getting too much. Have courage and self-confidence. Try not to give in to those doubts, stay mentally positive. Just think from one session to the next, as in the marathon, from one 3-mile segment to the next. Every day will bring you closer to your goal.
- Use the long runs to create your race strategy. From the beginning, try to find a rhythm that you can master well and that you can hold over the entire distance. Run the first half slower than the second. Also “test drive” the “speedy” running shoes you want to wear in the marathon, as well as the nutrition and fluid intake you have chosen for before and during the run.
- Proper recovery between each workout is important to staying healthy, avoiding overtraining, and making optimal progress. This will increase your fitness faster and improve your shape. You will thus "secure" your training results during the second build-up period and build on them in the following "tapering" period ("reduction" period). This is important for a good result.
- Seek help quickly if you are injured or if you have other health problems. Now is not the time to wait.
- It may happen that you are under stress with the marathon fast approaching. But there are still some training weeks ahead of you. Stay calm and focused even if your plan is slightly delayed. With this positive attitude, you will be able to gain the necessary mental energy for your marathon preparation and for other tasks and goals in your life.
I will keep my fingers crossed for you in this second build-up period. Remember — with each additional run you will be better prepared. The tapering and thus the recovery from your long runs will soon follow. Keep it up!
6. 5-Points Tapering
Now that you have completed—and succeeded J--in your long runs, and the training period with the highest mileage is behind you, it is time to allow your body to recover and at the same time get ready and mental top fit for Marathon Day. This means tapering with some shorter and faster runs in the upcoming weeks leading to the marathon. The following general advice will give you information on your workouts, nutrition, and the important training tool of rest. Keep a “Cool Focus,” which I will explain in my next training article.
- Cut back on your mileage gradually. Starting three weeks before your event, reduce to roughly 70 percent of the average weekly mileage of your previous build-up period. During the second week drop down again to about 60 percent, and the week before your race run even less—down to about 40 percent.
- Add shorter and slightly faster workouts. Plan your uniquely-tailored schedule according to your current fitness level. Run all your workouts, even the more intensive sessions, with plenty in reserve and rest longer between intense workouts for a full recovery. Also, start every intense workout at about the same speed you could manage during the previous build-up period. Once you find your rhythm—and if you feel strong—maybe after one third to one half of the program run as fast as you can manage while always being in control. A little kick at the end of the session would be great.
- Rest can be the most effective “training”—an essential and powerful tool to help you be in the best running shape for your marathon. Feel comfortable with taking an additional day off if you need to, because you don’t feel fully recovered yet. You may also decide on an easier workout. Your body’s recovery—week by week feeling more rested—is important at this stage of training so close to your race. Sleep well, aided by prudent planning of your travel and last-minute preparation for the final week.
- Focus on proper nutrition. Choose a diet that includes enoughwater and the right carbohydrates, like oats, rice, beans, potatoes and pasta, and good fats—those with monounsaturated fatty acids like olive oil, avocadoes, nuts and seeds and those with omega-3 fatty acids which are contained in wild cold water fish like sardines, herring and salmon, but also in organic free-range eggs, wild game, and flax seed product. For tissue repair, get enough protein, especially during the first week of your tapering period. During the week leading up to the race, focus on a higher carbohydrate intake to optimize your glycogen levels.
- Tapering provides a great opportunity to check that you are best prepared mentally. I hope you are already getting excited, with a “cool focus” as I like to call it. Closer to race day you may find your energy levels are higher and your mood more uplifted. Your focus on all the aspects of the marathon will be sharpened; you will feel ready to plan your unique race strategy. Evaluate the times you ran during the weeks of your highest mileage period and now during your tapering period, and how your body felt. This information will help you decide on a time goal that feels comfortable and realistic. I often waited until my last important workouts—even up to 10 days before the race—to finalize my race strategy.
Importantly during your tapering period—and during the marathon—listen to your body! Your body is your best coach—it constantly tries to let you know your health, fitness, and energy levels. Use this to your advantage. It will help you to run and enjoy a great race.
I wish you good luck for your remaining training.
7. Keeping a cool focus
Just a few days to go before your marathon! And maybe you are getting a little nervous thinking about all the last minute-preparations, your travel to Berlin, and the final decision on what to wear on race day. Perhaps you do not feel fully recovered yet from your training, or you are not sure about your final race strategy. Regardless of all that is going on, try to stay calm by keeping a “Cool Focus,” as I like to call it. It means channeling your energy, keeping your concentration, and simply enjoying these final days of easy running, and race preparation to make sure you reach your full potential during your marathon.
There are many ways to stay calm yet still enjoy the excitement without losing energy. Of course, your mental preparation very much depends on how you usually deal with the nerves and pressure of events like this. But the following general advice can help you to keep a “Cool Focus” and enjoy the time until the start of the race.
- Plan your travel and logistics details for the last days including race morning. By now, I hope, your travel plans to Berlin are complete. If you live closer by you will have worked out how to get to the starting line on race morning and, to a lesser extent, where to meet your friends and family after your run. When all this is planned and organized your mind will be at ease. You can keep a “Cool Focus” and sleep well — getting much needed rest before your marathon.
- Stay calm and help your body to recover with high quality sleep. By keeping the final days relaxed and without stress, you can help your body achieve optimal mental and physical strength on race day. You have done your preparation and now is the time to recover. Getting enough sleep will help you to have a fresh mind and to stay focused. A race can be such a mental game. Play it strong! Among other benefits, adequate sleep will help strengthen your immune system, build and repair muscle tissue, and sharpen your mental focus — all leading to a better performance. It is helpful to adjust your sleeping pattern so you get used to waking up at the necessary time on race morning.
- Maybe you are thinking about your race strategy or the time goal you wish to achieve. It is not helpful to get too stressed about it; rather,enjoy the process of evaluating the times you ran during the weeks of your highest mileage period and now during your tapering period, and how your body felt. This will help you decide on a time goal that feels comfortable and realistic. Postpone your final decision until the days before your marathon. If you get a chance, check out the race course and familiarize yourself with the terrain. Also, base your strategy on how well you have recovered — physically and mentally. And, even if you might be dealing with minor health or training issues, stay calm and take these into account when you finalize your race plan. Check the weather forecast for race day, and make sure you have the proper clothes for all weather eventualities. Be aware of air conditioning in offices and hotels and the potential risk for catching a cold.
- It would be best to stay away from trying anything different. Please, now is not the time to experiment with new equipment, a new diet, or a new running style. Your body is accustomed to what you have been doing recently. Keeping to a routine you have successfully tried out before can help you to stay injury-free and be at your best for your marathon.
- It is natural to be a little nervous, especially if you are a first-time marathoner. But please, resist any pressure to doubt yourself. Try to keep that “Cool Focus.” Enjoy the fact that your tapering is going well -- these days of easier running and building up your “running shape” can be a fun process right up until the very last moment. Stay away if possible from people who are not giving you positive energy. Instead, enjoy the supportive company of your family and friends. Their support will give you wings during your race!
A little more friendly advice: if you are traveling to Berlin, pack all of your essential race equipment, including your “speedy” marathon shoes, in your carry-on luggage. Once you are in town settle down quickly, make sure you know where you need to go. Maybe visit the expo. Many runners enjoy the exuberant atmosphere of pre-race events, while others like to hibernate and rest all day long, checking one more time their shoes and bib number. In my article “Two Days Before The Marathon” I have included some tips that may help you finalize your training, equipment, and nutrition choices and some further advice for the days leading up to your event.
I hope you can keep a “Cool Focus” and be at ease. As I said: It is natural to feel a little nervous from time to time — but see that as a positive sign. Your mind, just like your body, is getting ready to be top fit! I am thinking of you and wishing you a wonderful marathon.
8. Recovery After Your Marathon
The marathon is behind you! You will never forget the joyous feeling of the last meters before crossing the finish line. And make sure to take the positives out of your experience, no matter what your expectations were leading up to the race. After all, you have just finished a marathon! That alone is an incredible achievement. I congratulate you with all my heart.
Now it is important to recover and get back on your feet quickly. You first need to help your body cope with the physical and mental stress you have just gone through. I have collected some helpful advice for you for the coming days until you start training again. Of course, you can also put up with being a bit lazy for a few days, but active rest will be the best way to help you recover quickly and get you back into an easy running routine.
- Drink plenty of liquids immediately after the race, use the food and drinks available at the finish. Some light food can be good for your body now. Wrap yourself in an insulated foil blanket or something similar, so that the body temperature does not drop too fast! Slip into dry, warm clothing as soon as possible, including fresh socks and a comfortable pair of shoes that provide enough room for your swollen feet. And do not hold back: hug yourself…and embrace your loved ones. They kept their fingers crossed, cheered and supported you during the long marathon preparation and race.
- Try to use the rest of the day to make yourself feel good again. It is normal to be thirsty and hungry for a long time. Eat small amounts of easily digestible food. Too much at one time can quickly lead to an upset stomach. Fruit and sweets, rice and pasta are good choices. They are rich in carbohydrates. Give the digestive system some time to return to its normal function. Lying down and relaxing makes sense. A short walk followed by a gentle massage helps recovery and improves muscle relaxation; the metabolism in the muscle cells are stimulated. Listening to music, celebrating with friends in the evening are great ways to round off a special day — all with your medal on your chest. If you cannot sleep due to exhaustion, do not stress it, just relax; follow your feelings. If you are awake, enjoy your success.
- In the first few days, recovery is the highest priority. A lot of rest, walks, easy jogging, and alternative training will help you recover faster. Examine and treat small open wounds, chapped skin or blisters to ensure that increased inflammation does not occur. For larger problems consult a physician. Anyone who is in a foreign city and can enjoy a little vacation for a few days after the marathon is one of the luckier ones. Try a bit of sightseeing with long walks. Light movement increases blood circulation, helping to restore oxygen and nutrients to the muscle cells. Stretching exercises are good, but always stretch very carefully and only after a short run. Spoil yourself with your favorite food. Enjoy the change from your extensive training routine.
- The "Post-Marathon-Blues": For a long time your body and mind were totally focused on those 26.2 miles. Everything was about preparation and anticipation, and now that is behind you. Feeling "lost" after a marathon is completely normal. Finding new goals will help you out of this situation. For example it might be a good time to analyze the past preparation and training results while they are fresh in your mind and see what worked and what didn’t. This can help you set positive goals for any future preparations. It sometimes can be easier to get out of the post-marathon blues helping a fellow runner or friend or to motivate others. This will give you new wings!
- Back to training: Runners often say they need to get back to training as soon as possible to maintain a high performance level. But the opposite is the case. Allowing the body to fully recover can provide a stronger platform for running faster times in future races. You also give the mind a break from the constant focus on an intense training program and from the overall stress. Even if you do not feel tired anymore, still keep the mileage low and combine running with cross training. This will allow you to stay active, have variety, and at the same time allow for profound recovery. Increase the specific running training only gradually. Increase the number of runs before you return to longer runs. Easy fartleks and workouts in profiled terrain should be part of your rebuilding beginning weeks three or four after your race. This way it will be easier for you to progress to more intense and tougher training. If possible, it best to run on gentle ground after the many previous asphalt workouts.
A smooth recovery will help you to reintegrate into other areas of your life which you may have been missing due to all your training. Enjoy this re-entry. Savor it… until the marathon fever grabs you again — and you start with more serious training.
Until your next marathon adventure!