Successful and injury-free Marathon training without the long runs?

Performance coach, massage therapist and friend of Trigirl, Emily Chong, subjected herself to a nighttime off-road marathon to test out her own theory about interval training.

Emily adopted a “no long run” style of training for the marathon, using gym-based strength training and high-intensity intervals in the pool and on the bike to boost her fitness, to great success.

Read more about Emily’s marathon training and why it could help to keep you injury-free here:

marathon training without long runs

It’s cold, dark, wet and icy outside. You’re feeling tired or maybe you’re recovering from an injury. Perhaps you have a marathon booked in a few months. Should you grin and bear it and stick with the mileage written in the training plan? Should you listen to your body and rest?

Is Marathon training without long runs possible?

Your answer may be interval training, cross training and pushing weights in the warmth of a gym.

At the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, Emil Zátopek became the first person to win the 5k, 10K and the marathon in the same Olympics. Before then he had never run a marathon, not in training, nor in a race. His secret? Interval training.

Combustion Triangle

The “combustion triangle” of sports training consists of:

  • Cardiovascular fitness
  • Strength & conditioning and
  • Technique

Using just one activity to train for these components is not uncommon; many runners only run. However, this can be time consuming and risky considering the amount of impact and the time it takes to recover from running.

My Marathon Training Experiment

I wanted to experience how effective cross training and interval training could be for this blog post, so I signed up for a marathon as an experiment. Apart from a very slow Ironman in 2014 (with a 5hr run split), I had never run a marathon before. While I’m used to high volume swimming and cycling, I don’t run more than 10km at a time.

My average week of “no long run” marathon training consisted of:

1 x interval run / hill repeats of up to an hour
2 x strength and conditioning sessions combining a mixture of “6 rep max” pushing heavy weights and explosive plyometric exercises such as box jumps and high skips
2 x 1hr club swim sessions of high intensity intervals
1 x long bike ride of up to 4 hours
I tend to use “dead times” such as standing on escalators / sitting at desk to stretch and commuting by bike as active recovery.

Emily’s Marathon

The race I entered was an off road night marathon with 1000ft of elevation gained. Armed with a head torch and dressed as Spiderman for Halloween, I waited at the start line fresh and niggle free. Did I hit a wall at mile 20? Even top athletes do, but I had enough muscle strength to hold on to good technique and was sensible enough to stop and stretch when needed. Overall I felt light and quick, I even beat the entire (small) field to the finish line!

marathon training no long runs

Of course, without a certain amount of volume in the same discipline as you race, you’re unlikely to break any records.

However, if you’re carrying an injury that doesn’t let you run five times a week or if long runs are not for you, consider training differently.

My top three tips for marathon training without long runs:

  1. Interval training using low impact activities such as swimming, cycling or an elliptical machine is a much less risky way to train your cardiovascular fitness.
  2. Use weight training, yoga or pilates to safely build muscular strength for your race.
  3. Get your running technique checked out by a coach and keep practicing drills, pacing, fuelling.

Words and images by Emily Chong.

Emily works for Physioremedies in London as a sports massage therapist. She also offers strength & conditioning and running gait retraining.

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