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We all love watching the professionals kick butt and accomplish incredible feats. Some of my favorite Youtubers and podcasters are elite and sub-elite athletes that motivate me to get up early in the morning and embrace the grind and joy of training.

Their god-given, jaw-dropping talents are of another planet. They optimize all aspects of their lives around training hard and recovering well. It’s helpful to emulate some of what they do, but many might not be relatable (doubling every day) or practical (30-minute warm-up routine) for us mere mortals.

I’m just a running hobbyist with real-world jobs like you, so you can definitely find more professional and scientific advice elsewhere. This piece is simply a sharing of my personal experiences.

Since 2020, I’ve focused my running on marathons and successfully executed several build-ups. Getting faster and breaking personal bests are obviously part of the fun, but to me, the most interesting aspect of training is being my own coach and nutritionist – discovering different workout and nutrition concepts, personalizing the learnings, and executing the training blocks.

From one weekend warrior to another, I hope you will find these lessons of mine useful.

Marathon training tips.

Know yourself

When you’re a beginner barely scratching your potential, almost any training plan will lead to significant improvement. But as you approach your athletic ceiling after years of consistent training, attaining a better understanding of what works for you and what is holding you back are vital to the next breakthrough.

Is your top-end speed the limiting factor? More aerobic strength? Or do you need to callous your musculoskeletal structure with more base runs?

Over the past 3-4 years, it’s abundantly clear that I respond well to lactic threshold training, especially 25-30-minute runs at LT1. Or long progression workouts where I accelerate to threshold efforts for the last 4-5 km.

In addition, as a sprinter in my youth, I need plenty of easy and moderate mileage to optimize my muscle fiber and skeletal structure for endurance.

Don’t blindly follow a plan. Understand the purpose of the prescribed sessions, and start paying attention to how you feel and perform after incorporating different workouts.

 

New stimulus

It’s comforting to stick with what has worked before. Yet over time, your body will begin to adapt, and the same workout ceases to provide the stimulus required for improvement.

I like to introduce one new stimulus per build-up. For example, during the recent five-month block, I raised my mileage for my peak-volume month from the 400ish km range to 430+ km.

Currently, I’m also training to run a mile. Never time-trialed a miler before, but I’m excited to raise my top-end speed and take on something completely foreign.

Caution! Do not add too many new things simultaneously. You’ll only overwhelm yourself.

Pre-hab routine

10-15 years ago, I would laugh. “WTF is pre-hab?” I would arrogantly say.

Well, for mid-forties me, pre-hab is now the name of the game. I’ve become more diligent with warm-ups, cool-downs, activation and mobility drills, strength training, and recovery.

I can live with never improving again, but I sure would love to run with a healthy body for the rest of my life.

Just like adding new stimulus, don’t overwhelm yourself by adding too much to your routine. A ten-minute stretching/mobility routine after a run or foaming rolling twice a week will do wonders. Keep it manageable and be consistent. One new habit at a time.

 

Let B race be B race

Racing is fun. Crushing a race is extra fun. But if you want to peak at the right moment, the minor races are better left treated as a training session.

I signed up for two marathons this winter – Taipei City Marathon in mid-December 2022 and Osaka Marathon at the end of February 2023.

At my age, I can’t go all out for both, so Taipei City became more of a long-distance workout, with Osaka as the ultimate mission.

To be honest, I was slightly disappointed with my result for Taipei City, but not forcing the issue in December ended up being a smart move and allowed me to run a personal best at Osaka.

 

Fuel well, run well

There’s a saying in Asian marathon culture: 1 kg of weight loss equals a 3-minute marathon improvement. I don’t know whether science backs this up, but I’ve always deliberately tried to cut 2-3 kg every marathon season. I don’t restrict calories but just try to eat as cleanly as possible.

In addition, I would do many sessions under 90 minutes on an empty stomach to activate fat burning and attempt to burn off extra caloric intake from the day before.

I was afraid to fuel for the sake of making race weight.

Now looking back, it wasn’t smart or healthy. Some of the hard, empty-stomach runs would leave me so depleted that I lacked the energy to go about my daily routine, meaning I wasn’t recovering well.

After all, we don’t get fitter while we destroy ourselves in a workout. We improve when our bodies adapt to the stress after recovery.

I’ve made a point to always fuel pre-, mid- and post-workouts over the past couple of marathon build-ups. Whether it’s a carbohydrate-rich meal, eating an energy bar, being diligent with carbohydrate intake during a run, or a protein shake after a job well done, I make sure to fuel properly.

I rather be strong, recovered, and slightly heavier than lighter but feeling weak and tired.