Spring Marathon Training Phase 2: Hills and Leg Speed

NOTE: This post is part 3 in a series about my spring marathon training. Click here to see Post 1, and here for Post 2.

Lydiard Hill Springing

These guys look really cool “springing” up that hill, right?

This post will introduce Phase 2 of my Arthur-Lydiard-inspired spring marathon training plan, hill work and leg speed, and describe the first of three critical workouts to be performed during this phase: hill “springing.”

In my previous post, I discussed the first phase of my training plan: aerobic base training. That post condensed tons of information into approximately 2,200 words of dense and somewhat difficult reading. If I could rewrite that post, I would split the information into three separate posts. So, before proceeding, I am going to summarize Phase 1, and why it’s necessary before embarking on the other phases of the training plan.

A Quick Review of Phase 1: Aerobic Base Training

Aerobic base training is the most important part of any training plan because aerobic fitness (the body’s ability to use oxygen efficiently to convert fat and glycogen into energy) is the number one factor in determining how well a runner will race on any given day. A runner develops aerobic fitness by training at an “aerobic pace,” loosely defined as running at a pace that leaves the runner “pleasantly tired,” or, in more mathematical terms, at a pace at or below approximately 75% of the runner’s maximum heart rate. During this phase, the runner should also perform strides (hard 100 meter efforts at the end of runs followed by extended recovery jogs), tempo runs below lactate threshold, and some easy fartleks. The runner should do at least three long runs per week (two runs about 1.5 hours, one run of 2+ hours) at an aerobic pace. A plan that incorporates only these types of runs—and leaves the anaerobic training for later—will allow a runner to develop a large aerobic base, which will facilitate anaerobic training later in the training cycle.

Importantly, the aerobic base training phase should last as long as possible. Why? Anaerobic development is limited: that is, a runner can only develop his anaerobic capacity so much. On the other hand, a runner’s capacity for aerobic development is virtually unlimited, and the more developed the aerobic system, the larger the capacity for anaerobic development. So, the longer the aerobic base training phase can last, the better.

Great! So, you’ve completed Phase 1 and built an aerobic base. What next?

Phase 2: Hills and Leg Speed—Preparing the Body for Anaerobic Development

Lydiard suggests a four-week training period focused on developing leg strength and speed. We’ll call this Phase 2: Hills and Leg Speed. The purpose of Phase 2 is twofold: 1) to develop muscle fibers in the legs and to improve leg speed; and 2) to prepare the body for the hard anaerobic workouts that will follow in Phases 3 and 4. Here’s how it shakes out.

This phase contains three critical workouts: 1) the 1-hour hill “springing” workout; 2) the leg speed workout; and 3) the 2+ hour long run performed at an aerobic pace. I’ll start by discussing the hill “springing” workout.

The Hill “Springing” Workout

You should perform the hill “springing” workout on a hill that is between 200-300 meters long and approximately 3-4% grade, with a flat area at the top and approximately 200-400 meters of flat area at the bottom. For you New Yorkers, Cat Hill in Central Park is perfect for this workout.

Here’s the workout in eight easy steps, and the reasoning behind each step:

  • Warm up for about 15 minutes with some easy running (I jog about a mile and a half from my apartment to Cat Hill)
    • Why? You warm up to prevent injury. The warmup loosens the muscles and prepares them for a hard effort.
  • Begin the workout by “springing” up the hill. If you don’t know what “springing” is (I didn’t before developing this training plan), check out the first minute and then 1:30 to the end of this video:

When “springing,” keep the hips forward. Because looking down tends to thrust the hips backward, keep your eyes focused straight ahead. Your upper body should remain relaxed. The slower your forward momentum, the more resistance you create for your legs.

Why “springing?” Because it helps to develop speed. “Springing” builds and stretches the leg’s muscles and tendons similar to how they stretch during racing, which adds flexibility and speed. It also develops strong and flexible ankles, allowing a runner to increase his stride length and leading to greater speed. In addition, by training oneself to run with the hips comfortably forward, a runner can bring his knees higher while running, allowing the feet to follow through higher and, therefore, creating a faster leg action.

It’s possible that you won’t be able to “spring” all the way up the hill. That’s fine. If you can’t get to the top, just jog the rest of the way.

  • Once at the top of the hill, jog easily for 3 minutes.
    • Why? Two main reasons. First, “springing” is an intense exercise, so a short rest between each repetition keeps the body from getting overloaded. Second, too much at once could potentially convert the workout into a hard anaerobic effort, which we distinctly do not want to do. And, as a bonus third reason, easy jogging within the repetitions aids in aerobic development, which, as we’ve discussed, is always a good idea.
  • After jogging at the top of the hill for three minutes, run down the hill with a fast, relaxed striding motion.
    • Why? Two main reasons. First, strides allow us to develop speed and strength. Second, downhill running allows us to practice running with a naturally elongated stride. As mentioned above, a longer stride leads to greater speed.
  • Repeat the hill reps described in steps 2-4 (springing up the hill, jogging at the top, and striding down) for about 15 minutes. For me, this equals about 3 circuits.
    • Why? Think of it like weightlifting with a cardio element: you’re pushing your body to get stronger while simultaneously strengthening your muscles and increasing your leg speed. In other words, you are accomplishing three critical tasks with one workout. Pretty neat!
  • After  about 15 minutes, perform a few wind sprints (running hard followed by jogging) at the base of hill. You choose how many, and for how long (for example, I have been doing 2 x 100m with short recovery jogs)
    • Why? The other point of this exercise is to prepare the body for the anaerobic workouts in phases 3 and 4. By performing wind sprints every 15 minutes, and by only performing a limited number of them, we train our bodies to respond to faster movements, but keep the volume low enough so as not to create a hard anaerobic workout.
  • After completing the wind sprints, repeat the whole circuit described in steps 2-6 (hill reps plus wind sprints) until you have been working out for approximately an hour.
    • NOTE: If you cannot complete an hour-long workout, do however much of the hour that you can.
  • Cool down for 15 minutes.

Ideally, you would perform this workout three days a week, every other day, during Phase 2. On the days in between you would perform a leg speed workout. On the seventh day you would run a 2+ hour run at an aerobic pace.

In my next post, I will discuss the other two workouts critical to Phase 2: the leg speed workout, and the 2+ hour long run at an aerobic pace.

Happy running, everyone!

 

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