So you want to run a long race. A really long race.
You’ll have to train, obviously. You’ll have to run mile after mile, week after week. But that’s not enough.
To really train for a marathon or ultramarathon, you’ll need to incorporate strength training. And not just low weight/high rep, body weight, or functional training—you’ll need heavy squats, deadlifts, pull-ups, and plyometric movements.
I recently trained a friend and client for the Leadville Trail 100 run. It’s an epic race for many reasons. For one, it’s 100 miles long. It also starts 10,200 feet above sea level and climbs to over 12,000 feet. Along the course, athletes climb more than 14,000 feet.
That’s a lot of climbing. I’d raced the same course on a mountain bike, so I knew what my client would need to handle the terrain. In addition endurance, he’d need strength, power, mobility, and a damn strong core.
For mobility, we focused on the ankles, calves, and hips. This would allow for a greater range of motion during lifts like the squat and deadlift—both critical for developing strong legs and glutes. Improving ankle/calf mobility would also reduce the likelihood of injury during the race.
We focused on three movements:
High hurdle stretch with rotation
This movement is used as part of the dynamic warm up to open the hips, quads, hamstrings, chest, and to activate glutes and rear delts. We did three sets of six to eight repetitions per side.
Cobra to Down Dog
This movement, also part of the dynamic warm up, is used to open the hips, abdominal wall, hamstrings and calves. We did three sets of 10-12 repetitions per side.
Eccentric calf raises
Eccentric calf raises build strength and mobility in the calves and ankles. This is essential for runners who plan to tackle rough and rocky terrain.
We performed three to four sets of 10-15 reps per side. For each rep, we lowered with a five second count, held for one or two seconds at the bottom, then lifted the heel in one second.
Strength and power
For strength, we focused on squats and deadlifts.
Contrary to popular belief, these heavy lifts do not add bulk. My client actually lost weight during training while increasing power, strength, and endurance. We accomplished this with three to four sets of four to five reps max, allowing two minutes of recovery between sets. The low rep/heavy weight scheme increased power without adding muscle mass.
For this movement, we focused on range of motion, hip/knee alignment and recruitment of the glutes. To achieve this, I had my client drive through his heels at the bottom of the squat and “squeeze” his glutes all the way through the standing phase.
If performed barefoot, this movement can improve foot/arch strength and increase ankle mobility.
In my opinion, this is ultimate movement. It’s a must-do for all runners.
Distance runners often suffer from weak glutes, which can in turn overload the hamstrings and low back. Those muscles are then susceptible to overuse, strains, IT band syndrome, and a host of other problems.
Deadlifts build strength/power through the back, shoulders, and quads while improving mobility and stability in the hips.
Morris Brossette trains athletes of all stripes. For more of his tips, check out linkedurance.com.