Here is the 16-week plan I’m on as I train for the Skechers Performance Los Angeles Marathon. Trust me, it’s doable! By Zarelda Marie Goh
Running in a beautiful park keeps up the motivation level. Photo: Jasper Yu/SPH Magazines
My running coach, Andrew Cheong of SSTAR.fitness, designs 16-week training plans for his clients based on their goals. In my case, I had to work on conditioning my body for three to four weeks before embarking on my customised plan, since I hadn’t been running at all.
Andrew recommended that I do short runs two to three times a week till I could run about an hour non-stop. At this stage, speed, distance and pace were not the priority. Rather, it was simply to get used to continuous running for an hour.
It wasn’t easy. The first few sessions were exhausting, and I only started feeling comfortable after the first two weeks.
Ultimately, I needed to know what speed, distance and intensity I had to train at. So Andrew used a time trial to gauge my fitness level after the conditioning period was over.
Logically, to estimate a marathon finish time, one needs to run a distance close to 42km, but we used Burger SC’s V02Max test, the infamous 2.4km distance for my time trial. Based on the result and calculations, Andrew said that I would be able to finish my first marathon in under six hours.
Now I was ready to immerse myself in the programme. The 16-week plan is broken up into three key runs a week, plus two cross-training sessions. Here are the details:
Three key runs
My first run consists of speed work, where I run in intervals ranging from 400m to 1,600m on a track. I cover approximately 5km in total, excluding a 10-minute warm-up, a 10-minute cool down and any rest intervals.
Speed work helps to build V02Max, which is the maximum amount of oxygen I can consume while running at my maximum effort. In a race of any distance, a higher V02Max correlates to a faster finish time, but this being a marathon, the race is run at a pace that is less than 80 per cent of V02Max. But speed work is still helpful – a higher V02Max means a faster finish.
Next comes the tempo run, and these runs vary in pace and distance. They are generally divided into short, medium and long tempo runs. Each also has a 1.5km warm-up and 1.5km cool-down. These are excluded from the mileage I have to clock. I usually cover 5km to 12km.
Short and medium tempos increase my lactate threshold or anaerobic capacity, which is my body’s ability to sustain a fast pace without building up lactic acid – basically, to run the marathon without struggling. This is important for a marathon as a large portion of the race is run slightly below this threshold. Interestingly, my short tempos were carefully calculated to be just faster than my lactate threshold pace. Medium tempo runs were at threshold and long tempos just below.
The last run is a long run, which builds my aerobic fitness or ability to burn more fat for energy, sparing my carbohydrate stores. It’s important to start gradually and build up the distance and pace. Each week, the long-run distance increases by about 10 to 15 per cent to ensure my body can cope with the increased workload. I will be expected to build up to a 30km workout before the marathon itself. Some training runs will also include hills, as the Skechers Performance Los Angeles Marathon route will have some hilly parts.
All three runs per week are vital, but for a beginner like me, the long run is the most important. I do speed work and tempos after work. Long runs are done on Saturday mornings. If I do have to miss a run due to unforeseen circumstances, I try my best to make sure it isn’t my long run. I also use a GPS running watch for all runs to track my pace and make sure I’m hitting my targets, and not running too fast or too slow.
A strong core is necessary to run efficiently. Photo: Jasper Yu/SPH Magazines
Cross-training helps you to avoid sustaining injuries from overworking your muscles. Plus, it also adds variety and fun.
Exercises that have immense impact on the knees and ankles, like Crossfit or skipping, are a no-no. Instead, low-impact, aerobic and continuous exercises are recommended by my coach. These include swimming, cycling and high-intensity interval training (HIIT). I enjoy HIIT the most and this is my preferred choice.
Yoga is too slow, so while I love this activity, it doesn’t count as cross-training. I enjoy doing barre workouts as well. These tend to be slow too, so I make it a point to go for barre classes that incorporate HIIT. For cross-training to be effective, each session must last 30 to 45 minutes and be done with moderate intensity. To save time, I sometimes do my cross-training during my lunch break, since it doesn’t take up too much time.
The programme by Andrew covers up to 50km of mileage weekly. This is less than traditional marathon programmes, but it is just as rigorous due to the cross-training. The lower mileage reduces the risk of injuries and mental fatigue, which is great for a newbie like me. I’m really enjoying the diversity of workouts that this programme offers.
Follow the rest of Shape editor Zarelda Marie Goh’s journey at www.shape.com.sg/myfirstmarathon.
This article is brought to you by Skechers.