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Five Common Marathon Training Terms Everyone Should Learn

Let’s navigate through the running gibberish by breaking down and explaining (as only Suz can) these common marathon training terms. Stick around even if you aren’t a marathoner–these words are bandied about in many fitness circles and may prove helpful for you! Hey, all runners can benefit from learning about marathon training.

Five Common Marathon Training Terms Explained | Figure out what terms like lactate threshold, running economy, strides, glycogen, and periodization mean for all runners! | Suzlyfe.com

I know that not everyone who reads my blog is a big runner or training for a marathon, and believe me, that is A-OK. I’ll convert you eventually (just kidding! Or am I?). Even so, knowledge is power, and just because you aren’t certain or even that interested in something doesn’t mean you shouldn’t learn a little bit about it.

After all, I am not big into Crossfit, but if I was placed into a Crossfit box, I could by and large manage. And don’t many of us apply Crossfit terminology to our other pursuits? EMOM? AMRAP? You don’t have to be a yogi to benefit from yoga–you all know that it has been incredible, even on a basic level, for my running and posture. 

So all of that is why, though I want Suzlyfe and Coach Suz Training to be a place for everyone interested in fitness and healthy living, I am going to spend a little time today breaking down and explaining these five common but often confusing marathon training terms. Let’s see how you learn to apply them for your own uses!

Five Common Marathon Training Terms Explained

Lactate Threshold

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“The lactate threshold (LT) or lactate inflection point (LIP), is the exercise intensity at which the blood concentration of lactate and/or lactic acid begins to exponentially increase.” Source

Though I’d heard of Lactate Threshold on and off throughout the years, for whatever reason, the concept just never clicked in my head until I was at my RRCA Coaching Certification Class. There, the instructor explained Lactate Threshold as the point at which the body’s garbage men can keep up with the amount of trash being produced in the blood and muscles. 

Understanding lactate threshold is important for running: in increasing your lactate threshold, you are increasing the intensity and length of time at which you can work before lactate levels become too much for the muscles to handle. At this point, along with depletion of glycogen (to be discussed in a moment), you can hit the proverbial wall, fall off your pace, and even have the system shut down altogether. 

Consequently, it is imperative for runners and marathoners to pay attention to developing their lactate threshold, and thus their running economy. Lactate threshold is understood to be a better predictor of endurance capacity than VO2 Max, or maximal oxygen uptake.

Running Economy

What is running economy? How can you run more efficiently? Get the answers at Suzlyfe.com

I am not a fast runner, but I am very economical runner (Slow Twitch all the way, baby). Running Economy is like your MPG–how much energy and oxygen is needed to fuel you to run a certain amount? The greater your running economy, the less oxygen and calories you need in order to maintain your running at a given speed (though, regardless, you will need more oxygen and more calories if you are running extremely hard). (with info from Runners World)

Running Economy can also be though of as the effort necessary to run at a particular speed. As you get fitter, increase your lactate threshold, you will improve your running economy by needing less oxygen and calories to accomplish the same task as before. Remember my post on speedwork? I talk about the fact that during training, it isn’t that you consciously run slower at the beginning of training and faster at the end; rather, you run faster with less effort by the end of training aka you have improved your running economy. 

Strides

Coach Suz Training Marathon Training, Endurance Sports coaching, and Personal Training! Suzlyfe.com

So that you can pass everyone on the way to the finish!

My clients and coachees get very familiar with strides during the course of their training. I had inadvertently been using and doing them before RRCA Certification, but while there I learned just how useful this simple drill could be. Why did I not know about them? Because I never ran track or cross country in high school, and apparently, they are the JAM on running teams. Fashionably late to the party!

Strides are also called accelerations, and they are a great way to keep up your speedwork and leg turnover without exhausting yourself as well as to give your legs a bit of a shake out. I often have my runners do 6x20m strides at the end of a workout to pull everything together or to wake up their legs and help them mentally prepare for surging at the end of a race.  Think of them as just that: surges. They are not sprints, but rather an increased covering of ground–think about passing someone on your path. My Caterpillar workout is a great way to try them out during a workout. Find out more on Strides here

Glycogen

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I often jokingly refer to my feasts as “glycogen building” opportunities (like our trip to Grand Rapids? Totally just building up my glycogen stores for… injury, I guess). It doesn’t technically work like that, but it is nice thought. So what is glycogen?

Glycogen is the main source of carbohydrates which release glucose to then get converted to ATP, the main unit of readily energy for activity. AKA glycogen, glycogen storage, and the utilization of glycogen are crucial to your best performance. You know how runners talk about mid-run fueling? That is because, like with vitamins, the body can only store so much glycogen at one time, and thus, after about 90 minutes of sustained activity (on average), your body starts to run out, and thus needs to be replenished during the run. There are strategic ways of increasing the amount of glycogen stored and the amount of glycogen needed, but I just wanted to introduce the concept to those who didn’t know. Subjects such as glycogen loading and depletion are ones that I might return to. Here is another article about glycogen.

Periodization in Training and Macrocycle, Mesocycle, Microcycle

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The Bread and Butter of marathon training plans. Periodization or Periodized Training is the brainchild of Arthur Lydiard, one of the greatest running coaches of all time. Remember my talking about how marathon training plans teach us about the work/recovery cycle? This is, in large part, thanks to Lydiard. Using the principles of Periodization and training cycles, we as coaches or as runners can optimize performances by splitting training up into phases, or cycles. These cycles build upon the foundations of the previous cycles, so as to help us be our strongest at the end of the final cycle. (Another post on Periodization)

A macrocycle is the “big picture” of your training, and often up to a year in length. Think looking at your semester or full school year. The end of the main macrocycle is concluded by your big test.

A mesocycle is the mid-term goal, ranging from 4-8 weeks or longer in scope. Think of this as your testing units. Each one has a purpose and a focus to contribute to the big macrocycle test. 

A microcycle is the smallest unit, from 1-4 weeks in length. This is the cycle with the details.

Not a runner? Use periodization in your strength training and see how you can improve!

Learn the lingo: #marathontraining words that everyone should learn! #runchat #fitfluential Click To Tweet

There is so much to say about each of these concepts, but I hope that this primer helps you become more familiar with these common marathon training terms.

What other running terms are you curious about?

Non-runners, how can you incorporate these terms and concepts into your training?

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