Strength Training for Long-Distance Running
By: Louie Simmons
In 2014, at thirty years old, Dennis Kipruto Kimetto, (b. Jan 22, 1984) a long-distance runner from Kenya set the marathon record of 2:02:57 (two hours, two minutes and 57 seconds) in Chicago, Illinois. He was the first man to ever run under 2:03.
He held the record for four years. It was then broken by Eliud Kipchoge (b. Nov 5, 1984), another Kenyan long-distance runner. Kipchoge is now the world record holder in the marathon with a time of 2:01:39, which he set Sept. 16, 2018, at the 2018 Berlin Marathon.
Kipchoge also ran the marathon distance at a special event in Vienna, Austria, and achieved a time of 1:59:40. The run did not count as a new marathon record, however, because it was not an open event and the standard competition rules for pacing and fluids were not followed, but he did become the first person to ever run a marathon in less than two hours. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dennis_Kipruto_Kimetto and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eliud_Kipchoge)
When someone does the seemingly impossible, everyone’s interest is heightened and they, too, want to improve. For the most part, to run long distances it takes the right genetics along with having the correct limb lengths and, of course, at least 70 percent Type 1/slow twitch/slow oxidative muscle fibers, but you also must train efficiently.
The most efficient way to improve is to gain muscular endurance. At the end of a marathon it is the legs that give out, not the lungs. Most will incorrectly try to increase their VO2 max, but it cannot be increased by top athletes as it cannot be raised after 12 or 18 months in endurance runners. This leaves only one way and that is to raise muscular endurance by maximally training strength endurance.
If one simply runs a set distance at a set body weight at the same pace, then you are not increasing your work. You must become more powerful. For example, by becoming stronger you can deliver greater ground force that can reduce ground contact time. A study by Leema Paavolainen concluded that reduced ground contact time is the most important for faster running times no matter the distance.
The study on 5K racers who had an average stride length of two meters found they would use 2500 strides to cover a 5K. A one one-hundredth of a second reduction in ground contact time would reduce their 5K time by 25 seconds. More on this topic can be found in Underground Secrets to Faster Running by Barry Ross.
Why is increasing strength so important? This is a simple physics equation. First, let’s look at what is work. In physics, work is defined as the product of the net force and the displacement through which that force is exerted, or W=Fd.
Now, why is being more powerful so important?
Let’s look at power. Power is defined as work done divided by the time used to do the work (P=wt). This simply says that the more powerful you are, the faster you can do the work; the work in this case being 60, 100, or 25,000 meters or even a marathon.
If you are just running and not strengthening your body you have most likely developed a speed barrier where you can no longer cover your distant faster. That’s the definition of the biological Law of Accommodation—that your body adapts to a constant continued stimulus by decreasing its response. So just by running you won’t eventually run faster. To break that speed barrier, you must train other activities such as special exercises for the running muscles—the calves, hamstrings, hips and glutes, and of course, some upper body work for strength and balance. Westside uses weight sleds to build running muscles.
For strength endurance training instead of doing the same amount of work with just body weight, the runner should use three weights on a weight sled that is connected to your body with a strap. This does not effect your running technique when using 15, 25 and 35 pounds.
Through experimentation Westside found that long-distance runners lack maximal strength. For instance, one long-distance runner could parallel box squat 65 pounds for 100 reps, but could only squat 100 pounds for one rep. By doing interval training with a weight sled with three different weights, strength endurance was built. Westside established 25, 35 and 45 pounds in a three-week wave will build strength endurance.
By doing interval training with a weight sled with three different weights to build strength endurance. But experimenting Westside has established 25, 35 and 45 pounds in a three-week wave will build strength endurance.
For races up to 10,000 meters one can pull a weight sled for 30 minutes or just over the world record for that length race. For the very fit, two trips can be performed. Time between trips will depend on your level of preparedness, meaning letting your heart rate get back to your normal range and then repeat. Pull the sled two times a week, but remember to cut your running back by at least 30 percent.
A 16-ounce bottle holds 16 ounces and no more, so when you include weight sled work you have to cut your running back. We know it will be hard to change your thinking, but you must. Your total work capacity is just like that 16-ounce bottle. The bottle can only hold 16 ounces at one time, but it can be full of different substances. For 20,000 meters—a half marathon—do two trips for 30 minutes or four trips for the advanced, and then push for two trips of 45 minutes. Remember, if your pace starts to slow down, you should stop. The key is to maintain top speed for as long as you can. If you slow down you lose … period.
If you run a full marathon, start with four trips using the interval method, meaning powerwalk for 30 minutes. Let your heart rate return to normal and repeat. Then, you should try to increase your speed on the second, third and fourth trips. Note: you must always use the same power walking style to correctly monitor your speed.
For runners with distances less than 30 minutes—10K and under—you should pull a weight sled for 30 minutes. Mark the distance you cover at the 30-minute time limit and try to cover a longer distance each trip. When this can be achieved you have improved your top speed maintenance velocity as well as increased your strength endurance.
- Check your times carefully with each of the three weights on the sled.
- You must reduce about 30 percent of your running while pulling a weight sled.
- The added ground force you have developed will lead to less ground contact, which means faster times.
Ross, Barry. 2005. Underground Secrets to Faster Running. Lulu.com.
Simmons, Louie. 2017. Strength Manual for Running—Raising Strength to Prevent Injuries. Westside4Athletes