Low mileage plus cross training

Hi all (and particularly TR)

I’m about to start training for a spring marathon.  After a frustrating summer of niggles/ injuries, my main aim is to make it to the start line in one piece, and with a decent shot at setting a new pb.  Earlier this year, and with a lot of mentoring help from TR, I managed to get my marathon pb down to 3.28.  Other current pbs are 5k: 19.14, 10k: 40.45, HM 1.29.  All in first half of 2015.

After running the marathon pb in April, I hoped to build on the training and run another marathon in the autumn, ideally taking off another 5-10 mins, depending on progress in training.  But that never got off the ground as I struggled to get back running regularly.  During the marathon I picked up a calf injury, which lingered for 8-10 weeks afterwards.  I then developed an abdominal/ groin problem, which at times seemed to be leading to a sore lower back problem.  So the summer involved lots of rest, frustration, and not much training.

Over the last 7-8 weeks, I’ve been getting back into running, and the niggles seem to be staying under control/ hopefully improving.  But, almost as soon as I try to increase the frequency and run consecutive days (even at slow pace/ low mileage), I start to feel some of the old complaints (a sore left foot/ knee, some ab/ groin trouble) and feel as if it’s just a matter of time before something flares up in a serious way.  Mileage-wise I’ve averaged 23ish miles over the last 7 weeks, with 80-90% of it being fairly slow (8.45-9.15mm).


  • sensesense ✭✭✭

    So – now with 18ish weeks to go until a spring marathon (yet to confirm exactly which one), I want to try and train as best I can with a limited number of runs, in the hope that will give me a decent shot of avoiding injuries but still a fair chance of setting a new pb.  I’m happy to put in the time needed to prepare properly, but don’t feel I’d be able to regularly hit the 40-50m per week required by most intermediate/ improver run-only training plans (e.g. P&D).

    Any advice on how best to go about this would be much appreciated.  Particularly anyone who has had success with this sort of plan.  Or would be good to share experience with anyone else thinking about trying a similar approach for a 2016 spring marathon.  Fingers crossed and thanks very much!

  • I've managed to mix in triathlon training with marathon training, with the result that the marathon has been done on relatively low running mileage, but backed up with cycling & swimming.  Key point for me are:

    - Doing a long run on alternate weekends, so one weekend would include a 20+ mile run, the next would be a 3 hour ride, with maybe a 10 mile run on the other day.

    - Still getting in at least 5x20+ mile runs, which means building up the long run earlier than most plans allow for.

    - Keeping the quality on the midweek runs, given that they're more limited.  5 mile recovery runs are out, that would be cycling or swimming instead.

    - Not worrying about 'tune-up' running races before the marathon.  I ditched the standard 20 mile pre-VLM race for duathlons instead - similar time to complete, less impact. 

  • I think you need to sort out the niggles rather than find a way around them. See a physio. You need to re-adjust your expectations as to improve on 3.28 you're going to have to be in very good nick and have done the training (no matter when you run it). You wont be ready mentally either if you know that the niggles are still there. 

  • TRTR ✭✭✭
    Nice to see sense has kicked off this new thread, I havnt had any contact with him through the summer but we agreed it would be a good idea to start off a new thread esp with the cross training focus. Im happy to join in but we are hoping that a few others mught join in the journey esp as it will have a slughtly different bias and there may or may not be many other mentoring threads towards the spring.

    Stylish makes a valid point with need to get on top of the niggles but then we need tl differentiate niggles from injuries. There must be a wattbike, concept2 or cross trainer optiom or mix that will enable the establishing a mix of maybe 3 runs and 3cross training sessions. The hard work can certainly be focussed at the xt and will make it more interesting.

    I have had similar campaign types to cheerful dave and its certainly do-able. It tends to work very well at shorter distance whre I have set pbs off less than 100M per month mixed with hard turbo and swimming. I know others have had similar results to that.
  • A friend of mine is doing 'Insanity' sessions and circuit training as cross-training because of a dodgy knee. He is a sub 3 hour runner. He has been doing it for a while and early results are good.

    I would say that cycling and particularly swimming are a 'must do' for Marathon training. I have not signed up for circuit/insanity sessions yet but I have always done a certain amount of gym work.

    Good luck!

  • I'd not have thought insanity stuff would be ideal with a dodgy knee?

    Cds idea seems to echo mine. I got a 3.13 last year of minimal running but with 5 turbo sessions a week. You need good cardiovascular fitness together with legs that won't fall off at 20 miles.

    Good luck!
  • TRTR ✭✭✭

    I guess that you have to find cross training that doesnt aggravate issues, maybe insanity doesnt twist the knee and its being made stronger along the way.

    Cougie has similar traithlon experience in a marathon campaign to myself and CD then, 5 sessions a week is a lot of aerobic works, and probably equates to quite a few hours.
    Hywel Towel is big on C2 rowing, I would do a bit more of this if my training was gym based.

    I would like to see sense do a few sessions of XT a week building to about 60mins a session with some intensity in them, and his 3 running days. One thing is for sure though, those 3 runs will have to build to a decent distance in order to run a marathon. And I will add that in my experinece, low mileage marathons are a world of quad pain (so at least that wont be a surprise now).

  • Fish52Fish52 ✭✭✭




    These sites and the associated books and plans may meet your needs. I've run 8 marathons between 3:05 and 3:14 following their advice.

  • sensesense ✭✭✭

    Thanks all, reassuring to hear that others have had success with relatively low running mileage.

    Cheerful Dave – hadn’t thought about swapping some of the long runs for rides but might come in useful.  Will also have a look at duathlons – also not something I’d thought about & have never done one but would be interested.

    Stylish – fair point on my ongoing problems.  The foot thing has cropped up at some point in training for all 3 of the marathons I’ve done so far. I have seen a physio without getting any clear diagnosis.  It’s also something that I suppose might get sorted out if I had proper gait analysis & changed the way I run.  But I think the root cause is probably a knee operation I had a few years ago, and some other rugby-related injuries down my left side so I’m not sure there’s an easy fix.  Intention is to do my best listen to body & avoid making things worse. Fingers crossed.

    Sideburn – re insanity/ circuit training.  I don’t have easy access to those sort of classes at the moment but something I’ll keep any eye out for as the all-round fitness benefits would be good for me – my upper body doesn’t get much of a workout on anything these days.

    Fishy – will have a look at those, thanks.

  • sensesense ✭✭✭

    I’ve got good access to spinning classes, concept 2, and elliptical cross trainer thing.  The spinning classes are on bikes with power output and link up to HR monitor (& I should be able to book same bike each time to avoid any dodgy calibration).

    I like stats/ structure etc so am happy training to HR, or to a power level.

    Plan for next week along lines of (any comments appreciated)

    Mon      spin (45mins)

    Tue        run 7m (final 4m bit quicker – regular tue run)

    Wed      concept2 row 30-45mins (early days on this so will see how it feels)

    Thu        run 9m (all easy – 8.45-9mm).  Intend to build this to proper MLR over coming weeks

    Fri           fairly relaxed outdoor bike ride (45m to 1.5hr)

    Sat          run 12m+ (see how it feels)

    Sun        rest

    So aiming for 28m plus + 2.5 XT (the 0.5 bike ride is with a friend & more social than training)

    Questions – what sort of intensity on cross training? (either effort-level/ HR/ power-based?) And should this be a constant level or can I break up into intervals/ chunks at different levels?

  • Fish52Fish52 ✭✭✭

    Sense - if you like stats and structure, then I can recommend the Furman 'Run Less, Run Faster' book. Ignore the title - it gives the wrong impression. Their suggested week:
    M - Cross training (35-65 mins)
    T - Track repeats (VO2 max)
    W - XT
    Th - Tempo run (various paces and distances up to 12 miles with 10 @ MP
    F - XT
    W'End - 1 day long run (13-20 with 5 20s over 16 weeks) & 1 day rest or more XT

    The plan is very specific and precise about training paces. Cross training workouts are varied and at a high intensity. 

  • sensesense ✭✭✭

    Fishy - thanks again.  realised I actually had a copy of the run less run faster book already - just forgot about it along with a pile of other books bought on a whim.  had a look last night.  the cross-training stuff looks great & very helpful for explanation of the theory as well as some suggested workouts.  looks as though you can go pretty hard in some of the xt sessions which I hope will suit me better than recovery-run type mileage.

    the paces for the run sessions do look scary though, and I don't really have easy access to a track.  so reckon I'll tone it down a bit & add bit more distance work.  probably not ideal but I can imagine falling to pieces after couple of the harder track & tempo sessions in the book, which is last thing I want.

  • sensesense ✭✭✭

    Had a read of P&D training plans and realised my plan for the week was almost exactly the same as the 3 longest runs in week 1 of P&D up to 55m plan.  So that's now my plan - to take the 3 longest runs in each week of P&D, and then to add at least 2 further XT sessions.  (though later in the P&D plan there are a couple of shorter sunday long runs coupled with a decent saturday run as well so I might need to either lengthen the sun long run, or make sure sat XT gives me suitably tired legs.  but not today's problem).

    Mon spinning session ended up pretty hard (ave hr 160ish) so swapped tue & thurs runs.  So 9.5m on tues (ave hr 136/ 71% max), and 8m this morning with middle 4m at just under 7mm, which I think is fair approximation of LT pace for me at the moment.  plus 30min rowing on Wednesday (ave hr 135ish), which I'm gradually getting used to - should be able to increase those sessions in length as back & shoulders get used to it.

    so, weather depending, an easy bike ride tomorrow.  plus slow 12m at weekend.

  • TRTR ✭✭✭
    That would give you three decent runs a week and it will be interesting to see how your body holds up. The other book gives you some xt workouts and then you add on a bike ride too. I will add that I dont bother to ride outdoors unless I have 2hrs minimum, but you will be doing a lot on the other five days.
  • sensesense ✭✭✭

    12m done at the weekend, 9.5m on Monday and hopefully another 13m later today. My version of P&D basically looks like 2 runs per week of around 10m, plus a weekend long run of increasing length.  And with different sections of different runs done at a quicker pace (tempo or MP).  Have also had another comfortable rowing session - haven't yet tried a hard rowing session, think it will definitely be challenging when I do get round to it.

    Away for most of Christmas/ new year so won't be able to stick closely to any plan, but should still be enough free time to build on a routine of regular longish runs.

  • Fish52Fish52 ✭✭✭

    Solid week there sense - and a good idea to take it easy with the rowing to begin with. It's great XT, but can aggravate ITB.

    I'm interested in your new approach, because 3 hard runs + 3-4 days of cycling had been my staple since 2008 following 2 knee ops. However, in Sept 14 (after Nottingham Marathon) I suffered a horrendous hip injury, which kept me from any exercise until April. Now I find that any interval running + long bike rides, niggle the injury.
    So, I've gone right back to basics, running 5-6 times per week general aerobic (P&D definition) very slowly building back up my aerobic base. I'm following one of the base building schedules in the new Pfitzinger book. 

  • Hubby found that going on the turbo straight after his runs halped...it increased the training without the extra running...always worked as a bit of a vool down and helped with recovery..he is not a cyclist but with the bike set up on the turbo before his run he got straight on it when he got in

  • sensesense ✭✭✭

    Fishy – sounds like you’ve tried a good range of different approaches.  Hope latest is going well – sounds a bit like hadd/ low HR type training.  thanks for the comments re rowing.  I’ve not had any significant ITB trouble before but will bear in mind. Other upside of concept 2 for people like me is it lends itself to the stats side of things – am already building up an idea of effect of drag factor, stroke rate, watts (especially versus cycling watts) etc.  plenty to think about!

    Seren – might try that run plus bike idea too, to try & turn any shorter runs into something closer to a medium-long run.  Don’t have a turbo set-up but can hopefully replicate something in the gym.

    As expected, structured running has fallen away during holiday but having a great time and lucky enough to have another couple of weeks left.  managing to run every couple of days plus a fair bit of other exercise (walking, odd bits of swimming etc) so not too bad re training, but also not really marathon training,  So now planning on an early-may rather than mid-april marathon to have more time to train properly.  Aim to pin it down by end of Jan.

  • RicFRicF ✭✭✭

    One year I ran the London marathon (2:56) and then spent the next six months X training, with the running bit being three runs per week made up of a long run and two speed sessions.

    At Abingdon I ran 2:46.

    Average wk mileage 18.

  • Interesting thread..

    I am not a pure runner myself.. in fact I consider running as cross-training for my main interest (inline speed skating), and so only about 35-40% of my training (in terms of hrs/week) consists of running. There are plenty of triathletes who do regular marathons too, and I suspect their volumes are similar.

    I think yes, using the bike as cross-training for running can work well if you don't want to or can't run mega mileage as in a typical vanilla running plan. You work the aerobic and cardio system pretty good on a bike. Bike - Run "Brick sessions" are a common staple of the multisport athlete - typically a long bike session, followed by a moderate run straight after. Also consider the gym crosstrainer (although I find this mindnumbingly boring).

    Ultimately it won't be as good as running, and 8hrs of running will be better than 4hrs biking + 4hrs running. Biking is not fully weight bearing and low impact, so is much less taxing on the muscular development aspect which is a crucial aspect of running a fast marathon. However if your body can't physically do 8hrs running a week, then do as much as you can comfortably, and then use the bike or something else to supplement your aerobic development will be much better than not.

  • Fish52Fish52 ✭✭✭

    RicF - That's a speedy marathon and shows what can be achieved with a multi-modal approach to the marathon.

    Van Dieu - Brick sessions are a great training mechanism. The 1st volume of the Furman book suggested brick sessions for some of the XT workouts.

    Sense - glad you're back into a decent routine. I managed to run everyday, bar one over the Christmas hols, still building up slowly and cautiously. All ok so far, but I'm a little concerned that all of my speed is draining away!

  • sensesense ✭✭✭

    RicF - very impressive

    Van Dieu - thanks for the comments. good logical stuff.

    Fishy - sounds like you're going well.  sounds like understandably tired legs. am sure speed will come back when you want it to

    After long holiday, am now back into a more normal routine.  stayed around 20-25 miles per week on holiday, with an odd selection of xt sessions - highlight was a hard 45 mins on a wattbike, with some 6 min hard efforts. also managed a parkrun in 19.59 on Saturday, which was first time under 20 since May I think.

    Now need to start increasing the miles, especially pushing up long runs nearer 15-18m. have also got a bit of holiday weight to shift!

  • sensesense ✭✭✭

    Getting back to it. 36 miles last week, across 4 days, including 10m on Saturday with a 19.36 parkrun in the middle.  Also managed an hour or so on rowing machine, for a total of approx. 6 hrs decent aerobic work.  so hopefully moving in right direction.

    This week P&D (up to 55m) has 9m with 5 @ LT; 10m slow; plus 16m with 10 @ MP.  so should be a good test of where I am at the moment.

  • sensesense ✭✭✭

    37m last week, including 10m attempt at MP, which averaged 7.23.  plus 1 x rowing, 1 x spinning (hard effort), 1 x 5-a-side football (sore legs), so over 7hrs in total and still in one piece. 

    p&d has the coming week as a recovery week so I won't be doing any hard running. hopefully 3 slow runs averaging 10m+, and more rowing/ spinning. 

  • sensesense ✭✭✭

    just 26m last week, which was roughly in line with P&D week 6 recovery week.  plus 1 x rowing, 2 x spinning, 1 x 5-a-side football so 6-7 hrs in total.

    slight achilles niggle on Tuesday so stopped early and seemed ok on thurs (10m) and sat (12m) so hopefully nothing serious to worry about.

    have entered a half marathon on 21st feb.  P&D up to 55m has that day as a 20m long run but I think I'd like to race the HM.  any tips how best to juggle?  The P&D up to 55m plan has 3 x 20m in total, and my marathon is on 1/2 May (week after London).  thanks for any advice.

  • sensesense ✭✭✭

    haven't posted here regularly but just to round things off - I ended up averaging 29 miles (no "hard" sessions) + 2 hours cross training (mainly spinning, rowing machine & elliptical) per week for 16 weeks, and managed to sneak under 3.19 at Salzburg marathon on sunday.  which I was very happy with.  thanks for the various tips, almost all of which I incorporated into training in one way or another.

  • Fish52Fish52 ✭✭✭
    Well done on working out a decent plan, executing it & then running a PB. Your marathon time shows what can be achieved with a multi-modal approach to marathon running. Rest up & recover well.
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