A great core workout for runners

Last week, I had my first personal training session, and I had DOMS for days afterwards (in an awesome way!). The idea was to put together a training plan to work alongside my marathon training, which would fix some of my (many!) weaknesses and imbalances in order to make my running more efficient and less injury prone. A PB or two wouldn’t hurt, either!

My trainer put together a 1-hour workout that I’m to try and fit in 2-3 times a week, and alongside this I’ll also be following my marathon plan which includes 3 weekly runs (one tempo/hills, one recovery, and one long). There are a couple of sprint intervals in the gym workout, which should hopefully increase my cadence and get me running faster. Fingers crossed!

With the marathon training season creeping up on us, and the base miles already in progress, I thought I’d share this workout for those that fancy trying it! This is obviously just a guide, and the sets, reps, speeds and weights can easily be adjusted to suit your own fitness levels.

Warm up: Cardio/Summit Trainer. (Pick a cardio option and level that suits you).

Intervals: 400m warmup, followed by sets of 200m sprint intervals. I stuck to a comfortable 11:00/mile warmup, before working my way up to a final sprint set at a 7:30/mile pace with a 100m recovery after each. (My heart rate was high enough for my trainer to exclaim ‘you’re only 24!’. But I managed to stay on the treadmill, so there’s that…).

Plank on elbows: I aimed for sets of 20-30 seconds, but I imagine lots of you can hold it for far longer! Make sure you keep your feet together, and abs and glutes squeezed tight. Don’t forget to breathe! (You’d be surprised at how many times my trainer had to remind me…) If you fancy a challenge, this site has some great variations.

Lunges: I did sets of 6 reps for each leg. Keep your body upright and concentrate on keeping your muscles engaged.

Bridge roll-ups: Lying on your back with your feet up on a step, push up into a bridge position, squeeze and then slowly return to the floor. (Try and lower yourself gradually, with your hips reaching the floor last).

Dead bug: Lying on your back with knees bent at 90 degrees and your arms extended straight above your shoulders, keeping the torso tight, lower the opposite arm and leg to the floor. Focus on keeping your back on the floor – if you struggle with this, and find your back arching (I did), keep your arms extended and just focus on lowering your legs. (Check out this video for a demonstration).

Squats: Keeping your feet hip-width apart, drop to a squat. If you fancy a variation, raise your arms above your head. Focus on keeping your back straight, and try not to lean forwards.

Cable rotation: Pick the weight based on your own fitness level. (I started with around 6kg). Be sure to keep your arms straight, and try not to hunch your shoulders! With your feet hip-width apart, rotate your torso as far as you can, allowing your hips to turn. Keep the movement slow and controlled – you can see a video example here. (I’ve always avoided this end of the gym because it’s full of big sweaty guys making funny noises and I get a little intimidated – but my trainer rightly pointed out that they’re usually just flexing their guns in the mirror and looking at themselves!).

Intervals: 400m warmup, then sets of 200m intervals (as above).

Finish by having a thorough stretch. This is definitely my favourite bit!

What are your favourite exercises? Do you include core work as part of your training?

Looking ahead to Paris Marathon 2015

The marathon is a funny one, and unlike any other running distance I’ve tried so far. With a 5 or 10k, or even a half marathon, you can get a very good idea of your potential finishing time during training. With the marathon, you can make all the plans you want – but you can never really know how it’s going to pan out until the day itself. Even if you hit your target pace for every single training run, it doesn’t mean that your body will stick to the plan for 26.2 miles.

It’s a bit of a bugger in that respect.

For Brighton this year, I didn’t want to give myself a goal finishing time. It was my first marathon, and I had no idea how my body would hold up for that sort of distance. My parents had run close to 5 hours the year before, so I told myself that something around the 5-hour mark would be awesome. But even so, I didn’t make any plans. I set off at a comfortable pace which I kept up for the first 21 miles (letting my parents go on ahead at the 10k mark) before taking close to a 1.5-mile walking break at 21 miles. I admit that I glanced at my pace band here and there, but when I saw that I had lost my chances of a sub-5 finish, I didn’t feel upset or disappointed in any way.

In fact, by the time I hit 22 miles, I started to get excited – because I know, at that point, that my body was capable of getting me to the finish line. And for my first marathon, that’s all that really mattered to me. I came in at 5:16:15 (with my Garmin showing 26.4 miles), and cried happy tears as I crossed the line – with my parents on either side of me (I managed to catch them up just after the 25 mile marker).

Paris will be my second marathon, and after almost 2 years of training for Brighton, I feel like I should have a more concrete goal this time round than to simply ‘finish’. When I met my personal trainer for the first time last week, we discussed my history and also my fitness goals – with the main one being Paris. He asked me what time I wanted to finish in, and I’ll admit that I was almost scared to say a time out loud.

I mean, I’m not a great runner. I’ve never really stuck to a proper plan, besides ‘run X miles X times a week’, and my fastest mile EVER was 8:40. This was at the start of a 5k run on Christmas day last year with my little brother (who happily runs 7:00/mile without breaking a sweat), and I ended up walking for a good few minutes afterwards just to recover. My comfortable pace is 11:00/mile, and a good pace for my shorter runs is 10:00. Sure, I’d love to be able to bust out an 8:00-9:00/mile average on my shorter runs, but up to this point I’ve never been great with speed and pace.

I told him that I’d be happy just to beat my previous time, or to come in at under 5 hours. His immediate reaction was ‘oh, you can definitely get under 5 hours. What about 4h30?’

I almost laughed out loud at this point. But at the same time, a little voice in my head started whispering ‘what if?…’

Maybe, just maybe, by stepping outside of my comfort zone and pushing myself a little, adding in some proper speed and strength training and knuckling down for my long runs, by sticking to a structured plan and focusing a little more on recovery… Am I capable of more than I give myself credit for? Can I really give myself such an ambitious goal?

I’m excited to find out.

For those who have done multiple marathons, how did your training change after the first one? Have you been able to shave off much time?