How To Get Stronger And Run Faster

We recently featured one of our members, Allison Monheit, who qualified for the Boston Marathon.  She finished first in her age group running a 03:26:54.  This was only her second marathon and it was over 50 minutes faster than her first.  A great accomplishment for any runner but Allison also did something else remarkable leading up to this marathon.  Twelve days before her race she squatted 225 pounds for an easy single, strict pressed 100 pounds above her head, and benched her body weight.  She was a strong runner on race day, certainly stronger than most.

In the days after we featured her back squat and marathon results on our social media we received lots of questions regarding her training.  We thought it would be best for Allison to dig into her training log and write a brief synopsis of exactly how she built and maintained strength while increasing her running mileage, approached her nutrition and what effects these things had on her performance.

A few things to note.

  • Most strength training programs written for runners are woefully inadequate. Single leg lunges, unweighted air squats, push-ups, bands, light dumbbells and planks are largely a waste of time for anyone but the complete deconditioned runner.  They will neither increase your performance nor make a runner more resistant to injury.
  • The body can adapt to high levels of training volume.  Strength training and running when programmed intelligently together can and will produce high levels of favorable strength and aerobic adaptations.
  •  Major barbell movements (squats, presses and deadlifts) provide the most return on investment.  Strength training takes less than 40 minutes two or three times a week.
  • Nutrition is important and often overlooked or misunderstood.
  • High levels of strength are both possible and beneficial to runners.  For female runners minimum strength standards should be a bodyweight squat, 1.5x body weight deadlift and .75 body weight bench or press.  These are minimal levels that any female runner should be able to achieve in one offseason.

 


Background

Setting a goal of breaking a 4-hour marathon seemed like a big goal for me. I crossed the finished for my first marathon at a disappointing 4:19. Why did it go so horrible? I was not strong or fast. I walked into Westminster Strength and Conditioning 10 days post race and squatted 65 pounds for 3 sets of 5.  I decided I needed to get strong. I’ve consistently strength trained since January 2016, lifting 3 days per week, conditioning and running consistently.

I would run 2-3 times per week about 3-6 miles each session while strength training and conditioning over the past couple years but never focused on a running training plan that incorporated strength training. With an established strength program I decided to train for another marathon, just adding running in with strength training. My original goal was to break a 4-hour marathon.

The strength I obtained the past two years prior to starting another marathon training cycle had allowed me to have better core strength creating a more efficient stride and causing less energy to be expended with each stride I make. Think stronger core, less swaying side to side. My legs were stronger than ever, so I had more power with each stride to propel my body forward.

 

Strength Training

For my strength training my training days stayed the same. I lifted Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The strength program consisted of a linear progression for back squat, press/bench, and deadlifts. I did my heavy lifting day on Mondays. Monday workout included Back Squat and press/bench.  This allowed me enough time to recover before my next long run on Saturday.  Wednesday was deadlifts and press/bench. Fridays I would pause squat or lift at 80% of Monday’s workout due to Saturday’s long run the following day.  I consistently followed this program. On peak week, which was 53 miles, I only strength trained twice, on Monday and Wednesday. I did one heavy set for 3 followed by 3×3 drop sets. I dropped my Friday lifting session due to Saturday’s longest run of 22 miles. Monday following peak week I did 80% volume for back squat and press/bench.

I followed the typically linear progression of 3×5 and adding 5lbs of weight to each lift daily. I kept this program until failure and transitioned to an intermediate linear progression with 5×3 sets and adding 5lbs each week.

The one thing that significantly increased this marathon training cycle was my ability to recover. I rarely experienced soreness, stiffness, and had no injuries. I would ice my legs, foam roll and stretch as needed.

I had increased strength throughout my training cycle and walked away with 120 bench press, which was a lifetime PR.

12 days pre-race, I tested my strength with 1 rep max training sessions. My results were 225 back squat, 100 press, 120 bench press and 185 deadlift.

 

Running Training Plan

This marathon cycle started 19 weeks out from race day. Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday were my hard running workout days that consisted of speed/tempo/fartlek runs. Wednesday and Sunday were rest day.

Monday and Friday I would run but would gave myself time to recover from the am strength session or these were my recovery runs, I focused on having my heart rate in range from 140-150bpm.  Typically ran in the afternoons or after lifting session. I never ran before lifting to decrease risk for injury.

I ran 5 days per week with 3 hard running workouts per week. I increased mileage as prescribed. I followed the 10% rule of increasing your weekly mileage, never increasing by more than 10% each week. Prior to starting marathon training my weekly base mileage was 20-25 miles per week. I followed the Nike Marathon training plan with a few modifications. To fit my lifestyle this training worked for me. I added in Yasso 800s monthly and calculated my overall mileage myself. I would eliminate 1 track workout a month and run 800s. I started with 4-800s in December and increased by 2 to work up to a total of 10-800s 14 days before race day. I had my old training plans from my previous marathon and ran 398 miles total. My goal this marathon was to run about 200 miles more this training cycle. My total mileage for this cycle ended up at 610 miles.

All of the prescribed Yasso 800s were run faster than 3:30 respectively.

I live in a rural area and hills were incorporated throughout runs. I did less than 5 total specific “hill” workouts due to the fact that pretty much every run (besides track workouts) had several large hills.

My long runs consisted of running negative splits. I attempted to run every long run like that and once I increased mileage up to 14 miles I started to run at Marathon pace for a least 4-6 miles.

This worked for my training plan and slowly I was able to increase my pace for longer periods of time.

 

Nutrition

Pre-training cycle my body weight was 135lbs. At the start of this training cycle my total calorie intake was around 2,100 calories for about 4 weeks. After my first 35-mile week I started to experience increased sleepiness, cravings for salt and hungry all the time. I increased my calories to around 2,800 per day. I needed to increase my calorie intake and I began timing my carbohydrates around training cycles.

I followed the ratio of 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight. Throughout the entire program I ate 135 grams of protein and carbs and 72g of fat per day minimum. For my carbohydrates I followed 1gram of carb to 1 pound of body weight on low training days, 1-1.5 gram of carbs per body weight on medium training days and 2-2.5g of carbs per body weight for heavy training days. See table below. Sunday was low carb day always.

Medium training days were Tuesday and Thursdays. Heavy training days were Monday, Wednesday, Friday where I was strength training and running.

Saturdays were High training days focused on the 2 grams per pound of body weight.

For fat I ate between 72g-90g of fat per day. I would eat the larger volume of fat on my heavy training days.

I typically ate the same pre-workout meal for my lifting sessions and long run days. I always ate the same pre-race meal.

My primary carbohydrate sources came from rice, fruit, potatoes, occasionally pasta and bread, corn, vegetables.

My protein sources were animal proteins, whey, diary, eggs.

Fats came from coconut oil, olive oil, butter, avocados.

 

Training day Carb-bodyweight ratio Pre workout 20% of daily grams During workout 30% of daily grams Post workout 35% of daily grams Last 15%
Low 135g 27g 40g 48g 20g
Medium 203g 41g 61g 71g 30g
High 270-338g 54-68g 81-101g 94-118g 41-50g

 

Race day body weight was 128lbs, thus my natural racing weight for my body.

 

Race Day

Race day started out a little fast due to excitement and excessive energy at the start. I ran my first mile sub 7 minutes, which at the time did not even feel fast. I was ready to go and my legs wanted to go fast. I kept sub 730 minute mile pace until mile 18 and settled in for my training marathon pace of about 745-8 minute mile pace until mile 23. This where it was mental toughness for me and my strength training took over. I was starting to lose posture but realized my core and arms were stronger than ever. I kept my abs tight which allowed my posture to remain upright and I utilized my arms to move me forward with every stride.

This is exactly why I was able to keep running, I was strong.

I finished out my last 3 miles around 830- 840-minute mile pace “sprinted” that last .2 mile to cross that finish line and set a huge PR of 3:26:54. Beat my old marathon time by 53 minutes and my goal of 3:30 by over 3 minutes. It was a huge accomplishment and better yet, I qualified for Boston at my second marathon.

Strength training has changed my life in so many ways and at 28 years old I’ve been the strongest and fastest in my life reaching a person goal of qualifying for Boston.

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