The “core” of my marathon training

This was a conversation between me and my husband two weeks after I ran my first ultra in November:
Me: I don’t think I’m in very good shape right now.
Hubby (with a look of bewilderment): You just ran a 37.2 mile race and finished with a 9:10 pace.  I would say you are in pretty good shape.
Me: Ok. Let me rephrase.  I’m in “running shape.”  But my overall fitness level is not where it needs to be.  My legs are strong, but the rest of my body is not.

Have you ever said this to yourself?  

How did I let this happen?

I got into a very bad habit of just running in August…I stopped doing core work on a frequent basis because my concentration was on increasing my miles for the NYC Marathon and the Knickerbocker 60k (both in November).  At the time, we didn’t have a treadmill, so I would run either early in the morning (5am) or during one of my son’s naps if a family member was able to babysit. (Note: I would LOVE to do more stroller ruins with my little guy, but he has never enjoyed just sitting in the stroller.)  I would run up until the last possible moment – whether it was a phone call to tell me my son was up or it was time for my husband to go to work – then return home to shower and start the day/afternoon with my son.

I did not have make time for my core. 

After stopping for a few weeks, it was hard to begin a routine of core work.  I started making excuses why I couldn’t.  My focus had to be on my quality workouts..I didn’t want to be sore for my daily runs..I didn’t have time.

Between tapering and recovering for the marathon, the 60k, and a 30-miler on my 30th birthday, I realized I hadn’t concentrated on core work in over 4 months.

Training for my spring marathon began a few weeks ago.  In order to run a 12 min PR (sub-3:10), I am making some key changes to how I am training.  I am pushing the pace on long runs.  I am doing more speedwork.  But at the top of the list is doing core work a minimum of 3x days/week.

Why do core work?  

Your core – abs, hips, lower back – are the first muscles used when you move.

Source: Runners World

Experts agree that you can’t run your best without a strong core – it provides the stability, power, and endurance that runners need for powering up hills, sprinting to the finish, and maintaining efficient form mile after mile.


Strengthening your core has innumerable benefits, to include:

  • Greater efficiency of movement
  • Improved body control, balance and stability
  • Increased power output from both the core musculature and peripheral muscles such as the shoulders, arms and legs
  • Reduced risk of injury (the core muscles are the body’s shock absorbers)
  • Improved athletic performance (Source)

Having a strong core has benefits.  But even more importantly, a weak core can result in injuries to your lower back, hamstrings, and knees (according to Tim Hilden, an exercise physiologist specializing in running mechanics).

Quality core work can be done in as little as 15-20 min/day,  a few days/week.  Doesn’t seem like much time to spend on something that helps your performance AND prevents you from being injured.  Don’t you agree?

Source: Runner's World

Do you focus on core work?  How often?


Check back soon for a follow-up post on some of my favorite core workouts!!


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    23 thoughts on “The “core” of my marathon training

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    3. I just started back on core training yesterday after finding some awesome core exercises on the Runner’s World facebook page. I’ve got my first marathon coming up in March of 2013!

    4. I always struggle with my core. Like you, I feel like I am in good running shape, but not overall shape. It baffles me that I just ran a marathon, yet can barely lift an 8 pound weight or do core work.

      Good luck!

    5. I slack in this area, but I completely understand the “not feeling in shape”. I feel like I am getting in better shape after running my first full. I am running faster, losing weight and eating better. Funny how I am doing the things I should have been doing then… now 😉

    6. I do core work about 3 times a week and planks on the days I don’t. I think it’s really important too. As well as regular strength training, especially when you get older…like me. :)

    7. I definitely agree. I love running and I love putting in the time to run. BUT with everything else, core workouts, strength training etc, it is just not the same. That is where I wish I had my own personal trainer to come to my house everyday. The funny thing is I would do every workout they tell me to do. If they give me an intense core workout I will not fight it. Unfortunately, that is just a dream. I have no trainer, it is up to me, and it is so much harder making yourself do it. Sometimes just the thought of having that personal at home trainer makes me think ‘Wow I’d be in crazy good shape’ haha. Oh well we have to just bite the bullet and do the work.

    8. I love core work, and don’t do it nearly enough but I never know why. Its too easy to not do it, but even easier TO do it!! I’m looking forward to seeing your progress!

    9. Totally agree. I do core work probably 5-6 days/week. I actually have made it a habit to do it as soon as I get out of bed. I just get up about 10 minutes earlier than otherwise and get it done!

    10. I’m terrible about doing core work. I used to go to a weekly yoga class to get some core/strength in but with schedule changes and a baby on board, I have not made it a priority! Thanks for the reminder that I need to make this a part of my routine!

    11. I love this post! It’s so true; the core is extremely important. When I was training for the NYC marathon, I also “just ran”. I barely did anything else, also because I didn’t want to be sore for future runs. And, of course, I ended up injured. I still ran the marathon but I’m paying for it now. Lately, I’ve been working A LOT on strengthening, especially the core. I guess you don’t realize how important it is until you stop doing core work and hurt yourself!

    12. I do a lot of core work, but I work with a personal trainer. My running and my personal training go hand-in-hand, really. I only started running after I’d been working with a trainer for a while, so my core was already starting to get stronger. I have work yet to do, but I’m getting there! These days, I’m doing the #plankaday challenge on Twitter. : )

    13. I say that to myself ALL THE TIME! But then I never do anything about it. I desperately need to do more core work. Good for you getting after it!

    14. I cannot agree with you more!! I have OFTEN found myself just in “running shape.” When you have limited workout time, you prioritize what you want to do first and for me that is running. It’s easy to justify not having time for anything else. My core did not agree. After my 4th baby I found myself getting injured easier as well as I was more self-conscience of my stomach (baby weight). This past October when my youngest was 9 months old I decided that my core needed some major attention so I started my own Core Challenge. Basically I have to do 100 push-ups (can be boy or girl push-ups) and 100 ab exercises every day. It’s not a lot compared to what others may do but for me right now it is a major improvement! It is not hard- I can usually do it in 10-15 minutes. Best of all- I can do it at home with all the kids. It does not require a gym membership and it’s free! No equipment needed. I have kept my Core Challenge streak alive now for more than 3 months now. I do it every day- even on race days and let me tell you it was HARD the night after my marathon! But I am not one to break a streak so having a challenge like this helps me.

      Looking forward to seeing some of your favorite core exercises!

    15. I’m new to the cross-training/core world. When I started to run in 2007, I just ran. I’ve now just started adding other things in. I’m a bit overwhelmed trying to cover it all. Would love to hear your training schedule/plans.

    16. Oh, I was looking forward to seeing the workouts. I have always neglected my core and strength training. When I started PT last month, I realized how strong I was after only a month. I am hoping that after 12 weeks of core/strength training, I will be able to feel it at Boston. Looking forward to your next post!

      • Robin – I should have it posted by tomorrow – I’m also going to do something on some of my strength workouts…just trying to find the time to do these posts – my list of ones that I want to do just gets longer and longer =)

      • I know for me, I do core work at the end of a workout – so anytime I’m running late or need to cut it short, that’s what gets cut. I’ve started doing my core work at night – after my son is asleep – if I can’t fit it in during the day after my run!

    17. I’m excited to see your workouts! I too “just run” – I have a kid and run a business so finding time even to “just run” is difficult and I have the same excuses you do. But I need to do a lot more cross-training for sure.

      • It’s a dangerous slope to start going down…Sometimes I have to convince myself that one or two less miles won’t make a huge difference and I should spend that time on my core!! I hope to have the workouts (and some links that I love checking out) tomorrow!