Two years ago I was just starting week 8 of my marathon training plan as I prepared to take on the Blackpool Marathon. Two days ago I ran 11 miles, the furthest I’ve run since the marathon in 2017. It was pure coincidence that the route I took at the weekend was almost the same as I took exactly two years previously. I thought comparing them would be a good idea to see if I’ve lost my marathon fitness.
No matter how long I take off running, it doesn’t seem to take me too long to regain my fitness and stamina. Although I am not training for any particular races or events at the moment, I have set a goal to hit 100 miles of running each month as a minimum. Due to a slack start to February, I am playing catch up so this past weekend I ran 30km in two days.
My 2017 run vs 2019
2017 – 18.16km | 2019 – 17.73km
The route I took this past Sunday was remarkably close to that which I took exactly two years ago. In fact, the only reason I didn’t repeat the previous route was that I did remember going that way once but had to run along a busy A road with no footpath, so I avoided that bit.
2017 – 5:10/km | 2019 5:20/km
Given that I had done a hard 7+ miler on Saturday I had decided to make Sunday’s long run a steady one. I wasn’t pushing it at any point whatsoever and stayed comfortable. To see that I was just an average of 10 seconds slower per kilometre that when I was in full on marathon training is encouraging.
2017 – 1:33:59 | 2019 – 1:34:31
So last Sunday’s route was a little shorter than 2017 (0.43km) yet my time was 32 seconds slower. Again, I wasn’t actually trying to recreate that route or bet a time so it’s not fair of me to compare really.
What it does tell me is that my fitness and endurance level is still there. I know that if I wanted to (want being the operative word) I could really knuckle down and get some decent times if I were to stump up the cash and actually enter some events.
Is this muscle memory at play
There’s a school of thought that suggests that once you get fit that it is easier to do so again next time.
I’ve been reading about muscle memory lately. And, while most research is in relation to strength training there have also been studies into muscle memory in endurance.
What is muscle memory
Muscles cells are different from other cells in your body as they are much bigger in comparison. Muscle cells also have multiple nuclei within a single cell. With strength training, your muscle cells grow in size, so they add more nuclei. When you stop training, the cells shrink, however, studies have shown that the number of nuclei remains higher for longer. When you start training again, this is the reason the strength and condition return faster than it was originally gained.
A different study in 2016 showed that this also applies to endurance. It showed that after a period of detraining, rats in the labs reacquired their endurance quicker that originally gained. This study focused on the role of muscle cell nuclei in mitochondrial adaptations. This is one of the key cellular responses to endurance training.
So, have I lost my marathon fitness?
From my own performance and reading about muscle memory, it would appear that I never actually lost that endurance and fitness. That base level was there from which it has been easier to build back up again.
The question is now – what do I do with it?
Thanks for reading