Marathon Muscle – Can you build muscle while training endurance?


“When someone says you can’t, turn around and say “watch me”” – Anon

Like most skinny fella’s, I was an endurance athlete as a kid.  I use the term ‘athlete’ loosely.  I wasn’t part of a track team or a cross country team.  Spending time at a running club wasn’t an option due to family circumstances.  Yet I always competed for my class at school sports day in either the 800 or 1500m race.  My friends and I used to play whatever sport was on the TV at that time of year.  I would want to run long distance when the Olympics were on.  They wouldn’t, sadly, because A) I would win and B) I sprinted at snail speed…that was a far easier win for them.

As I became an adult, the thought of running a marathon has crossed my mind on many an occasion.  It never came to fruition for a number of reasons.  Time, travel, not being dedicated to the training and any other excuse I could find.  While completing the 12 week muscle builder I was thinking of my next challenge.  In the knowledge that there is a Half Marathon taking place on the coast of North Carolina in November, what better way to push my body and see if I can complete 13.1 miles of running in a time set by my own choosing.

Of course, this is a website to see what training programs work best for a skinny fella looking to move from skin and bones to mountain of muscle!  All conventional ‘wisdom’ suggests that running a (half) marathon and building muscle at the same time is not a possibility.  It makes sense that people would think like this.  Watch the Olympics and compare sprinters to marathon runners.  There is a consensus that the extended length of running eats into muscle for fuel rather than utilizing carbs and body fat.  Thankfully there is enough evidence to suggest that this is nothing but a myth.  Kris Gethin is currently training for an Iron Man Triathlon and recording his journey to incorporate endurance training with resistance training.  Bruce Lee used to run approximately 5 or 6 miles a day yet went from 130lbs to 165lbs in weight when combining it with weight training.

Using what I have learned from the past 2 years regarding strength and size training, I aim to further dispel this myth.  A combination of endurance running, high weight strength training, hypertrophy rep ranges and targeted gym cardio will be used over the next 14 weeks.  My target is to beat 2 hours.  I hope this time will drop as I get closer to the run.  I will be tracking my progress using a number of apps and posting it here.  Should I be successful, I will be sharing the entire training plan with you.

Marathon Muscle – Gym Work

Strength and Power are key components of fitness.  Realistically, no functional activity requires moving the arm in the motion of a bicep curl or rear shoulder raise.  A fireman’s carry on the other hand uses a squatting motion.  We push and pull things almost everyday (pulling your body out of bed in the A.M. doesn’t count!).

Using the 5×5 method of strength training will ensure my core strength improves.  This will not be enough to build the muscle I require.  Having performed this program previously, of that I am confident.  More explosive than strength training, the rep range remains the same with a lighter weight for power work.  I feel this will play a key part in training my legs to aid with pushing through the moments when my energy is lagging.

Hitting a rep range that encourages hypertrophy (the state of encouraging muscular growth) will be vital in building mass.  Though it won’t necessarily aid in my half marathon performance, it will stop me from becoming the 140lb skeleton I was a few years ago.  I will be utilizing drop sets to hit all muscle fibers (slow and fast twitch) which has been shown to boost muscle growth (study).

Finally, in order to boost my cardiovascular capacity, I will be interspersing the resistance work with cardio acceleration.  This is the method of performing 60 seconds of cardio in between sets of resistance work, ensuring their is no down time in the gym.  I previously tried this form of training earlier this year with excellent results.  I dropped body fat and felt as fresh as I had in years.  My hope is that this will aid my ability to take in oxygen, as well as my capacity to exercise for an extended time period.

Week 1

After taking a week away from the gym and taking supplements, it was a shock to the system getting back on the iron.  It amazes me that after going through workouts that had upwards of 1,000 reps, 1 week off can have that much of an impact.  What was refreshing was entering through the doors of Planet Fitness only 3 times.  After going in 5 times a week for the previous 12, being able to cut this down allowed time for so much else.  It was also nice knowing my workouts would take only 70 minutes, give or take.  Compared to the 2 and a half hour sessions I had been accustomed to, thisfelt like a sprint.

I decided to break my workouts into the following muscle groups, with abs worked every day

  • Day 1 – Legs and Calves
  • Day 3 – Chest and Back
  • Day 5 – Shoulders, Biceps and Triceps

I feel that saving the smaller muscle groups on the last day of the week will allow for maximum rest and recovery over the weekends.  It was a mindset that Kris Gethin took during the 12 week muscle builder and one I think works well.

With sweat pouring out of every orifice, I was reminded just how intense cardio acceleration is.  I would have been dryer after an hour in the sauna.  After day 1 I felt as though my body was saying “what the f*** are you doing to me?!”, as I hauled my arse up for the last 30 seconds of bench step ups.  My mind would not be defeated.  I was going to fight through regardless.  By the weeks end I felt great.  Not marathon great, but as though I was moving in the right direction.

Week 2

Where as week 1 was a re-introduction to cardio acceleration, week 2 was about hitting it hard.  14 weeks is not all that long in the grand scheme of things.  Picturing a gun to my head, I increased the speed of the activities performed.  Adding 10 seconds of sprinting to my runs on the spot, stepping up with purpose during bench step ups and shadow boxing as though I was preparing to be Floyd Mayweather’s 51st victim were all par for the course.  I felt great despite the extra blood, sweat and tears.  Consistent running combined with 70 minute full intensity gym sessions can make a hell of a difference in 2 weeks.  As quick as it goes, it comes right back!

Drop sets make sure that all muscle fibers are being hit.  They are also a magnet for DOMS.  My chest in particular felt extremely sore for 3 days after the workout.  It’s a feeling I like, but one I also need to be wary of.  There is no proof that waking up with muscle soreness is anymore beneficial then waking up without it.  After finishing a program that utilized dumbbells over barbells for chest pressing movements, my body is not using to being in such a fixed position.  As part of my strength training, each chest session begins with 5 x 5 bench presses.  Lowering the bar down until it touches my chest delivers a full stretch, followed by a full extension to press the bar up.

Marathon Muscle – Road Work


One of the benefits of social media is that your network is willing to help.  Upon asking what tips my friends & acquaintances could offer to prepare for a half marathon, 10 responses came in within an hour.  That did include one friend recommending that I “don’t do it”!  One adaptable piece of advice came from my friend Jay.

Jay is an ex-professional soccer player.  Despite soccer players covering on average 7 to 9 miles per game, the type of movement is different.  Constant changes of speed, direction and movements (forward, side steps and back pedals) mean that despite being extremely fit people, being fit for a long distance run is a different beast entirely and Jay confirmed as much.  What he did advise was to forget about targets in the early going and just get used to running for a specific length of time.  I have decided to add 5 minutes to every run as I build to hitting the road for 2 hours at a time.

I am using the app Runkeeper to monitor my runs.  It’s an app I have used previously, and I have found it very beneficial.  Runkeeper uses a GPS to monitor where you have run and gives an audio update every 5 minutes your average pace per mile and current distance run.  Runkeeper also breaks down the splits for each mile and allows you to share on social media should you want that accountability.  One of my favourite features is that it syncs with iTunes.  I’ve created a running specific playlist to get me through those tough times and match my intensity to the tempo of the beats.

Pre-week 1

I wanted to take time away from the gym before starting this program.  I also didn’t want to be sitting on my arse doing nothing.  Using this week to adapt to steady state running, I started with 10 minutes on Monday, finishing on 30 minutes by Friday.  My competitive mindset is an unwelcome challenge and I had to hold myself back from starting too fast.  Adding 5 minutes a day is an ideal increase.  It is far enough to push the body, but short enough to make it manageable.  My average pace per mile increased from 9 minutes to 8:20.  .

Week 1

Interspersing my runs with gym work (and my day job) meant I only ran twice.  Both runs felt good until I hit the last mile.  Tuesday was the first time I had run over 3.5 miles in 5 years and it showed.  I was dragging my arse through the last 10 minutes, resembling someone who had sunk a few too many whiskey’s.  Heavy breathing, staggered steps and a bright red face.  If I’d spoke I think I’d have made as much sense as the local alcoholic.  I got a second wind during the last 200m thanks to a passer by offering encouragement.  He may not read this, but thanks to that man.

Thursday’s run saw me complete 4.54 miles in just under 40 minutes, at an average pace of 8:26 per mile.  I felt better upon completion, but not by much.  My splits showed a steady increase of speed until I hit the 4 mile mark.  All of a sudden a huge dump of energy consumed me.  My mind had to reach a place of sheer determination as I gritted my teeth through the last half a mile.

Week 2

Rest and recovery is important for any type of training.  The body breaks down muscle when exercise is performed, causing tears which rebuild and repair with proper nutrition and sleep (study).  After taking the weekend off I started Tuesday’s 45 minute run like a man on a mission.  Embracing my inner Mo Farah, I completed the first mile in 8:22.  By the time I stopped at 45 minutes I had ran 5.52 miles, at an average pace of 8:11 per mile.  Nearly a mile further in only an additional 6 and a half minutes of running left me buzzing for the rest of the day.  Every mile saw an increase in time, with the final mile being run at under 8 minutes.

Still on a high from Tuesday, Thursday’s run started off at an even faster pace.  8:04 and 8:02 for the first 2 miles had me run-dreaming of standing on the podium for the marathon at the 2020 Olympics.  Yeah, my mind gets away from me sometimes.  My energy then went at the 11 minute mark.  I was shortening my stride, breathing heavy and having to fight every urge not to stop.  The thought crossed my mind at least 10 times.  Adding to the struggle was a pain in my left hip flexor, something that had started on Tuesday.  Reviewing things, my technique had been horrendous.  Butt sticking out, arched back and a puffed up chest is a recipe for hip flexor discomfort.  I tried to fix this early on, but as the energy levels drained away my form didn’t last for long.

To cap the week off I completed a 3.4 mile run today.  Average speed of 7:52 per mile.  Nice.



No major changes, though I feel and look lighter around the mid-section.  My weight has remained around 170lbs, give or take a pound depending on the day.


  • Be careful training legs.  Lighten the load and focus on proper technique, rather than risking complete muscular breakdown with long distance runs.
  • Be mindful of your running form.  Stand up straighter and do some basic hip flexor strengthening exercises beforehand

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Comments 4

  • hey i have seen the pics you have inserted in your article i also have side flaps like the picture
    can you tell me how to reduce that

    • Parth – unfortunately you cannot spot reduce fat from a target area, only reduce your overall bodyfat. For men, the midsection is the last place for it to disappear and by far the most stubborn. However I would recommend the following

      1 – reduce your carb intake to 0.5 grams per pound of body weight a day. Choose 1 day a week to load up on carbs so as to reset your metabolism
      2 – include cardio acceleration in your workouts
      3 – Focus on targeting all areas of your shoulders when lifting weights and your upper back. Making these wider will make your waist appear smaller
      4 – If your budget will allow it, supplement with L-Carnitine and Green Tea Extract. There is evidence to suggest that L-Carnitine helps convert bodyfat into energy and Green Tea supports a faster metabolism.

      Let me know how your progress goes

  • Inspiring! Motivated to do running again.

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