Marathon Muscle: How Cardio Acceleration can aid your performance

cardio acceleration

I’m 2 days away from running a 13.1 mile race for the first time.  My heart is starting to race just thinking about it.  Part nerves and part excitement.  I have that butterflies feeling that it is similar to the moment you realize you really like the person that you’re dating, or when your favorite sports team is playing in a major final.  It’s scary and joyous all at the same time.

Thankfully, my preparation is nearly complete.  My increase in run distance is done, having completed a dummy 13.1 mile run last week.  My gym sessions are now done as I give my body a few days to recover.  All that is left now is 2 days of carb-loading, picking up my running pack and visualizing success.

Cardio Acceleration in Action

cardio acceleration

Cardio acceleration is a form of cardio training that is incorporated into resistance work.  A form of High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), it replaces rest periods between sets of with 60 seconds of activity.  For example, after performing a set of dumbbell presses, you’ll 60 seconds of running on the spot before going straight into the second set.  Ultimately, if you are at the gym for an hour, you are working for an hour.  Just what I have needed in preparing for 2 hours of running.

My final gym session last week was a killer.  I was blowing out of my arse after every set of cardio acceleration.  I have remained consistent with running in place, shadow boxing and bench step ups as my go to activities in between lifting.  Using the treadmill for 60 seconds at a time is not practical!  Some could make it work in quiet gyms, but starting up a machine every set would send me insane…

My goal for the race is to increase the speed gradually until the last 3 miles.  There I will look for a ‘kick’ to power through until the end in 22-23 minutes.  My need to being able to consume vast amounts of oxygen will be very high.  HIIT is a proven method of increasing one’s VO2 max (study).  I have noticed with every run I have been performing, whether 3, 5 or 13 miles, that my ability to recover has been fast.  2-3 minutes and I feel as though my heartbeat and breathing rate is back to it’s resting state.  That’s a big improvement from when I started this, spending 10-15 minutes lying on the floor looking up at the ceiling post-run.

Continuous PB’s

cardio acceleration

For the majority of my training, my average time had remained consistent, despite the increase in distance.  By the time I hit 11.5 miles, I was running at 8:07 mins a mile. Unfortunately my 13 mile dummy run saw me hit a wall after 7 miles.  I think this was due to a combination of not feeling well and not being hydrated enough.  I’m grateful that this happened before the race.  My preparation as far as hydration is concerned will be immaculate, combining regular water with electrolyte water.

There is no doubt in my mind that cardio acceleration has had a huge role to play in my performance.  The combination of both steady-state cardio and HIIT has been proven to improve aerobic capability (study).  The mental benefits cannot be disregarded either.  Standing at the start line, I will be safe in the knowledge that I have been able to exercise consistently for 80 minutes, in a high intensity capacity.  Having that confidence will help settle the nerves.

Thanks to a recommendation from a someone I know, I took a Gu Energy Gel at the half way mark.  Containing over 1000mg of Amino Acids to aid with muscle repair mid-run and 30mg caffeine that provides an energy boost, the Roctane variety is suited for endurance.  I felt my eyes and mind become more focused, allowing to me power through miles 7-10 at a time when I had to argue with myself to keep going.  Seriously, loud self talk has become a key part of my distance runs.  People cycling past have looked at me with a little bit of worry when I’ve been shouting “come on you f*****!”

Gu Energy Gels come in a number of flavors, though if you have a weak stomach, be wary.  The caffeine can cause some discomfort.

Muscle Building Drop Sets

Drop sets hurt.  Mentally, they force you to ignore the screams of anguish that your muscles are giving, as you fight past failure.  They give a deep hurt, a big pump and a satisfactory feeling that you have pushed yourself as far as you can go.  They have also been proven to increase muscular growth when combined with lower intensity resistance work, such as the higher weight strength training I have incorporated (study, study).  Combined with cardio acceleration, this has been a fat shredding, muscle stimulating 14 weeks.


The theory of not being able to build muscle while training for an endurance event is nonsense.  Is it hard as a skinny fella?  100%.  But then, building muscle is difficult irrespective.  With a well thought-out workout plan, correct nutrition and sensible cardio, anything is possible.

Until Thursday…

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