Mario Fraioli: Marathon Training Tips & Injury Prevention
Photography by John Jefferson
Mario Fraioli is a senior editor at Competitor magazine. A cross-country All-American at Stonehill College, he coaches both elite and age-group runners and was the men’s marathon coach for Costa Rica at the 2012 Olympics. His first book, The Official Rock ‘n’ Roll Guide To Marathon & Half-Marathon Training (VeloPress, 2013) is available in bookstores, running shops and online.
You are the senior editor for Competitor Magazine what drew you into the sport of marathon running and inspired you to share your knowledge?
I have been working at Competitor since 2010, but I started running and racing in High School, which was in 1997. I began writing about the sport—and coaching—after graduating from college in 2004. Throughout my own competitive career I’ve been fortunate to work with many great coaches, whose influence inspired me to help other runners achieve their own competitive goals. I’ve always been interested in training theory and sharing knowledge is something that has always come naturally to me.
Marathon running is known to have a high requirement of volume in training and the event itself, which can be quite a physical total on the body, how do you approach giving athletes advice about recovery strategies after training and competition?
No doubt about it: racing a marathon, and the months of training that go into it, poses a huge physical, and emotional, toll on an athlete. Recovery pre and post-race are of the utmost importance.
Regardless of your specific approach to training or your overall workload, it’s important to look at recovery on both the micro and macro levels. With my own athletes, we discuss what recovery looks like after a race or key workout, throughout the course of a given training week and also during an entire training cycle or season.
We build in recovery days, strategies and even blocks so that the athlete can physically and emotionally recharge from the demands of training and racing. I don’t believe athletes over-train so much as they under-recover.
During your competing days as an athlete in college you had your fair share of injures, how did you deal with the setbacks that injury brings with it? Given these experiences you had through injury did it change your strategies toward the sport and training? If so what were the key changes you made?
Actually, I was fairly resilient and injury-free in college and I attribute that to the fact that I did all the things you’re supposed to do in order to stay healthy. I was smart about gradually increasing my training load over the course of my four years as a student-athlete; I ran on a variety of surfaces, but mostly on soft trails whenever opportunity allowed; I strength-trained regularly for overall body balance; I ate a balanced diet; and I slept 8-10 hours a night religiously.
It was when I stopped doing these things after college that a lot of my injury issues started. If anything, getting injured was a good reminder not to neglect them! Today, I notice a big difference in how my body feels (and how well I’m training and racing) when I’m not forcing my training, running mostly on trails, doing my strength-training exercises, eating well, and most importantly, getting enough sleep at night.
I see this in my athletes as well—when an injury arises, we try to peel back the layers and see what behaviors might be contributing to it, and, in addition to treating the injury, we work on correcting those affecting behaviors to prevent future occurrences.
How did your experience as an athlete shape your coaching career? Do you feel that this has given you an advantage?
Absolutely. My own experience as an athlete has had a huge effect on my coaching career and has provided me invaluable firsthand experience. A textbook can only help you so much as a coach. Having an intimate understanding of the many unique situations an athlete might face in training or competition—and how to deal with those scenarios—has been huge for me. From prepping someone to stay calm amid the pressures of a national championship environment, working through a training slump, or trying to hit a qualifying time for a championship track meet or the Boston Marathon, my experience has been a useful asset.