26.3 miles is a long way, but preparation can be a marathon in itself. What no one tells you when you sign up for a marathon is that the word “marathon” isn’t just a description of the endurance race you are going to run - In truth, the marathon journey is a lot longer than that and it involves a lot more than just running.
Training for the marathon should be a positive and enjoyable experience, however for many runners, both new and experienced; there are many pitfalls that lie along the way. Inadequate training plans or consistently plagued by injury to name but a few. Below are some small pieces of advice for any of you runners out there to help you get to the start line, and over the finish line in style.
- Body Preparation – the first step is always the hardest
You wouldn’t be a marathon runner if you weren’t full of excuses. We think nothing of signing up for a ridiculous endurance race, only to be put off training by the dark nights and miserable weather. If you feel that the running volume is too much initially then it is easy to supplement your training with gym based work. For example whilst doing low mileage in the early stages of your training programme, complement this with 4 weeks in the gym. This is making you stronger as a runner, using medicine balls, resistance bands, and kettlebells to work on running specific areas and weaknesses. The weekly running volume can be less alongside this training allowing you to build up your body’s resilience and fortitude, so that when the miles per week begin to increase you start to see maximum benefit and a reduced risk of injury
- Maintaining your running form
Most of us know this is easier said than done once fatigue kicks in! There is no hiding from bad form, whether amateur or professional, especially towards the back end of races, however it is so important to practise your running form throughout your training as the miles steadily increase. The aim is to see less deterioration in technique as the fatigue kicks in, as you are able to hold your good form for longer
- Junk miles
Most runners have heard of this phrase, not all of us know what it actually means. Every time you go out for a run, whether it is an easy run, a long run, a tempo run – you should know why you are running that specific session. Having session structure adds value and purpose to your sessions, and most importantly allows you to train as efficiently as you should
- Stick to your plan
In an ideal world we would all have plenty of spare time to execute our training plans down to the last mile. However what happens if your work schedule changes or you are ill for two weeks? The best way to look at it is break it down into weekly blocks, and prioritise the key sessions of the week. Obviously your long run is going to be of most significance each week, we need to help our body adjust to the impact of road running and allow it to build aerobic endurance capacity during these sessions. It is also important to progress the length of these long runs as the programme moves along, so skipping on or two of your long runs can be detrimental to your training and increases the risk of injury. If you miss a tempo run or an easy run, DO NOT PANIC, and do not play catch up. Get through that weekly block and then make sure you hit the ground running at the start of the next week.
Just a quick note on injuries. If it feels like a niggle then it probably is, and the worst thing you can do is run through the pain just to get the miles in for that session. I would suggest getting some immediate advice from a rehab specialist or physio. They will be able to guide you back into your running programme, giving your shorter runs to build up training frequency to begin with. Be patient not to increase the volume too quickly as this may end in disaster and recurrence of the same injury
- Simple guide to gel strategy
Nutrition strategy during a marathon is extremely important to avoid 'Hitting the wall'. Try different gels during your training runs to see which sit best with you and take a look at the guide below for help on timings. Essentially, what works on training runs will work on the day.
- Race Pace
Everybody has a target time, and race pace is essentially the average pace required to hit per mile over the 26.2 miles. So if your goal is to run just under a 4 hour marathon, your race pace would need to be 9 minutes per mile average. For the most part during your training, your long runs will be completed slowly than this pace, however it is important to incorporate regular sessions at the race pace so that you are confident that you can hit those times per mile come race day. Pacing is a difficult skill to master and needs lots of pre marathon practise!
Recovery is paramount to keeping on top of your training programme and squashing any of those injury signs. It is only when we rest that the body gets the opportunity to adapt both physically and physiologically to the training volume and loads. Without the correct recovery via sleep, hydration and nutrition you won’t see the improved fitness levels that you could be seeing and you could end up injuring yourself
Finding a balance is key. Running produces high load and impact levels on the body, so finding what works best for you individually is very important. Many athletes supplement running with some off feet conditioning work through cycling or swimming. The most important thing is to listen to your body, give it time to adapt to the high training loads and ever increasing mileage.