Paul Drumm is back, this time with some handy hints and tips for those thinking about setting out on their first ever marathon training program…
The Finish straight. The crowd three or four deep cheering and clapping, tired but delighted you push on through the pain down the last 365 yards. Sound familiar? If you are training for your first marathon that’s the image that is possibly keeping you going through all those early morning and late evenings of training. And if you’re an experienced runner then it’s the drug that keeps you coming back. Competing in and covering that Marathon distance you registered for is a personnel triumph when you cross the finish line but there is more just to the preparation than just training. Any runner, new or experienced can always use some extra training tips to make sure they are ready for the big race and to complete the marathon safely. DON’T FORGET WE ARE NOT INVINCIBLE.
Tip 1 – Training; be the tortoise before the hare
You won’t train for a marathon without doing lots (and lots!) of running and many runners swear that stretching before they run helps keep them loose and injury free. And you won’t be able to build that all important base if you are injured. In my opinion you should not attempt speed work unless you are relatively experienced (how experienced depends on the person). If you are new to running you are better off starting running easy and don’t overdo it as those muscles you are abusing simply aren’t used to it and they can get damaged (‘Pulled’). As a novice runner you will gain huge speed gains simply from the increased aerobic capacity and fitness and when you begin to plateau then you can slowly introduce speedwork. Starting off able to cover a shorter distance and work it up only then are you ready for bigger things. The key to training is to get the mileage covered first before you try anything too dramatic.
Tip 2 – Mileage
The major focus of your training for a marathon is the long run. It is generally recognised that most experienced runners should aim for three to five runs of twenty miles plus in training. This is key – it helps the body to improve its fuel burning efficiency and to lengthen the time you can run on stored glycogen. Runners need carbohydrates and when these run low your body moves on to burning fat which is significantly tougher. Practice your refuelling on your long runs and this will be to your advantage on the day of the race. Long runs also strengthen your body, toughening connective tissue to enable your joints to withstand 26 miles of road running. And the mental strength gained from slogging out tough 20 milers will stand to you in the closing stages of the race.
Now, newer training methods suggest that the long run is not as important as traditionally believed. There is something to this, if you would are “only” running 40 miles per week a 20 mile long run would be 50% of your weekly mileage; this is vastly disproportionate and so then that long run becomes incredibly tough on the body. When you are on low weekly mileage you may in fact be better off not doing the usual long runs of 20 miles, but to make them slightly shorter, e.g. 16 miles. But that would then mean that you would have to do more middle-long runs, and/or higher intensity long runs to make up for this. The best advice I can give is to search for a reputable training plan and follow it and of course if you are a member of a running club don’t be afraid to ask for advice.
Tip 3 – Performance
Most good programs will include a second, mid-week mid length run and your marathon performance will benefit tremendously from this. Your body needs to build up that exposure to running longer so try to fit in as many runs over 90 minutes as you can handle and can fit in. Training runs over 90 minutes will help your body make the physiological changes to work efficiently but without the tough strains of an 18 or 20 mile effort.
Tip 4 – Taper
Final preparation for race day is all about the taper; winding down the mileage in the weeks before the race to make sure you reach the start line fresh and ready to go. Training for a marathon is physically intense and makes you very tired – mentally as well as physically. Cut back your heavy training in the few weeks before the Marathon and make sure you last properly long run is at least three weeks before the race. Again following a proper training schedule will ensure you taper down properly. I recommend you always make sure you stretch down after each training session, and run the palms of your hands down the calf muscles in a light rub down to increase circulation.
Your main marathon training is done in the 1 – 6 months prior to race day. So do not try to increase your mileage at the last minute in the weeks before the marathon. It may give you some extra confidence that you have done what you needed to do in training, but in fact it will back-fire because you will simply be tired when you do your race and run the risk of a strain that you won’t have time to recover from.
Tip 5 – Meals
Getting the nutrition right on the day can be the difference between a long, horrible slog and running a race you will enjoy. We all differ but it is recommended that during your training you use the long runs to work out what food suits you; try different gels and the sports drinks that will be available on the day. Always remember as well that during the marathon there will be ample water points on race day, again get the right amount of fluids into your system as dehydration can come on very quickly. Don’t overdrink though!
Tip 6 – Sleep
Sleep is vital before the marathon but being human our minds can race ahead of us. The best advice on this is to get at least two nights good sleep; a proper early night 48 hours before the race will stand to you as most of us will toss and turn the night before the race itself. Simply go to bed early sink in to the mattress, take easy deep breaths in and exhale slowly eyes closed. Clear your mind of the race day. If you have any tasks, appointments, bills ect get to them well in advance and leave at least two days free of all worries before marathon.
Paul Drumm is Managing Director of www.sportspain.info K-Active Sports Injuries Tape.