The days are getting longer and the sun has well and truly reappeared. For a marathon runner all this can mean only one thing: your race date is almost upon you.
If all is going well, you’ll be perfectly happy with your training. If all is going less than well, you could be berating yourself for not having stuck to your routine, or cursing that cold or injury that set your training back. You may be thinking that you won’t achieve that PB or – much worse – even finish your first marathon. But that need not be the case at all.
The marathon-training journey is a roller coaster ride, physically and emotionally. There are good days and bad days, great runs and terrible runs. The 16-week build-up was never going to be plain sailing all the time, so you should pause and consider the following: you still have time, you are by no means alone and, best of all, I’m about to tell you what you need to do to reach the start line in strong mental and physical shape.
THE ROUTE TO SUCCESS
1. Focus on what you have achieved rather than what you haven’t. Despite the illnesses, niggling injuries and work demands, you have been training; those miles and that fitness are still in your system. Rather than staring at the boxes in your schedule that you haven’t completed, look at those you have ticked off. You’ll feel better. Concentrate on the positive – a happy runner is a successful runner.
2. Work out the number of weeks you have left and decide how many long runs you can still achieve in that time. You may have to make some compromises – you could reduce your taper period from three weeks to two, for example – but you should do your longest long run three to four weeks before race day, no later than that. You should not try to run your whole long run, or all our other weekly runs, at race pace. It simply isn’t sustainable and you’ll exhaust yourself.
3. During these weeks, try to find the occasional half marathon, where you can run at your marathon pace and add some running at the end of the race (30 to 60 minutes at an easy pace, for example). This is not only a fabulous workout but also it will boost your confidence levels.
4. Don’t suddenly double your mileage or extend your long runs – this sort of cramming won’t do you any good. Continue to follow the rule for long runs – building by ten to 15 minutes each week or to catch up with “time on feet”, then simply add blocks of walking within your long run, so you cover the distance without risking injury by running too long, too soon.
5. Maximise your midweek moments: training is not all about the long run. Threshold- running sessions during the week, along with blocks of marathon-pace work, are crucial to building the fitness you’ll need to be able to sustain your planned race pace for 26.2 miles on the big day.
6. Always consider adding a second semi-long run (75 to 90 minutes), including blocks of marathon-pace running. This kind of running will greatly improve your endurance.
7. If you have missed too much training and you can’t sustain your original marathon pace when you practise it in blocks, you may simply have
to change your target time. There is nothing wrong with this; there will be plenty of other races. Either running slower to consolidate a previous marathon time or walk/running the whole event is allowed. Remember, it’s supposed to be a fun day for you.
8. Consider adding impact- free aerobic cross training to your week. It will boost your cardiovascular fitness without the risk of injury. Your heart won’t know the difference: all it knows is that it’s getting a workout. Try cycling, swimming or aqua jogging, or, if you’re a member of a gym, using a cross-trainer or rower. These exercises will build fitness and they’re a great mental break from running.
9. Book in a few sports massages to make sure you recover from the long runs and hard training sessions. Good recovery means you will get the most from every run.
10. Become a little selfish: maximise your rest by going to bed early whenever you can, and focus on good nutrition to boost your energy levels. You will get greater benefit from your sessions and you will also limit illness and injury.
11. Enjoy the journey. The training is meant to be part of the fun and only you can make this so. Good luck!
HOW DO I KNOW IF I’M READY?
In the last four to six weeks before your marathon, find a half marathon you can run at marathon pace. You should work reasonably hard but feel you could carry on at the end of the event. With three or four weeks to go, you should be able to run for three hours, with the last hour at marathon pace. If you can’t manage this, it’s time to adjust your marathon target time. As a guideline, you are in good shape for your race if you have completed six to nine long runs (between two and three hours), with some of those races containing blocks at marathon pace. If you are simply looking to finish, then you ought to have completed four to five runs that lasted more than two hours, with one or two closer to three hours. This should be enough to get you round on race day if you are very conservative with your pace. You may even decide to walk some sections of the race and simply enjoy the day without feeling the pressure of a target time. Whatever you choose, just go for it.
Words by Phoebe Thomas