Jared Running London Landscape

The Virgin Money opened its ballot today for the 37th London Marathon. Like hundreds of thousands of others, I submitted my application. However, only 50,000 runners are accepted each year, with the knowledge that around 40,000 will actually line up. Of this 50k, a certain percentage will be charity runners, securing a place through gold or silver bond charities, some will be deferrals from the previous year, and some will be Championship (elite), Good For Age or competition/media places. With a record 247,069 people entering the ballot last year, and so few (comparatively) places allocated to ballot entrants, it’s worth looking at those alternative means of entry.

The Elusive Championship (Elite) Marathon Qualifier

Most people who run their first marathon aim to “just get round”. You might set yourself a secondary goal of a certain time, and you might even hit that goal first time. I know when I ran Brighton Marathon back in 2012, I set myself a challenging, but realistic, goal of getting in under 4 hours. Unfortunately I missed out by 7 minutes. Even though I said I’d never do another marathon, the bug took hold and I started thinking about whether I could do it all again to get my goal.

Some may aim for milestone times, like 4 hours. Others for named goals, like Good For Age (GFA) or a Boston Qualifier (BQ). Jared, who runs for my local running club, Harlow Running Club, on the other hand, always has his sights set higher. A Championship place, a.k.a. the elite. So just what does it take to run a Championship, or elite, London Marathon qualifier*? I caught up with him after the race to find out.

Jared London FInish

Jared after his Championship qualifying run. His nipples suffered after two marathons in a row!

You just ran an elite qualifying time at the London Marathon, what was your race experience like?

My experience running London always has left me feeling like I have achieved something great. This is because it’s the biggest and the best marathon for me. I have run it for seven consecutive years and each one has its own story. My best was my first by far! But Sunday was amazing after completing Brighton [Jared ran Brighton just a week before, finishing 15th in 2:45:36]. It’s the challenge for me.

You ran Brighton before London, was London your goal race? Was it always the plan to race the marathon distance as part of your training for London?

I wanted to test my limits and after entering both I realised that I would need to “choose” which one to race. Surely I can’t race them both with little rest in between? Well, that’s what my tactic was in the end. I recover quickly from physical activity and I wanted to race BOTH. So I did! And because I’ve been able to maintain a high level of exercise I don’t worry or stress too much. Consistency is the key and if you look at my marathon times, particularly London, they are all consistently under 3hrs.

Jared Brighton Finish

Jared’s 2016 Brighton Marathon finish. He came 15th.

What was your training plan for this marathon? How has it differed from previous marathon plans you’ve followed?

Due to the nature of my work being a personal trainer, I fit in “my training” with clients. I join in with them at classes, PT sessions and find it helps motivate them to challenge themselves. I do follow a strict training plan which does mean I do very early morning runs and also late night strength conditioning sessions. Training with someone quicker than you to keep up is the challenge and most people shy away from it.

You’re a personal trainer and run fitness classes, how do you supplement your running training?

My PT sessions and classes are in addition to my running and I find it helps keep me strong and also reduce any risk of injury. It also gives me a opportunity to strengthen in other areas that are key to a successful marathon.

Jared Running London Portrait

Mid-race… no time to smile for the camera!

How do you fuel your body for the amount of activity you do? Do you feel as though your nutrition strategy was important to your race plan and how it went on the day?

I eat three meals a day and snack on fruit and nuts between meals. I also drink plenty of water. I train my body glycogen depleted to become more efficient, particularly early morning running. I consume fewer carbs towards end of the week so I don’t feel too heavy. My body is also very efficient at using body fat as a source of energy. I do not have protein shakes and have never used them.

How many marathons have you done? When was your first race at the marathon distance and how did that go?

I’m not sure on exactly how many, but could be 30 something. My medals are in a shoe box in the cupboard! My first was London in 2010 for St Clare’s Hospice. I raised loads of money for them with my wife who also completed it and then I proposed at Trafalgar Square. We’ve been married for five years this year! I’ve also raced marathons abroad. My PB is 2.41 at Nice, the Cannes Marathon in 2015.

Jared and Susie London Proposal

Jared and his now-wife Susie, just after he proposed!

Have you always been a natural runner, or do you feel it’s something you’ve really had to work for?

I have always enjoyed running. I ran from school years and played football up until my mid 20s. I really enjoy competitive racing events, that’s why I always try to be better than previous races/years.

What would be your one biggest tip for someone aiming an elite qualifying time?

Come and train with JB FITNESS; I know what it takes to achieve the elite qualification time!

Final Thoughts

You may be excused for thinking that elite times come easy for Jared, having always been into running, but there’s no denying that running a consistent 6:17 minute/mile is no mean feat. Jared trains hard, putting aside the time around his personal training business in often unsociable hours to fit in his run training. Whether you’re aiming for a Good For Age time, or a Championship place, the target is there… you’ve just got to work for it!

Have you ever run a Good For Age or Championship time? What are your top tips for racing this fast? Have you entered the London Marathon ballot? Comment below!

* Championship entry for the Virgin Money London Marathon is currently a sub 2:45 marathon, or sub 1:15 half marathon, for men; sub 3:15 marathon, or sub 1:30 half marathon, for women.

 

P1170737

With the Virgin London Marathon just a couple of weeks away I thought now would be a good time to share with you my top tips for marathon recovery. Hopefully you’ve already learned some tricks for recovering from a long run along with your training but, for me, nothing compared to that post-marathon feeling so having a few extra ideas now might come in handy!

Post Marathon Recovery Tips

Brighton Marathon for the Stroke Association

Immediately Post-Race

Congratulate yourself – regardless of how the race went, you should feel very proud of yourself. You have just done what billions of people across the world will never do. Well done!

Slow to a walk – don’t just stop moving altogether, as tempting as this may be! You’ve just run 26.2 miles, and your body is probably going to hate you for it! But keeping on moving (for around 10-15 mins) will help prevent post-race collapse, as well as short term recovery of your muscles. If you really want to, then have a gentle stretch. Personally, I found stretching a bit too much for me after the marathon, so stuck to loosening my muscles off by gentle walking – your muscle fibres will already be damaged so you want to be easy on them!

Rehydrate – your body will likely have lost a lot of fluid during the marathon and it’s important to start replacing this soon after finishing. I’m not saying guzzle litres of water, but sip. You will probably be handed a cup or bottle of water – accept it graciously, you’ll need it. I personally went on the hunt for a recovery drink, like Lucozade Sport, as I felt I needed the sugar. The carbohydrate will help to replenish your drained muscle stores, and the electrolytes will be useful for preventing cramp too.

Sit down – ok, now you can sit down! By now your body should have come back down to its steady state and you can let it do what it’s telling you it wants to do – whether this is sitting or laying, find a place and do it, preferably somewhere with shade. Stay with friends if possible, just in case you’ve sat down too soon and your blood pressure drops.

P1220843

30-60 Minutes Post-Race

Refuel – within an hour or so of finishing you’ll probably want to start getting some food into you. If you have a charity area to go to then they will likely have snacks available. Eat whatever takes your fancy – some people struggle to feel hungry after a hard run, so if there’s only one thing you think you can stomach then find it and have it. Or you may find yourself the opposite and grabbing any food in sight – that’s fine! Have a decent sized snack at this point, and again in another hour or so.

Recovery massage – this is another benefit of the charity areas, there are often groups of volunteers providing post-race massage, but there may also be a tent near the finish line for non-charity runners to get a massage too. This can be really soothing after a race, and is thought to help kick-start the recovery process. The massage you’ll get at this stage is just a gentle rubdown, but if your massage therapist does get a little too vigorous be sure to tell them and they should ease off. If it still hurts, you may have to ask them to stop.

Get changed – if you can, just putting on some fresh clothes (even if you can’t have a shower yet) can make you feel more human. I put on a comfy pair of jeans and a long sleeved t-shirt after my marathon and it made me feel a million times better. The biggest difference though, is changing your shoes. My feet ached like mad for the last couple of miles of my race, and putting on a pair of Converse felt like heaven. I recently acquired a pair of Oofos Original Thong*, and I swear, if I was to run a marathon again I’d go for these! They support your foot into a really stretched out position to aid recovery and are super-comfy.

P4122205.1

3-4 Hours Post-Race

Eat… again – (see my priorities here??) by now you should be aiming to have a full meal. High carbohydrate meals are still best to try and help your body recover, as well as protein for muscle repair. Realistically, anything goes – if you want a hamburger and chips, have it. All I wanted after my marathon was a pizza, and I finally got my wish around 5 hours after finishing… followed by an ice cream sundae!

Wear compression tights (and/or socks) – I wore compression tights to bed the night after my marathon! Compression tights help to reduce the chances of cramp and can help to reduce recovery time, as well as reducing the amount of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) you experience. The evidence is mostly inconclusive, but it won’t hurt to wear them and if they do help, then all the better! These JAGGAD ones from Active in Style are lush, though full length may be better for muscle recovery.

P1241047

5-7 Hours Post-Race

Have a bath – I was lucky to have a bath ready and waiting for me when I got home from the race, complete with a glass of bubbly (he did good!). Some people swear by ice baths immediately after a long run, but for me they were never worth it! I just love a hot bath a few hours later. Try Epsom salts, which are supposed to help reduce inflammation and also help your muscles recover by restoring electrolyte levels. These ones from Westlab (available from Boots*) also contain essential oils for a spa feel and relaxing scent.

Sleep! – As your body cycles through the stages of sleep, hormones are released that stimulate tissue growth and muscle repair. Sure, stay up celebrating as long as you like, but soon enough your body will naturally want to sleep so let it. You will allow the healing and recovery process to really kick off at this stage, and that’s only going to help you get back to your routine sooner.

P1170737

Final Thoughts

So those are my top tips for post-marathon recovery. Ultimately, everyone is different, so what works for some people might not work for others – there is no right or wrong way to recover. The most important thing is to keep safe, stick with friends and family and enjoy your achievement!

Do you have anything to add? Comment below!

Photos taken using my Olympus PEN E-PL7* and M.ZUIKO DIGITAL 45mm 1:1.8 Lens*

Disclaimer: I received my Oofos sandals and Westlab bath salts for free. As always, my opinion is my own and not affected by items gifted to me. * Affiliate link. Affiliate links do not affect the price that you pay, but any commission earned helps me to pay the costs of running this site. To find out more about my policy on these and other matters, see my Disclosure page.

Finish Line Featured

Finish LineSo this is it… the final part of Spring into a Marathon. I hope you’ve found it helpful – please do leave a comment if you have, or even if you haven’t! I’d love to know what was useful and what was not-so useful.

Although this part of the feature is all about what to do after you’ve finished your marathon, I wanted to publish it before, as I know what a whirlwind it can be in the hours and days following you completing potentially one of the biggest races of your life.

And here it is, your guide to how to recover after the marathon – this starts the minute you cross the line:

First of all… Congratulate Yourself!

Regardless of whether you had a great race, or it didn’t quite go to plan, you should feel very proud of yourself. The biggest mistake you can make after finishing your marathon is getting hung up over the minute details. You have just done what billions of people across the world will never do. Well done!

Finisher

If your target was to finish, or to break 3 hours – either way you have made a huge achievement. Pat yourself on the back and soak in the glory!

Keep Moving

I’ve already mentioned in the previous post the importance of keeping moving, so I won’t repeat myself, but you need to keep your body going for just a little while longer to allow it to settle down from the exertion it’s just been through. You might feel like a zombie, but do it – keep moving! You will help prevent post-race collapse, and you will help short term recovery of your muscles by have a gentle walk for around 10-20 minutes.

Rehydrate

Your body will have lost a lot of fluid during the marathon and it’s important to start replacing this soon after finishing. I’m not saying guzzle litres of water, but sip at fluids. You will probably be handed a cup or bottle of water and accept it graciously – you’ll need it. You might also want to find a recovery drink or juice to sip on to begin replacing your muscles’ glycogen stores.

Sit Down

Ok, so now you can sit down! By now your body should have come back down to its steady state and you can let it do what it’s telling you it wants to do – whether this is sitting or laying, find a place and do it, preferably somewhere with shade. Stay with friends if possible, just in case you have sat down too soon and your blood pressure drops.

Refuel

Within an hour or so of finishing you’ll want to start getting some food into you. If you have a charity area to go to then they will probably have snacks available. Eat whatever takes your fancy – some people struggle to feel hungry after a hard run, so if there’s only one thing you think you can stomach then find it and have it. Or you may find yourself the opposite and grabbing any food in sight – that’s fine! Have a descent sized snack at this point, and again in another hour or so.

Around 3-4 hours after finishing you should be aiming to have a full meal. High carbohydrate meals are still best to try and help your body recover, as well as protein for muscle repair. Realistically, anything goes – if you want a hamburger and chips, have it. All I wanted after my marathon was a pizza, and I finally got my wish around 5 hours after finishing… followed by an ice cream sundae!

Recovery Massage

This is another benefit of the charity areas, there are often groups of volunteers providing post-race massage, but there may also be a tent near the finish line for non-charity runners to be able to get a massage too. This can be really soothing after a race, and is thought to help kick start the recovery process. The massage you’ll get at this stage is just a gentle rubdown, but if your massage therapist does get a little too vigorous be sure to tell them and they should ease off. If it still hurts, then you may have to ask them to stop.

Sports massage

You might also want to consider booking in to see your local sports or massage therapist a couple of days to a week after the race too.

Other Recovery Techniques

Some swear by ice baths, others epsom salts or compression clothing. In reality, there is limited research to support any one technique being more favourable than the standard rest, stretching and massage. Having said this, if you’ve used ice baths in the past there’s no harm in doing so again after your race, likewise with any other recovery technique you usually find works for you.

For stretching keep to a gentle ease of the muscles, rather than a full stretch held for a long time, to prevent any unwanted strain on the already damaged muscle fibres.

Sleep!

As your body cycles through the stages of sleep, hormones are released that stimulate tissue growth and muscle repair. Sure, stay up celebrating as long as you like, but soon enough your body will naturally want to sleep so let it. You will allow the healing and recovery process to really kick off at this stage, and that’s only going to help you get back to your routine sooner.

Returning to Training

You may have heard people saying “rest one day for each mile of your race”, which if you’re good at maths is 26 days of rest. Now this isn’t strictly true – you don’t need 26 days of full rest. Ideally, you shouldn’t run at all for 3-4 days following the race, but after that there’s no harm in going out for a short, gentle jog. This doesn’t mean enter a 5k race, or do a hill session! Keep it light for at least your first week’s activity following your rest days. The second week you could begin to add some faster sessions, but still nothing hard. By the third week, you may be able to pick up to almost pre-race training levels. But listen to your body; if you feel excessively tired, achy, or start picking up sniffles then ease off.

You may find that your marathon training can carry other racing benefits; a lot of runners achieve other personal best times in the months following their marathon race. Try a 10k around 4-5 weeks after your marathon – you may be surprised how well the fitness translates to this shorter distance. This can also help with post-marathon blues…

Post-Marathon Blues

For four months, or more, you have worked your bum off aiming for this one goal and now it’s over. You’ve crossed the finish line, hung up your medal and bragged about your achievement and now you’re back to reality, back to pre-marathon training life. This can hit some people hard as they ask themselves “what now?”. Even if you’ve had a good race you can feel lost without another target.

This target doesn’t have to be running related, or even fitness related. But it needs to be something. Whether it’s to learn a new skill, choose another race, or finish that book you’ve been meaning to read.

You may vow never to run again… I’d love to see you try!

Thanks again for reading this Spring into a Marathon series, I hope the posts have been helpful and inspiring. Keep checking in at fitcetera.co.uk for more health and fitness chatter.

Further Reading

  1. Higdon, H., 2011. Marathon The Ultimate Training Guide. New York, Rodale Inc. Pages 259-270.

Credits

CC Image “Finish Line” courtesy of RVWithTito on Flickr.

CC Image “Finish Line at the Portland Marathon ’09” courtesy of Lululemon Athletica on Flickr.

CC Image “Massage after a long day” courtesy of Crimestoppers on Flickr.

325

325Race day prep… not to be underestimated. The things you do in these last days and hours can be the difference between a smooth-sailing journey from home to race line to finish line, or a last minute dash with your better half’s trainers (it’s happened before!).

For the low-down on how to prep, and what to do when the race start countdown finally comes, keep reading…

Rest, rest and more rest!

I can’t say it enough, as you may have gathered from the previous post! Don’t do anything too strenuous, this is the perfect excuse to make your partner do the housework! You need to conserve as much muscle glycogen as possible, and this isn’t going to be done by scrubbing the kitchen floors. Take it easy, and let your body prepare for the task ahead.

For the same reason, try not to spend too much time on your feet – if you have to go to an exposition to pick up your race number, don’t spend the whole day walking around the stalls. Take a seat where you can!

Sleep

The night before a marathon is not likely to be your best night’s sleep, but don’t fret – the shut-eye you get two nights before your marathon is more important. Try to get to bed early every night in your final week,and make sure you get a quality night’s sleep on the Friday night (if your marathon is on a Sunday). If you do struggle to nod off, don’t let it concern you – as long as you’re lying down you’ll be getting rest!

Tips for a restful night

Have a hot bath about an hour before bed: a lot of people think this is because we need to be warm to feel sleepy, but actually it’s to do with the drop in body temperature that occurs after a hot bath. Our circadian rhythm gives us a natural slight drop in body temperature at around 1pm, and then a more significant drop in the evening hours. A hot bath can help induce this drop in body temperature, making us feel more ready for bed.

Eat a small bedtime snack: complex carbohydrates are best with a small amount of protein and calcium. This will help induce serotonin release, calming the brain. Avoid sugary foods and other stimulants such as caffeine or alcohol. Having said that, if a glass of wine or a small beer is likely to relax you then have it earlier in the evening with your meal. Good foods to choose for your night-time snack are:

  • sliced banana and chopped dates
  • wholegrain bread with half an avocado
  • handful of peanuts or almonds and a glass of milk
  • a yoghurt and honey

Avoid large meals close to bedtime: going to bed with a full stomach can make it hard to sleep as your body works to digest the food. Also avoid spicy foods, like curry, late in the evening.

Don’t go to bed hungry: a rumbling stomach can also make it difficult to sleep! Choose a snack, like the ones above, to help satiate you and release those calming hormones.

Keep your sleeping environment comfortable: your bedroom should be fairly cool, quiet and dark to get the best night’s sleep. Anything that affects these elements and is in your control, you should try to change. Although most people find a quiet room is better, some people feel that calming music helps them sleep so try this if you like.

The Night Before

Evening Meal

You should be well practised in your pre-race evening meal if you’ve been reading the Spring into a Marathon series, if so stick with what you know, but if you haven’t then the following should be a safe bet:

Dinner 1 bowl pasta (80-90g dried weight)1 large serving vegetables1 chicken breast fillet2 slices bread and butter2-3 scoops vanilla ice-cream
Evening snack 2 slices of toast with honey1 yoghurt

As mentioned in the Sleep section above, avoid eating too late at night, and only eat to just fullness – you don’t need to be stuffed to be well fuelled!

Your Kit

You will make your morning 100 times less stressful if you prepare your kit the night before. Make a list of what you need to put on and take with you, here is my list from Brighton Marathon last year:

  • Running vest (with race number already pinned to it, contact details written on the back)
  • Running tights/shorts
  • Underwear
  • Trainers (with socks inside and timing chip attached) positioned next to each other – left and right the right way round!
  • Sunglasses/hat
  • Fuel belt (with energy gels, tabs etc. already in place)
  • Timing chip (if an ankle one)
  • Pacing band
  • Warmup kit (more about this below)
  • Race instructions/directions
  • Water
  • Pre-race snack
  • Change of clothes and comfy shoes
  • Post-race snack
  • Phone
  • Small amount of money
  • Sun protection
  • Plasters
  • Ibuprofen/paracetamol
  • Vaseline

This should be enough for almost all circumstances, but you may have other requirements to add to your list, for example if you’re staying overnight or flying.

Early Hours

Make sure you get up with plenty of time to get yourself ready, you need to plan to make and eat your breakfast, get dressed, brush your teeth and lots of other obvious things! But guaranteed they might not enter your mind when you plan what time to get up – prepare! Set your alarm, and perhaps even ask a friend (or your hotel) to give you a wake up call.

Eat your pre-race meal 3-4 hours before your race – you should know by now what works for you through all of your training so stick with that – often this is porridge and maybe a cup of tea or coffee. Caffeine can be a good bowel stimulant, so for those that worry about gastrointestinal distress a cup of tea or coffee in the morning can help you to go to the loo early in the morning. Delicate topic, but worth mentioning!

Getting to the Start Line

Each race is different, but make sure you allow time to get to the race starting area. You may want to meet up with friends and spectators, or your charity if you’re running for one, and you will want to leave time to have a small snack, hand your kit bag in and line up.

It is a good idea to keep a layer of clothing to keep you warm while you stand around and wait. If you are lucky enough to have a friend waiting with you at the start line (who’s not also racing!) then you can wear what you like and hand it to them when you start, but if not an old t-shirt or even a bin bag that you can discard once you’ve cleared the masses is a good alternative.

335

Most large races have designated start zones for each predicted finish time range. Keep an eye out for these well in advance.

Race Line Up

Positioning

You should already know where your start area is (if your race has split start zones) so make your way there and try to find yourself a good position where you don’t feel crowded and you can move around a bit.

You might want to stick to the sides so you can see your friends, but be careful of barriers used to line the course as they can have metal feet that stick out which you could trip up on.

To warm up or not to warm up?

Unless you’re an elite, it’s not really worth warming up, and you might not have a choice to anyway if your starting zone is tight! You could do a few strides (50m or so easy sprints) before you head to your zone, but in all honesty you would be safe treating the first mile or so of your race as a warm up. After all, you will be running for at least 2 hours!

Pacing

Often it is best to just aim for a steady, even pace in a marathon. You could try to go for a negative split (second half run faster than the first) but this can be risky as you begin to feel tired. It is almost always best just to start off at a pace that feels slow, take a checkpoint and adjust as necessary. It it so, so easy to get carried away with the crowd and a fast first mile could make you feel great and might feel easy, but it could start to wear on you as you continue with your race.

If you have a GPS watch, take the readings with a pinch of salt – they have been known to do weird things at marathons. For example at London there can be a few black spots where your watch won’t register you at all! It is ultimately a matter of personal preference, but a simple stopwatch and pace band may be your best bet. Having said that, I didn’t wear my GPS watch for my marathon and missed every minute of every mile! And if you’re like me, you’ll probably want to upload your data to whatever site you used and analyse it for hours after the race! If you want to wear it, wear it – but keep an eye on the mile markers for pacing as well.

The over-ruling factor here is RUN TO FEEL. If you feel awful, hold back, if you feel great – take a reality check! If you still feel great, maybe you can pick up the pace. If you’ve been practising your race pace in training it should feel natural, so go with it!

A Race of Two Halves

It has often been said that a marathon is “a race of two halves”… a 20 miler, and a 10k at the end. This is probably the best advice I was given when it comes to the actual race itself. You will probably feel absolutely fine, even good, up until around 20 miles. This is when the hard part comes. The final 10k is a test of your mental strength and sheer determination. You will probably hurt (there’s no point dancing around the subject!) and you may well feel like giving up – but you won’t give up! This is where you need to put your mental strategies into place. In Part 5 we talked about mantras, these can be great to keep you focused when things start to feel tough.

Other ways to keep mentally strong in the final 6.2 miles are:

  • Interact with the crowd: chances are you have your name on your race vest, if you do people will shout it out! And when they do, acknowledge them – even if it’s just a nod of the head or a wave of your hand – this very act will make you feel so much better… like a rock star! Ok, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but it does help!
  • Visualise finishing the race: imagine what it’s going to feel like crossing the finish line, how you will feel, what it will look like, what it will smell like, what you will see. Picture yourself running across it.
  • Think of your loved ones and supporters: when times get tough, it’s who we love that pull us through. Picture your husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend, mum, dad, son, daughter, friend, dog! Whoever it is that motivates you, think of them and picture them cheering you on right now.
  • Remember your cause: so many people run for charity these days – if you are raising in memory of someone, or to raise money for a particular cause, use this to draw on in these final miles. It will help spur you on.
  • Relaxation techniques: these can include focusing different parts of your body in turn and actively relaxing them. Start at your face muscles and work your way down – pulling silly faces is optional but may help! Another way to relax is to focus on your breathing pattern, in for a certain number of steps, and out for a certain number of steps.

Try as few or as many of these as you like – whatever works for you, do it!

Savour it

This might seem like an obvious thing to say, but this is YOUR race – enjoy it! Take it all in: the crowds, the landscape, the fellow runners, the different charities, the messages on people’s running vests. Absorb it and live for it. When I ran my first marathon a doom and gloom cloud came over me when I realised I was falling behind pace. For this reason, the second half of my race was like a complete blur. I lost sight of what was important and regret it to this day. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself and just run, jog, walk – whatever you do best!

The Finish Line

I’m not going to talk about sprint finishes as ultimately you’ll either have it in you or you won’t. Some people advise against it, saying you’re likely to injure yourself, but as long as you don’t pull up to quickly you should be able to increase pace gradually without injury. Do whatever feels right – just get over the line!

As you cross that all important finish line, try not to just stop dead. Slow to a jog, and then walk if you can. It can feel quite disorientating when you’ve finished a marathon, or any race for that matter! You end up being shuttled into a funnel of sorts, and people are coming up to you: putting medals over your head, wrapping you in tin foil, handing you bananas and bottles of water, cutting off your timing chip. Just go with the flow and follow the instructions of the marshalls… you’ll find your way out eventually!

Taking a slow, gentle walk of around a mile or so after you’ve finished can really help to flush your legs out and ease aches and pains you may have picked up along the way. It might even help to prevent the dreaded DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) the next day.

Brighton Marathon - Copy

Drink some water, have a snack – there’s a reason races hand out bananas after a race: they’re fantastic! If you begin to feel at all unwell, seek out the help of a marshall – they will get help if you need it. If your charity has an after party – go to it! You might be lucky enough to get a post-race massage, snacks and a warm welcome when you get there.

After you’ve finished, take the time to reflect on your achievement. You may just have a single fleeting moment before you meet up with your friends and family, if you have people watching you. Take it all in – YOU JUST RAN A MARATHON!

The final part of Spring into a Marathon will focus on recovery and how to ease yourself back in to training – don’t miss this last part of the series!

Further Reading

  1. Higdon, H., 2011. Marathon The Ultimate Training Guide. New York, Rodale Inc. Pages 178-229.

Spring into a Marathon Part 6

Image

Wow, we’re here already… the taper! How did that come round so quickly?

The hard work is done: you’ve run your longest run, you’ve had your highest mileage week. Now it’s time to bring it back down. Within this taper period there isn’t much more you can do to make yourself fitter, and in fact trying to cram in lost mileage in these final weeks will likely do more damage than good.

The Final Phase

Throughout this Spring into a Marathon series we have discussed the different phases of marathon training, and that won’t end with just the build phases – the Taper phase is equally as important to get right as the rest of them.

The purpose of tapering is to allow your body to continue repairing damaged or fatigued muscles, and to promote maximum glycogen storage in the muscles. If you go into a marathon with tired and achy limbs that haven’t had sufficient replenishment of energy stores you will likely burn out.

If you follow the guidelines in this post, and stick to your training plan’s taper schedule you should begin to feel less tired, healthier and stronger. Your immune system should return to its pre-peak training level, meaning a reduced likelihood of picking up an injury or a nasty cold. Not only that but you will really begin to allow the hard work you have already put in to training make its mark on your fitness.

How to Cut Back

If you’re following a training plan then you should already have a sufficient taper plan built into your schedule. You will likely see your weekly mileage drop by somewhere between 25-30% in the first week of taper, 50% in the second week of taper until you’re running next to nothing in the final week.

There are a couple of ways you can cut mileage in these taper weeks:

Cut Frequency

If you usually have a couple of easy days built into your schedule (typical of 5 day-a-week plans) then now’s the time to convert these to rest days. Instead of running a slow 3 miler, take a day off. But don’t use that as an excuse to do something else – put your feet up! Your body will be able to recover more fully from your remaining workouts and will thank you for it.

Cut Distance

If you’re following a 3 day-a-week plan, or really don’t want to cut the frequency of your training, you could just step the distance down. Your typical 8 mile training run should be dropped to around 6 miles with three weeks to go, then 4 miles, then 2. For speedwork sessions, cut out some of your repetitions, for example 10x400m would become 8x400m, then 6x400m, then 4x400m.

Maintain Speed

Although you are cutting the mileage of your workouts in this taper period, you should not be slacking on pace. You should try to run all of your sessions at, or close to, marathon pace. Any speedwork you do do should still be kept at the relevant pace for that repetition. You want to sharpen your training, not slack off!

Cross Training

If you’re a regular in the weights room, now is the time to put down the dumbbells. Any heavy lifting is certainly not recommended; if you’ve already been doing plenty of strength training then just choose lighter weights and perform fewer reps, but you should really avoid weights full stop in the final week before the marathon. If you don’t already regularly train in the gym – don’t start now!

Likewise, any supplementary cardio training, or fitness classes (including yoga) you may have been doing should be limited now. If you can’t ditch it completely, make sure you bring down the duration and the intensity. Light training is key here.

Final Week

Your last week of training should be minimal, with emphasis on just keeping your legs turning. Your plan may look like this (with a Sunday race as an example):

Monday: Rest

Tuesday: 4x400m

Wednesday: 2 miles steady

Thursday: Rest

Friday: Rest

Saturday: 2 miles easy

Sunday: Race day

As you can see, the week’s training is kept very light, with 3 full rest days. Your 4x400m would be run at a fast pace, your Wednesday 2 miles would be at or around marathon pace (this should feel fairly easy by now!). You may not have run on the day before a long run in your training plan before, and if you haven’t and don’t want to then don’t. But some people find that a quick leg-turner the day before the marathon flushes out their legs in order to loosen up and it also rids nervous energy.

During this week do not do anything strenuous, and that includes DIY, partying, long hikes etc. This can all be saved for after the marathon! Your priority now is resting your body in preparation for one final big push.

Nutrition

As you drop the mileage you should also take care with what you are eating. With an increased training level it’s likely you have had to take on extra calories in the form of snacks or treats in order to fuel your day, but with a drop in mileage of around 50% over the entire three week period, you could easily gain a lb or two of unwanted weight. This isn’t to say you should be restricting your diet, just be aware of not filling the extra time you’ve found yourself from not running with lots of snacking!

Cut back on junk food like fizzy drinks, sweets and cakes, and instead focus more on complex carbohydrates like potatoes, pasta, bread, fruit and veg, etc.

For marathon week, you should eat normally for the first few days, and then increase calorie intake slightly but with focus on a higher ratio of carbohydrate. For more information on carb loading, take a look at “Spring into a Marathon – Part 4“.

Taper Madness

You may have heard of, or already experienced the dreaded “Taper Madness”. This is essentially a psychological effect of reduced mileage, and the pressure of the big day mounting. Also, because some people find that running relaxes them or helps to de-stress, it can be quite difficult having to cut back mileage. As nervous energy builds, you may find yourself worrying about your level of fitness, your ability and also whether the rest taken in these final weeks is a waste of all your hard work.

Ultimately there is no cure or prevention of this mental state, but you can expect it might happen and know that it’s simply a result of nerves and surplus time to worry. Socialise with family and friends, get a light sports massage, read a good book, peruse a friendly and helpful health and fitness blog (cough cough, Fitcetera!). Don’t try to fill the time with cross-training, or an eating binge!

You ARE ready, believe in yourself and your training.

Race Day

As race day approaches there are plenty of key things to think about. Keep an eye out for Part 7 of Spring into a Marathon, where we will give you some tips on the final 24 hours before your race, along with a checklist of items to prepare for your race. But for now, enjoy this rest period!

Further Reading:

  1. Runner’s World, 2012. RW’s Ultimate Marathon: Monthly Theme [Online] Available at: http://runnersworld.co.uk/racing/rws-ultimate-marathon-monthly-theme/123.html [Accessed 1st January 2013]
  2. Higdon, H., 2011. Marathon The Ultimate Training Guide. New York, Rodale Inc. Pages 169-180.

Credits

CC Image “Warm Ups” courtesy of Terren in Virginia on Flickr.

Running Track

ImageIf you’re running the Virgin London Marathon it may well be dawning on you that you only have just over four weeks of training left. By now you should have completed two-three of the longest runs of your marathon plan and you should be mastering the trick of long run nutrition (see previous post “Spring into a Marathon – Part 4“) but you’re also probably pretty tired, and maybe even wondering if you’re on track.

If you’ve had a major set-back, either through injury or other circumstances, taking you away from training, it could be worth re-evaluating your goals. If you’ve missed more than two consecutive weeks of training during this peak period, you might want to look at changing your time goal, or even just setting an “aim to finish” goal. If, however you’ve only missed one-two weeks, you could still be on target, and we’re going to tell you a great way of finding out if you are… keep reading for the time-predictor marathon workout.

Yasso 800s

The secret lies in the Yasso 800 workout. If you haven’t already heard of it, then you’re in for a treat. This workout is in itself a challenging session, but it is actually also a great predictor of your marathon time. All you want is for your 10 x 800m reps to equal the same time as your marathon goal. And no, we don’t mean you should be taking three or four hours to run half a mile! Let us explain:

If you’re aiming for a 4:30 hour marathon, you should be able to complete your 10 x 800m reps in 4:30 minutes.  If 3:50 is your goal, then 800m reps should take around 3:50 minutes. And as for 5 hours? Yep, you guessed it: 5 minute 800m reps!

This final test of marathon training progress is best performed around two weeks before your marathon. But to help build up to your performance test, you could add in an 800m rep workout into your weekly schedule from now; try 6 x 800m next week, 8 x 800m the week after, and then your Yasso 800 workout (10 x 800m) two weeks before the big day. Just make sure to jog for the same amount of time as your rep took in-between each one.

If your Yasso 800s average out at your marathon target equivalent in minutes, then you can feel pretty confident that you’re on track; if they come up short, you might want to re-set your expectations – you’ll feel better on the day achieving a backup target, than no target at all.

The Yasso 800 was created by Bart Yasso, legendary runner, and named by Amby Burfoot in 2001.

Let’s talk Mantras

Anyone who’s ever done a yoga class will have heard of the Hindu and Buddist mantra “om”. Meant to symbolise the manifestation of God, it is chanted to represent harmony and the ultimate peace.

Image

The idea that a syllable, word or phrase can help you achieve a psychological state of focus and calm is well tested, and in fact most athletes will have a mantra or phrase that they either say aloud, or in their head, to help them stay calm and keep them on target.

Take Paul Radcliffe, for example, In Adharanand Finn’s book “Running with the Kenyans” he described how Paula called upon her love for her daughter, using the phrase “I love you Isla” during her New York marathon win. Finn tried this for himself, and found that saying his daughter’s name whilst running helped him through the tough mental challenges of training and racing in Africa.

So what could your mantra be? Well, the sky is the limit! For your mantra to be most effective, it needs to be short, so it can be easily remembered and said, and positive. It needs to have a meaning that really connects with you in order for it to divert your mind from the physical and mental barriers that you may experience during the marathon.

Some great examples of mantras that have been used by elite athletes include:

This is what you came for

Scott Jurek, ultra runner.

Thing strong, be strong, finish strong

Renee Metivier Baillie, indoor athletics runner.

Mind over mileage

Kara Goucher, elite marathon runner.

Concrete, meet courage

another of Paula Radcliffe’s mantras.

Whatever you choose as your mantra, keep it personal to you. Remember it and use it when times get tough on race day, and maybe it will make that final push a little easier.

We’d be really interest to hear if you’ve used a mantra in races before, and whether it worked for you – as always, please comment below or on Facebook or Tweet us @fitcetera!

The Final Phase: Taper

Very soon you will be reaching the end of your marathon training peak, and heading into the taper. Look out for our next Spring into a Marathon post, containing an explanation of this last phase of marathon training, and tips to keep rested while avoiding the very real “taper madness”!

Further Reading:

  1. Runner’s World, 2001. Yasso 800s [Online] Available at: http://runnersworld.com/race-training/yasso-800s [Accessed 19th March 2013]
  2. Finn, A., 2012. Running with the Kenyans, London, Faber and Faber.

Credits

CC Image “Red tracks” courtesy of See-ming Lee on Flickr.

CC Image “Om” courtesty of J Rindrr on Flickr.