Training for a marathon is extremely important to prepare you and bridge the gap between your usual runs and the 26.2 miles you will run on the day - and there is likely to be a big difference between the two! Generally, people train three to five times a week over the course of a year, during which you should gradually increase the distance you run until you can comfortably run 20 miles per week.
During the final four months leading up to the marathon, you should work your way up to running 50 miles per week by increasing the distance you run each week by approximately 10%. Rest days are also vital to allow your muscles to heal and strengthen, helping prevent injuries. On days when you have no training scheduled you should rest as much as possible.
With only two weeks of training time left before the big day, your body should now be prepared for distance running and you should be capable of running approximately 50 miles a week. However, running 26.2 miles in one go puts a lot of forces through the body that it is not used to, with your lower limbs and cardiovascular system bearing the brunt of the extra impact, so sticking to your training plan throughout the last two weeks of preparation and maintaining your level of activity is a must.
Ten days before the marathon, you should complete a long run - anything up to 18 miles is recommended - in order to prepare you for the increased distance of the marathon itself. Then, following a rest day, return to your personal training program and stick to it until three days before the marathon, when you should stop training and try not to run at all. Definitely don’t attempt any further long runs at this stage.
Finally, three-to-five days before the marathon, consider going for a sports massage as this will help relax your muscles, improve your circulation and ensure your lower back and legs are as flexible as possible, enabling you to run for longer.
Throughout your training program, if you experience any pains that fail to subside after two or three days’ rest, contact a Chartered Physiotherapist for advice on what to do next.
The Day Before
Avoid any form of training as you’re going to need all your energy for the race. Getting plenty of rest is the most important thing to do the day before the marathon, as this will help ensure your muscles are fully prepared for the race. Have an early night and get as much sleep as possible. Depending on what start you’re on, you’ll also need to factor in plenty of time to get to the race and warm up the next morning. If you live some distance from the event, you’ll want to arrange local accommodation for the night before - getting up in the middle of the night, driving to London and then running a marathon is definitely not advised.
You won’t be able to eat much on race day as it increases your risk of suffering a stitch during the marathon, so you’ll need to ‘carb-load’ the day before instead. Eat plenty of pasta, which is full of carbohydrates for slow energy release to keep you going during the race. And drink plenty of water to keep you hydrated during the race.
Start the day with a simple, high carbohydrate breakfast, such as a bowl of porridge with honey - this contains slow burning starches which provide sustained energy and will be vital during the race. Avoid anything heavy or hard to digest.
Continue to drink water at regular intervals throughout the morning in order to remain hydrated, but don’t drink more than normal or you risk becoming bloated. Water and sugary energy drinks will be provided throughout the race to help keep you hydrated and mentally alert, as well as helping to keep your muscles working efficiently.
Before the race, it’s important to warm up in order to increase the blood flow to your muscles, which helps reduce the risk of suffering an injury. Begin by doing some light cardiovascular exercise for ten minutes - taking a brisk walk will be enough to warm and relax your muscles. Once you’re sufficiently warm, perform some stretches - this will help condition your legs for the early stages of the race and help prevent muscle cramps during the latter stages. The key three stretches are:
The standing hamstring stretch
Put your left foot slightly in front of your right foot with your toes raised. Bend your right knee slightly, keep your left leg straight and lean forward, resting both hands on your right thigh for balance, until you feel light resistance in the back of your leg. Hold for 20 - 30 seconds, then swap legs and repeat five times.
The standing calf stretch
Stand facing a wall and lean against it with your hands. Place your left leg slightly behind your right leg, then bend your right leg while keeping your left leg straight with your heel firmly on the floor. Lean forward until you feel the muscles in the straight leg begin to stretch, then hold for 20 - 30 seconds, swap legs and repeat five times.
Hip adductor stretch
To stretch the group of muscles in your inner thighs, stand with your feet wider than hip width and keep your left leg straight, then bend your right knee so that you are supporting your body weight on the side of the knee. Keep your left foot pointing forward. Hold for 20 - 30 seconds, then swap legs and repeat five times.
With all pre-race stretches, it’s important to only do what you’re comfortable with; feeling some tension in your muscles is normal, but if you feel any pain while stretching, stop immediately. Under no circumstances should you attempt any stretches which you’ve never done before as your body will be unprepared for them, increasing your risk of suffering an injury.
During the race, stay hydrated and maintain a steady pace for the first few miles at least - don’t attempt to run as fast as possible as soon as the race begins or you’ll use up all your energy and find yourself walking the majority of the course.
As soon as the race is over, the recovery period begins. It is important to perform a brief warm down routine as this will lower your heart rate, helping your body return to its resting state and maintain healthy muscle function. Immediately ceasing all physical activity is not advised, as this greatly increases the risk of suffering cramps.
The warm down procedure after such a long race is very straightforward:
- Remain active by continuing to walk, slowly, for approximately ten minutes to help your muscles cool down gradually
- Drink plenty of water to nourish your muscles
- Have something to eat to begin replacing all the energy you’ve burned off, such as a banana, energy/granola bar or bagel.
You’re going to feel particularly tired for the next few days so it’s important to eat well balanced meals and continue to get plenty of rest. Don’t attempt to do any running for at least a week and, when you do start training again, start by running short distances to gradually build your strength and stamina back up.
Then, three-to-five days after the marathon, go for a sports massage in order to help your muscles recover. Before you know it, you’ll be back on the start line and ready for next year’s event!