As it is just 1 month out from my second London Marathon, I thought it would be useful to share with you guys how I will structure the last 4 weeks of my training for another sub 3-hour marathon time.
The Groundwork Phase – How Have I Trained For the Marathon in the Last Four Months?
Before I talk about the future, it is important to give you the past as a brief background to my training. I ran a sub-3hour marathon last year and it is my goal to improve on that this year, so the aim is to go sub 2:50. This is a good time for me to say my number one events mantra – Have a goal before you start training!
In a sentence my marathon training has been; consistent running (building from 30 up to 40 miles per week) broken up into 1 long weekend run and 4 or 5 commuting runs to work.
It is too late to change the last four months of training now and as this is my second marathon I am hopeful that I have put in enough miles to push for that sub-2:50 goal that I have.
This part of my training is what I call the ‘groundwork phase’ and it is where you determine how well you will perform in your event (excluding any unforeseeable issues beyond your control e.g. illness at the time of the event).
The Taper Phase – Tailor your Taper
Tapering before any long distance event is as simple or complex as you wish to make it. I have read of many different approaches and am fully aware of the pitfalls of not tapering in a way that is best for you. So what way is best for you? That is something you must develop based on experience and entering events but here are some of my key rules:
1. Tapering = Resting
If in doubt – rest, the answer has to always be rest! For so many of us, the doubts creep in…it’s close to the race and the fitness insecurity switches flick on. Naturally, we all want to do our best so it’s common to think that just squeezing in that extra run will help you on race day. You will hopefully have worked hard in your Groundwork Phase, putting months of training behind you. Take confidence from this and do not let yourself go into panic mode, which will cause you to do excessive training too late in the day. You cannot really make big leaps in your fitness during the last four weeks when it comes to long distance events. Instead just go for a light run on pre-race day and think about incorporating some ‘strides’ (short periods of faster running) to loosen up. Ultimately though, listen to your body – Niggles are best left to rest. Even if a lot of it is in the mind, why take the risk of injury…
2. Sleep Structure
You don’t always have control over all aspects of your life (e.g. working hours) but if possible try to plan ahead so that you don’t have to work late close to the event. You may eat healthily or use vitamin supplements but too much of an increase of cortisol (our stress hormone) could leave you open to illness.
Sleep may be difficult to get on the night before the race but very often, it is the sleep in the days leading up to the race that counts, so do not put yourself under pressure to go to bed at 9pm on race night if you will lay there with adrenaline coursing through your veins. Instead, just tell yourself you are simply heading out for another training run and that you have already slept well that week.
3. Diet Consistency
It is linked to the insecurity point. We can easily think that we should stop eating because our training has been heavily reduced. Avoid such thoughts! Your body is still repairing after months of training, so don’t deny it the nutrients it needs. Of course you probably only need to eat a maintenance level of calories i.e. 2000 to 2,500 per day but definitely avoid any calorie deficits. Studies show that the optimum intake leading up to and during a marathon is 7g carbohydrate per kg of body weight.
As for food choices, it’s too late to try anything new which could upset your stomach, so stick to tried and tested food, and preferably quite plain food (think wholegrain carbs, vegetables, fruit and white meat or fish). I also think that the drip feed approach is far more beneficial than loading up on a massive bowl of food. Eat little and often to keep the stress off your digestive system and your energy levels up!
4. Cross Training
I find that cross-training when I taper for running events is a useful tool. As a novice triathlete, I particularly like cycling and swimming. The advantage is that such activities can help you retain your fitness whilst giving your running muscles and joints time to heal and repair. Biking and swimming are both lower impact activities than running. Cross-training can also work wonders for your motivation – spend some time away from your event discipline and you will feel refreshed when you do get back out their training.
5. Decrease the Distance
Last but by no means least, it is the one that we all know about – get that mileage down! There is no secret formula. Common sense suggests a gradual decrease is best. I will give my marathon taper so that you have some idea of figures:
-4 weeks before the event – 35 miles
-3 weeks before the event – 30 miles
-2 weeks before the event – 20 miles
-1 week before the event – 10 miles
These are totally weekly distances. You have to split them up based on your personal preference. In addition to this, it is wise to enter a pre-event race. I will be in a 20 mile local race this weekend to get me back into event mode for the London Marathon. With training often being a solo effort it is important to get used to running in crowds!
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