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Marathon training 101 - part 2!

In a blog a couple of months ago I wrote about the key planks of marathon training, covering how to plan your training and the balance of sessions needed as well as some things to think about across nutrition and ‘life’ factors.  Catch up on that one here if you missed it.  I said I’d come back in the future and discuss things to think about in the days before your A race, and on the day – so here we are!

Last long run.  Your final or penultimate long run is a great time for a race-day rehearsal.  Do this run wearing and carrying everything you intend to wear or carry on the day, to check everything does what you expect it to!  Carry the amount of fuel you expect to carry on the day, even though you won’t use it on this run – if you’ve never done a run with six gels in your waist pouch, for example, you need to be sure that they’ll be comfortable.  You don’t need to do this run at your target race pace, but some people include two or three short race pace segments.

Race week.  At this stage, you’ll be doing a lot less running than you have recently so there is time to focus on other things.  Your sessions this week should mainly be short and easy (and take out any strength workouts for the final 10-14 days if you have been doing these), although experienced runners might still do a final short speed session early in the week.  Instead of running, occupy your time with sleep, hydration, massage, stretching and foam rolling.  With the latter three, I recommend only doing these in race week if you have done them regularly throughout your training.

Carb-load.  This term is often mentioned in relation to the marathon build-up, but is not always fully understood.  Carb-loading does not mean eating three portions of pasta on Saturday night before your race!  It is a systematic process which should begin two to three days before the event.  The purpose of the carb-load is to store more glycogen in your muscles than would normally be available.  This helps to keep energy available throughout the entire race, and avoid the dreaded ‘hitting the wall’ at around mile 20.  Carb-loading could occupy an entire blog in its own right, but in brief the guidance is to eat 8-12g of carbohydrate per kg of your body mass each day.  For me (I weigh around 60kg) this translates to about 2400 calories.  This is quite a lot, but it’s not very different from what you might eat on a day when you have a big training load.  To comfortably eat this amount of carbohydrate, reduce your fat and protein intake for these two to three days, and aim for around 90% of your diet being carb-based.  Three carb-rich meals and a few snacks can easily add up to the right amount.  If you are someone who does not normally eat much high-GI food (simple sugars) you may need to increase your intake of these kind of foods for these days; avoid eating too much fibre which may lead to GI distress.

Plan ahead.  Read the race guide, and any information sent by the event, to make sure you understand the timings for the day, where you need to be and when, and anything you need to collect or drop off, such as your race number or a bag.  Plan your travel, leaving plenty of time for unexpected things to happen.  You may wish to make a plan for your pre-race time, for example what time you want to eat a final snack, go to the loo and get into your start pen.  If you are running a big race with thousands of participants, remember that the toilet queues may be much longer than you expect, and even getting into your start pen may involve a queue.  Think too about your personality – are you someone who is energised by meeting people and having lots of chats on race morning?  Plan for this if so, whether by making plans to meet up with clubmates, or simply talking to other runners in your start pen.  If you know that you need plenty of quiet time to maintain your mental energy, don’t be afraid to take yourself away from groups and spend time alone.

Nutrition.  Race day can be complex, with travel arrangements and unusual timings – you might need to get up much earlier than usual, or be starting the race at a time you wouldn’t normally run.  Make a plan that will allow you to eat as much as possible in the way that you normally would, at the times you normally would.  This could mean carrying e.g. a pot of porridge and a spoon on the train, or taking an extra top-up snack if you plan to eat at home before you leave.

Clothing.  It’s increasingly common now for races to offer clothing recycling – you’re able to travel to the race in an old tracksuit, or something you’ve picked up at a charity shop.  Just before the start, there are bins where you can deposit this clothing for it to be recycled back to charity shops.  Check whether your race offers this, to help you keep warm before the start.  If it doesn’t, even a bin bag with some holes in it can help you stay a bit warmer and drier.

Mental game.  Spend some time thinking about how you will mentally approach the race.  Some people break longer races down into chunks, e.g. thinking about the marathon as four 10k distances, plus a bit!  Mantras can also be really important – what will you tell yourself in any tough moments?  Statements such as ‘you are strong’, ‘you are capable’, ‘you can do hard things’ can be immensely powerful.  I often choose three words that represent the way I want to race, for example ‘smooth, light, easy’.  These can be repeated throughout the race.  Think too about your ‘why’.  Why did you choose to enter, and train for this race?  Knowing why you are there can help to re-centre yourself in any low moments.

You’ve put a lot of time and effort over recent months to train for this race.  A little bit of time and thought over the final couple of weeks will help you get the most out of the day itself, enjoy it to its full extent, and produce your best performance.  Good luck, and go well!


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