So, you are thinking of signing up for the 2019 London Marathon? Are you crazy? Are you dreaming? Are you drunk?! No, you are inspired. Go for it! If you are serious – and you will need to be serious – you are putting your name to a life experience you will never forget or regret. You are very nearly in the race pen at the start line already and we’re incredibly proud of you. You may even have done the difficult bit already.
Yeah, that’s easy for us to say. We have run the Grand Canyon and the Great Ocean Road and the Great Wall of China and you have run nothing greater than the local park. And marathons are no walk in the park, right. Right! But we were marathon virgins when we first ran the streets of London 3 years ago and I had a gammy leg! Completing a marathon is as much about mind over matter as it is about muscle power and lung capacity. If you can get your head around all of the preparations you will need to do, you can almost certainly get your feet around 26.2 miles of the capital. And if you do, you may just find that you want to do it again like we did this year.
Talking a good race is one thing. You’ve got to walk the walk or, hopefully, jog the jog. The two things are different, make no mistake about it. A marathon is not for everyone. There are plenty of other fitness challenges that may suit you better. If there are, do them. Marathon medals are not essential badges of honour. You’d be much better picking something that excites you, rather than entering a marathon as a ‘bucket list tick off’ or a response to a ‘dare you’ jibe. This is your body that you are putting on the line. You will need it again at some time in the future!
To help you make a decision that you will never regret and always treasure, we have compiled a list of careful considerations with a little help from ‘Coach Brad’.
TRAIN YOUR BRAIN!
Your feet are (hopefully!) the only parts of your body that will make any contact with the marathon course but the most important bit of you is between your ears. Many of the problems that you are most likely to encounter between sign up and finish line are issues that can be addressed by smart and positive thinking. If you can get your brain in gear, your moving parts should keep moving. Your mental preparations are every bit as important as your physical training. Human beings are masters of making excuses for themselves. Make your first action at the beginning of this adventure a visit to the nearest mirror. Look that person in the eye and tell them they can do this.
The London Marathon is going to take place next April with or without you and it will be a full field… oversubscribed. Nobody has knocked on your door asking you to volunteer because they are short of numbers. When ‘enter ballot’ pops up on your screen, make sure that it is your finger that is hovering over the keyboard and your brain that tells it to press down. When you do, you should feel expectant, excited, empowered, emboldened. These will be big feelings to remember when a big cloud gathers over your first training run and soaks you to the skin. Yes, there are going to be puddles to splash through and frosts to tiptoe over and winds to get your head down and grind into and you have got nobody to blame for them but yourself. There will be moments that severely test that positive thinking that prompted you to tap that key. They are part of the challenge and part of the joy is overcoming them.
This will be a good time to think outside the box to the wider benefits to your health and well-being of getting fit to run. If you are running on behalf of a charity – and do try to – remember the good you are doing at the same time as doing yourself good. If doubts occur at any time – and they will! – get advice, get treatment, get encouragement. We are always here. Brad will probably have tips to ease your worries or he will certainly know someone that can help. Ask!
Run niggles may occur, ‘runger’ will ravage you at times and there will be moments when you feel like you are running on the spot rather than striding forward. Don’t let the trials of marathon preparation get you down. Don’t suffer alone. No runner’s progress ever follows a smooth upward curve on the graph. We still have good days and bad days out there, so we can sympathise and console and offer training guides, help with body mobility, ensure your stride snacks are on point with recipes and reminders to test and try them before the big day. You are only alone for one moment in the entire process, that moment you enter. That is when you make your commitment, that is when you take your vows to this marriage between you and the challenge. Never forget that. Make it a point of pride and motivation. Help is at hand but it will be YOUR feet in those running shoes, it will be YOUR triumph. Just think about that!
CURRENT RUNNING SCHEDULE
To become a better runner you need to constantly run more, run faster, run harder, run longer… that’s how you train for a marathon right? No, no, no, no! That’s how you train for a physio’s bed, an A and E department and a bout of depression. The starting point for any programme of marathon preparation is… er, the starting point. It’s where you are right now. How much do you currently run? Do you run at all?! Just as with the marathon course itself, you cannot cut corners. In order to complete every step of the race, you’ve first got to complete every step of the preparations. As long as you are making steady progress, that process will become easier than you think.
The next step is to identify your goals. The primary aim should obviously be to complete the course but race day will probably be the only day that you cover the full 26.2 mile distance. You don’t need to run your own marathon to prove you can complete the London Marathon. Forget a target time to begin with. Your training progress will dictate your race pace. The ‘more, faster, harder, longer’ bit will happen naturally because your regular training routine will gradually get harder, it will hopefully get faster and it will most likely get longer. Your focus will become ever more clear and concentrated until each and every run counts and provides indications as to what you will be capable of on Day Zero. You will learn to make every mile important as you move towards that date circled on your wall calendar. Matching a combination of speed and mileage work will be crucial to honing your race fitness. Your accessory work will be the thing that sets you apart. Rest is (nearly) as important as active training. Our bodies are going through significant transitions each time we run and so we need to rest and recover. A day spent with your weary feet up is not a day lost as long as it is part of a structured programme. Only ‘guilty’ overtraining is likely to set you back. Listen to that body and if it cries out in pain at any time do not pretend you didn’t hear it. Running injuries tend to creep up on you rather than occur all of a sudden. Most can be managed with the right advice and treatment. They don’t heal themselves… certainly not if you just keep running on them.
The art of running is a step-by-step activity, so it figures that preparations to run will follow the same rhythm. Starting out small is the way to go. If you haven’t run since your school sports day, please don’t try to go pounding out 10 miles straight after sign up. Around 3 to 5 km is a perfect distance to reacquaint the body with the habit of breaking into a trot. Just like driving a manual car, move through the gears one-by-one, steadily increasing intensity and distance. A 10-15% increase in the weekly workload is a good guide to stepping it up until winding down towards taper week. In terms of frequency, you should be looking at 2 or 3 runs a week. Variety is good. Change your tempo, pace and distance where you can and be sure to get out on the trails and tracks to get the body used to different surfaces and elevations. Maybe make yourself a little uncomfortable! Progressive overload is key.
One ‘test run’ should be enough by way of a dress rehearsal. Anything between 17 and 22 miles is more than adequate for this around a month before race day. This will be the longest run of your prep period. Don’t fuss or fret over the time for this one. It’s just about taking your legs the extra mile or two. No training trick can recreate the buzz or adrenaline rush of race day. You simply cannot factor that in. Believe us, it will carry you further, faster… as long as you have prepared properly.
If you want to learn to drive a car, you learn only when you are behind the wheel. If you want to learn a language, you only learn by speaking that language. If you want to learn to run a long way, you can only learn by er… running a long way, right? Not quite. A marathon is a test of your overall fitness so there is more to ‘getting’ these miles than simply pounding the streets. We need to become bulletproof and enhance our efficiency as runners. Spend some time in the gym if you can.
Strength and Conditioning is just what it says. The days of runners staying away from strength work are long gone. In fact, the best runners on the planet are all religiously following structured S&C plans. If we can replicate what we do out on the road when we are in the gym, we can strengthen the muscles that are used in a running gait and prevent injury. In turn, that will produce more power and, eventually, a faster as well as a stronger runner. S&C can equal PB’s.
We need to overload our lower body so that we create a stimulus for it to get stronger. This results in our body becoming more capable of dealing with our demands on it. Most running injuries occur because our fitness gets ahead of our strength. When the gap between the two grows due to relentless road work, the repetitive strain on certain muscles is too great for them to cope without the aid of strengthening exercises. Gym work is preventative work. It doesn’t mean gaining huge amounts of muscle, it’s about toning and honing.
Be clever with your programming. Building strength for running is very specific. It involves working on stabilising the hips, knees and ankles as well as building capacity in our calves and thus creating huge amounts of power from our glutes and hamstrings to produce a faster stride pattern. On top of the leg work, we focus on strengthening our core through various planes of motion. This enables us to keep our running technique efficient as we approach the latter stages of the longest runs.
A second focus should be on mobility and keeping our body moving freely. We all know the effects that road work and gym sessions can have on inhibiting movement in hips, hamstrings and ankles. Daily foam rolling and specific mobilisation drills will ensure that you stay as free and fresh as possible when you run. Yes, of course, running is the best preparation for marathon running, but preparing your body for that training schedule is every bit as important as good diet, good rest and a good attitude. You’ll need them all.
As Coach Brad keeps saying… usually when we are trying to get our breath back!… “the aim in all this is simple. It’s just about getting you to that start-line in the best possible shape to achieve your best.”