Marathons… That magic distance for long-distance runners. It’s hard work – all the training, the build-up to the race day, excitement even anxiety. I have been thinking about these aspects a lot as this year I’ll be running the London marathon. It’s one of the races I have always wanted to run but never got round to actually do it. Two years ago I didn’t make it to the start line due to a foot injury so hopefully this year I’ll get to experience it… finally.
Running has become increasingly popular in the past couple of years and more and more people run big races – it’s rather popular as a sporting challenge, which is great.. As there is a big market surrounding this segment of the fitness industry, people are bombarded with all sorts of advice, training programmes and fad products. So I wanted to share some useful advice on marathon fitness to all of you runners that I have been given over the years from my brilliant physios, trainers and runners and coaches of my beloved NRC – Nike Running Club, who have helped me the most with my training. From my personal experience – I’ll split this marathon prep check-list into three most important parts: compound (strength) training, flexibility/mobility training and, obviously, nutrition. Goes without saying – boosting your immune system and staying fit as a fiddle will be your priority. As staying in good health and not injuring yourself is already half way to the start line. So let’s start with strength training.
1- A PILLAR OF STRENGTH.Apart from endurance training and building up to the distance, strength training is immensely important. Actually – it is more important that running all those long distances. Running a marathon is a strenuous task and it puts a lot of pressure on your body. 3-6 times more to be precise, than your normal bodyweight because of the speed, gravity and surface you are running on. And the body needs to be prepared and strong enough to cope with that.
And unilateral strength training is the winner. When running, we use both sides of our bodies independently – it’s important to strengthen your body with that in mind. So swapping your squats for some Bulgarian split squats or pistol squats will give you more functional lower body strength. Here are a couple of routines that I follow as a part of my workouts (intermittently):
A/ Dumb-bell side lunges 4sets/8-10reps + Bulgarian split squats 4/8-12 + Single-leg dumb-bell dead-lift 4/8 + jumping lunges
B/ Crossover lunges with dumb-bells 4/8 + Single leg Romanian dead-lift 4/8 + Pistol squats 4/6 + Dumb-bell box step-ups 4/10 [advanced]
2- TO THE CORE. Core strength is crucial for running. You might have noticed when fatigue kicks in the first thing that suffers is your posture. Which means that your core probably needs to work a bit more. Our limbs stem from the core so it makes sense why it is so important, we tend to use both sets of limbs a fair bit while running. Strong core -> good posture -> more speed. There are loads of compound exercises that you can include into your training routine but my favourite ones are: planks (plank with shoulder taps, one-leg straight arm planks, side planks with crunch), kettle-bell swings, pull-ups, leg raises and deadlifts.
3- GO HELL FOR LEATHER. Sprints, hills and track work. Speed training and track workouts are unbelievably beneficial for long distance running and overall fitness. Structured speed workouts will increase your fitness levels, you’ll gain speed and get even stronger. Also, it’s a great addition to your exercise routine and makes it more dynamic so you don’t get bored! Here are a few examples of structured track workouts:
A/12 x 400m ( full track lap) – same pace every rep
B/20 x 200m – same pace every rep
C/ 2 x 2000m + 4 x 800m + 6 x 400m
D/ 4x200m@mile pace + 3x400m@5k pace + 2x800m@10k pace + 3x400m@5k pace + 4x200m@mile pace
If you don’t have a track nearby or if it isn’t convenient, you can do all these routines on a treadmill. Just like hill sprints!
4- FUN. However you design your training plan – you need to enjoy it! Training for a big event like a marathon is time consuming and hard work – so you might as well have fun along the way.
5- WHERE THE SHOE PINCHES. Whether for speed training, strength training or your long runs, you’ll probably need a pair of trainers that’s right for you. Or a few pairs most likely… On the shoes front I could write essays but in a nutshell – your trainers need to be comfortable and not too small! My physio once told me that almost half of his patients had to seek his help owing to wearing small running trainers for prolonged periods of time. So if your usual size is 9 let’s say, you probably need to run in 9 1/2.
6- TAKE A CHILL PILL. And rest. The most neglected part of most training programmes. Rest is as important as your workout days. Your body needs it in order to recover, rejuvenate and make progress. And your mind needs it too. So take ‘days-off’ regularly to recover and just take it easy. And have a glass of wine. 🙂