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Top 5 do's and don't's for marathon training

by editor
Friday 26th February 2016
With the Virgin Money London Marathon just 8 weeks away we asked top coach Tom Craggs for his top tips on what we should and shouldn't be doing. 

Top 5 Do’s
Do find your threshold - As the key weeks of marathon training draw a little closer it’s time to make sure you have a good base of quality running each week. Include a run each week that includes some ‘threshold’ effort. This is running at a ‘controlled discomfort’ or 3-4 word answer effort. As you move through the month look to build up the time you work at this effort. A great way of going this is to complete a 45-60 minute run each week that includes several blocks of threshold effort. Start with 4 x 5 minutes with a 90 second recovery and build over the next 3 weeks, 5 x 5 minutes, 6 x 5, 3 x 10 minutes etc. This will help your body build fitness quickly and allow it to become more ‘fuel efficient’ – making marathon pace feel easier building running economy and helping you hold your pace in the final 10km. 
Do include cut back weeks – As you’re training builds gradually and progressively it’s vital to give your body a bit of extra rest every now and again to allow it to absorb training and adapt. We would suggest you take a cut back week every 3-4 weeks, reducing your overall volume, perhaps adding an extra rest day or by reducing a little intensity. Your body progresses when you rest.
Do practice race day preparation – Race day itself is simply your best long run! Therefore we use our runs this month to practice a lot of the routines you will repeat on race day. Aim to start to practise with gels and fluids on your long run as well as getting a set patter of pre-long run meal and pre long run breakfast. Record how you feel trying a few different options out. Wear your race day kit and make sure you feel comfortable with your race day routine. 
Do get an MOT - Most runners wait until they pick up a niggle or an injury before they start to consider their biomechanics, areas of tightness or existing niggles that may be latent. Consider getting an ‘MOT’ from a good local sports physiotherapist who will be able to give you specific advice around potential injury warning signs and help you with one or two key exercises to help support your body cope with the miles to come.
Do taper like a pro - The ‘taper’ simply refers to the gradual process of cutting back your training so you arrive in great shape on race day. 3 weeks out from the race you might reduce your long run to about 2 – 2.5 hours but keep the rest of your training the same. As you approach the final two weeks maintain the frequency of your running but gradually reduce the volume of each runs by about 30% 2 weeks out and 50% a week out. Some of the big, harder sessions also ease off but we would recommend keeping a few blocks of threshold running and marathon pace as to help keep you sharp.
Top 5 Don't’s
Don’t be hasty - Your weekly longer run will be up to about 3 hours – 3 hours 30 minutes by you peak weeks. Aim to run this run at a pace slower than your planned marathon pace, or just a comfortable conversational pace. This way your body learns to metabolise stored fats as an energy source and is better able to cope with the small increments in weekly volume you will be adding week on week. If you run at or faster than your planned marathon pace you will build up so much fatigue you’ll struggle to recover. Add blocks of planned marathon pace (e.g. 45 minutes, 3 x 15 minutes etc) at the end of these easy runs in the final 6 weeks. 
Don’t believe longer is always better – Many runners get caught up in how many 20 milers they have banked and yet still struggle to hold their pace in the final 10km of the marathon. Plan for you longest long run to be 3 hours – 3 hours 30 minutes long. If this means you don't reach 20 miles in your longest long run, don’t panic! Going beyond 3 hours 30 minutes with your longest run is a game of diminishing returns. Put your faith in the culmination of ALL of your training, not just your longest run. 
Don’t just run - get into a good routine of 2-3 conditioning sessions each week. Focus on running specific core and strength training which focus on single leg exercises, stability and glute activation, otherwise look to get into a weekly Pilates class to make sure your muscles are strong and flexible enough to cope with the training in later weeks.
Don't let the gremlins take over - ‘have you done enough training?’, ‘should you squeeze in one more 3 hour run?’, ‘do I need to make up for that week I missed when I had a cold?’. These are common worries in the final weeks but eventually less becomes more. It’s time to let the body start to recover and build its strength for race day. Note down 1-2 key positives from each of the last 10-12 weeks. This could be a training session that went really well, a PB in a race, or some non-running positives such as making positive nutrition choices or upping your sleep or conditioning. You’ll end up with 15-20 positive statements. Keep these with you and remind yourself of them as the nerves build through race week. 
Don’t forget the ‘other 22 hours’ - As you train harder over this month so you will also need to keep a great focus on your rest and recovery and your nutrition. Keep a sleep diary and check out that you are pushing for as many hours as you can get. 8 hours + a night is ideal but if you can’t manage that even and extra 20-30 minutes can make a big impact on how you are recovering after sessions. Stretch well after each run and be even more focused on ensuring you have a diet rich in vitamins and minerals, high in protein and drawing on healthy, natural and unprocessed carbohydrate.  

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