The old wisdom that part of the challenge of the marathon is getting to the start line in one piece is indeed true. The period of 4-8 weeks before a marathon is when you will have built up your training at close to your perceived maximum workload. It's a period when all can go smoothly, but also when many things can put you off your game. For many people, especially first time marathoners, this is a zone you haven't been in before. Your mind and body can react adversely to what you are asking of them. Don't worry, soon you will actually start to reduce your training or taper down before race weekend. Here are some useful tips for getting you through those peak training weeks of your marathon training:
1. Learn how to train not strain
Rest is important and is an integral part of any schedule. As you increase the mileage you obviously are asking more of your body. It is all relevant to your experience and general fitness but anyone setting themselves the goal of running a marathon or a half marathon, or trying to improve on their previous efforts, will be pushing themselves harder than before. The key thing is to train hard but also train smart. Make sure you are getting plenty of sleep and rest. Take the time to warm up and warm down properly. Eat well and regularly, and above all, be dedicated but don't be a slave to your training schedule. If you feel jaded or stiff for more than 48 hours, think about treating yourself to an extra rest or easy day.
2. Hydrate and eat well for running
A totally obvious fact but sometimes the reality that you just aren't drinking and eating well enough, creeps up on you unawares. You will be running more now and spending more time on your feet sweating. In your sweat, as well as losing fluid, you are losing a little of the vital salts and electrolytes - like sodium, potassium and magnesium - essential for a healthy body. Energy drinks and supplements can importantly act as a quick fix when you are tired and see you through tough training days, but of more importance is to keep drinking plenty of water daily and eating a good all-round healthy diet over a long period. That way your body is always well hydrated and naturally builds up good reserves of all the essential nutrients to deal with extra workload when necessary.
3. Got a running injury or niggle? Don't ignore it!
Whatever sport people play, injuries are always there waiting to happen. Running injuries are usually from the repetitive nature of the action of just running mile after mile over a period, or because something has changed suddenly in your training. This could be a sudden increase in miles or introducing hills or speed work etc. Little niggles or just stiffness often just "come with the territory" of increasing workload, and can clear up as quickly as they arrive, as long as you keep stretching and resting. When you are suffering from something that is sore with every step though, and is actually restricting natural movement, it is time to take complete rest for a few days to allow it to settle down. You might want to get professional advice from your GP or a good local sports injury practitioner. See our Sports Clinic.
4. The long run: build up slowly
The sensible key to marathon training is not only to build up the weekly long run, but also to allow yourself time to recover afterwards, so you are ready to handle the rest of the week's training as well. As you build your long run up you will get a feel yourself as to how quickly you recover. Most schedules factor in a rest or easy day after the hard training days. You may be a little stiff for the first 10 minutes or so, for a day or two after a long training run, but this should ease as you warm up. As mentioned above, if two days later you are still sluggish or legs are still tired and sore after you have warmed up, then think about having an extra rest day that week.
5. Don't let your running get stale: stay inspired
Often when in peak training, you will get an uninspired spell. Runners talk of feeling stale, and losing interest in the whole idea of why they started to train for this event anyway. Don't panic! It could be you just need an extra rest day. Chat to friends or colleagues who run, and may have experienced the same feelings. Get new inspiration by joining a running club or group if you haven't already. Seek out new routes where you haven't been before. This is all part of the challenge of the marathon. See our local club listings: London | Edinburgh | Cardiff
6. New shoes or no new shoes?
Sad to say, shoes do wear out and lose some of their original cushioning and support. How much and how quickly can vary from person to person. If you are going to change shoes during your marathon build up, make sure you give yourself time to wear them in: ideally 3-4 weeks minimum before race weekend, so you have a chance to do at least one of your last long runs in them. Do seek the advice of a specialist running shop like Run and Become. Good sensible advice is priceless.
By learning to listen to your body, and sometimes being a little humble and honest with yourself, you can deal with all the potential problems that come your way. Always try to hold fast to the original dream that inspired you to start training for the marathon anyway, and when you reach the start line, the race (although never easy) will almost take care of itself.