Tom Craggs is an England National Team Coach and has a fantastic record of coaching runners from beginners right through to elites including some of the UK’s most well-known runners. Here he gives you his top tips for this final stretch of marathon training that many of us are in.
This is where the key weeks of marathon training happen for most. It’s is all about banking your final quality long runs and mid-week sessions whilst respecting your recovery. Get this period right and you’ll stand on the start-line full of confidence and ready to race!
1) Too long, too tired – Whilst it is important to have banked some good time on feet in your longest long runs if you go too long you’ll struggle to recover and start your marathon already tired. Nothing magical happens at 20 miles in a training run.
Try this – 3 hours 10-20 minutes is as long as you should be out on feet for in your longest run. Any more than that and you risk not recovering in time. If that gets you to 20 miles, great but many runners ruin good marathons by trying to get to 22-24 miles in training and see the wheels coming off at mile 18 in the marathon.
2) Pace practice – When the gun goes on race day you need to have an idea of what pace you’ll be running, March and April are the months where this starts to become clear. Adding a touch of marathon pace to the end of some of your key long runs is a great mental and physical stimulus. A great peak long run might be 2 hours 45 minutes – 3 hours 15 minutes to include 4 sets of 20 minutes at goal marathon pace with a 5-minute steady recovery.
Try this – There are a range of ways to guide you on your marathon pace. Times your 10km PB by 5, minus 10 minutes is one option, doubling your half marathon time and adding 10-20 minutes or around 105-108% of your half marahton time are all good options.
3) Get energised – Fuelling on the run is a really good way to ensure you get to the final 10km of the marathon strong and ready to hold your pace. It takes practice though and the next few weeks are when you need to practice your race day fuelling strategy.
Try this – Gels are an incredibly effective what to get energy quickly into your body on the run but most people try to neck them back all in one go. Sip your gel gradually over 3-4 minutes and target one gel after 45 minutes then one every 30 minutes or so thereafter. If you struggle with gels, ensure you try a range of other options well in advance of your taper.
4) Getting the basics right – ‘The basics’ – this is what I call the little things that glue your training together. Routine stretching, core, snacking healthily and getting into a good bed time routine is crucial this month and they are often the first things to go as you get more tired and up the running volumes.
Try this – Sit down for 10-15 minutes and write down your own top 5 personal recovery commitments. 5 things that you will do each week to look after your body and keep recovering well. It could be a yoga class, refuelling quickly after your runs, turning your phone off an hour before bed. Note them down and assess each week whether you have taken one step close to them, or s step further from them!
5) Find your bubble – April can be a month of comparisons if you are not careful – spending your day on social media seeing what every other runner has been doing won’t help you and your marathon and is only likely to stress you out. We are all different, have different physiology, goals and available training time. Stay confident and consistent on YOUR plan this month.
Try this – Look back over your training diary and remind yourself of those key positives you have banked so far. If you feel you are a little behind remember you are better to be 10% under trained than you are 1% over trained for your marathon so don’t panic train to back fill missed runs.
6) Mimic race day – Feeling psychologically primed and ready is a key weapon and race day and you should think about working on this too over the next 6 weeks. Race day should feel familiar, this will allow you to stay calm and focused.
Try this – Aim to have a couple of your key runs where you aim to mimic your planned race day routines, run at the time the race starts, wear your race day kit and have your race day breakfast. Try out a few different positive self-talk techniques – these could be focused on relaxation (“breath and relax your shoulders”), giving yourself instructions (“keep your leg speed up and snappy”), getting motivated (“I’ll dedicate this mile to XX person””), or getting focused (“Pull in that vest in front!”).
Going even longer? See Tom’s ultramarathon training tips HERE.