Laying the foundations for your autumn marathon
Commit to making one small weekly addition to your marathon training plan
Don’t forget to soak up that famous energy and atmosphere that you will find lining the streets of Dublin on the 27th October. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
Marathon season has arrived. Training plans are up on the fridge and weekend mornings are being set aside for long runs. With only 16 weeks to go until the KBC Dublin Marathon, the mileage is creeping up. Each new week pushes the runner an extra few minutes on their feet. It’s time to leave the comfort zone. It’s exciting, challenging and nerve-wracking – and that’s just for us coaches.
Over the past few weeks I have been leading workshops setting marathon runners off on the right track. While training plans, pacing and toilet worries feature high on the list of questions, it is interesting to note that most of the advice I impart has very little to do with the long run itself. Building a runner’s confidence is paramount. But so is building the physical foundations.
Many first-time marathon runners doubt their ability to run a distance based on no logical reason other than it’s a very long way to travel. A marathon is an enormous undertaking but very achievable if you are sensible and respectful of the impact of marathon training on our body. There is a lot more to running a marathon than churning out endless miles. What makes a successful marathoner is the culmination of all the little things.
Setting ourselves up for a good weekend long run and making time for recovery is as important as the run itself. Most of this side of training can be done when not wearing running shoes at all. Most of us could benefit from being more rested, hydrated, relaxed, flexible and nourished. We all know the basics.
We should be sitting less, moving more, breathing, stretching, eating our greens and going to bed early. Life can tick along with great intentions but once we add the challenge of a marathon to our summer agenda these “basics” become essential. Put simply, we need to prioritise ourselves a bit more so we can get the most out of our marathon body.
Simple habits and routines can make a big difference by making us stronger mentally and physically for the weekend long run. However, it can be demoralising to commit to making lots of lifestyle changes and constantly “fail” at them. Trying to do everything perfect from the start leads to a crash diet scenario. We can often end up in a worse position than where we started by being too extreme in our approach. Anyone who has a foam roller and a set of kettlebells sitting in the living room covered in dust knows the feeling. There is always something else we “should” be doing that we never seem to get the time to do.
So instead of putting pressure on ourselves to do everything, commit to making one small weekly addition to your marathon training plan. Make it something you can tick off just like a run. Start with an easy one. I list some samples below that might inspire you and can be easily added into your training plan as an additional “training session”. Pick just one that you know your body needs most. If it’s embedded as part of the training plan, most runners will be keen to tick it off and complete it. It becomes visible and measured. If it’s optional, these “extras” never get to the top of our to-do lists.
Choose your training session:
1. Sleep: Set a bedtime in your training diary and stick to it. It’s easy to stay up an extra hour with nothing valuable to show for it. Go to bed earlier and bank these hours of sleep, rest and recovery. Your body repairs best when you sleep so take advantage of this free strength training.
2. Eat: Include a training session in your plan to shop and prepare your weekend food on Thursday. Having the good stuff ready will encourage you to eat it and help you avoid choosing something less healthy on impulse. Remember, your body can be nourished only by what it is fed. Plan your pre-run dinner, your breakfast and also your post-run refuelling lunch.
3. Strengthen: Allow 10 minutes to the end of your weekday runs for a few exercises. A few minutes to yourself to strengthen, stretch, cool down and reflect on how your body feels is the best way to notice the onset of any niggles or tightness. If you don’t have time for this I suggest you knock 10 minutes off your run and make the time. These few minutes of exercises are more valuable than running another mile.
4. Hydrate: Bring a large bottle of water with you in the morning and commit to have it empty by lunchtime. There are endless benefits to being hydrated that will impact your daily life as well as your marathon performance. It’s simple to do but easy to forget. Include it in your training plan and tick off each day as you drain the bottle. If you start the day conscious of hydrating, you are more likely to keep it going for the rest of the day.
5. Write: Write a journal on your marathon training progress. This can be a weekly date with a notebook over a cuppa or you can dedicate a minute each evening to writing your thoughts, feelings and fears as they arise. This will make great reading when you are at the final stages of training and well into the future when you want to relive your marathon memories.
6. Get inspired: Set aside a little time to watch a motivation marathon movie, footage of previous events or read a book about the distance. Giving yourself time to get excited, motivated and inspired is a great way to increase motivation and commitment while also giving the body a rest.
If you have a golden ticket for the Dublin Marathon, decide to treat the opportunity with all the respect it deserves. Look after yourself now rather than wait until your body cries out for a break. When the big day comes you will know you have done all you can to prepare. That lifts the pressure off your performance and allows you to soak up that famous energy and atmosphere that you will find lining the streets of Dublin on the 27th October. I’m getting emotional just thinking about it all.
Mary Jennings is founder and running coach with ForgetTheGym.ie. Mary’s new book Get Running published by Gill Books is out now.