Tips on marathon training from Louisa Drake
It's not just about the running
- When training for a marathon you will likely be fixated on your distance and speed. However, to run for such a long period of time you need a strong back, core and glutes, and the integrity of the pelvis, knees ankles and feet are highly important too.
- Supplement your running sessions with pilates and a strengthening, conditioning workout which include a focus on the posture, core and glutes in particular. Regularly include exercises that strengthen the hips, knees and feet.
- Feet are often overlooked but they take a lot of the strain when running - simple calf raises and balance work such as single leg raises or lunges will help to strengthen the feet and ankles. Barre workouts offer great footwork so check them out. Having strength in the right places will help carry you forward as you run and will help prevent injury.
Prepare and stick to a training plan
- It's a really good idea to have your gait checked before you start training, even if you don't need new trainers you can book in to do this at any good trainer store.
- There are a lot of training plans out there, so it can be overwhelming when you sign up to a marathon. I would stick to resources developed by knowledgable and qualified fitness professionals. Most marathons have lots of training tips and blog posts online to offer excellent support. The best way to find the optimal marathon training plan is to learn to find one that best suits your fitness, experience and goals.
- Aim to start training at least 12 weeks before your race date, enough time to build on the mileage, peak and then taper down to race day. Gradually build up your distance week by week. I'd say one long run on the weekend and one shorter run during the week, with a conditioning and flexibility workout in between. Don't discount short workouts or training sessions as it all helps. You may need to allow for some flexibility in your training plan by moving the longer runs around to recover from any illnesses, injury or holidays.
Warmup for 7-10 minutes before each training run
- Mobilise around your joints, warming up the shoulders, hips and ankles with dynamic stretches. You also want to raise your pulse gradually until the body feels warm enough to safely stretch. The intensity should be 50-60% of maximum heart rate or 3-4 RPE (Rate Perceived Exertion) on the 'how it feels' scale which results in a light sweat.
- Bodyweight exercises that use the large muscles such as squats, lunges, knee raises and arm raises are good to elongate your muscles whilst improving balance and stability. Mobilise the feet with ankle circles and the hips by swinging the knees back and forth, the shoulders with rolls and arm circles whilst walking. Tie a resistance band around your thighs and lie on a mat on the floor for a set of shoulder bridges - this is great for targeting the hamstrings, glutes and core, activating the posterior.
- Focus on the legs, hamstrings, quads, calves plus spine, chest and shoulders for static stretches. Hold for 6-10 seconds each time.
- Clam shell movements on your side, pressing the knee away are a great way to build strength and stability around the hip and thigh.
- Start off your run with a gentle jog to raise your pulse for several minutes, gradually building up, but remember, depending on factors such as temperature, how sore and tight your body is from previous training, you might need more time from one day to the next. Intensity and speed should begin at a low level and build gradually.
- Focus on your breath and breathing into your belly rather than through your chest.
- Hold your elbows close to your sides to keep your posture strong. Eye line out, not down and strike through the heel, ensuring your feet land through your heels to your toes. Use a heart rate monitor to track the intensity and performance working towards a training programme.
- As you run, keep an eye on your posture as losing it is easy to do, particularly when you've been running for over an hour. Keep actively drawing back your shoulders, looking ahead rather than down and locking your elbows towards your sides as you run. Ensure you keep well hydrated with water, just a 2 per cent reduction in fluids can result in a 10% to 20% loss of performance. The very best way to ensure this doesn't happen is to drink more water especially if you have a dry mouth, feel dizzy or your muscles start fatiguing.
- Motivational music to listen to as you train helps keep you going, as can running with a buddy. I find upping the pace during the chorus of a song works well to get the heart pumping and planning my run into sections helps.
Stretch and refuel post-workout
- Slowly decrease your speed as you cool down 5-10 minutes, easy jogging or walking as this is vital to staying injury free. Here we are returning the body to a pre-exercise state. During a run your body goes through a number of stressful processes; muscle fibres, tendons and ligaments get damaged and waste products build up. The cool down will assist the body during the repair process particularly post-muscle soreness (DOMS).
- Post run, make sure you don't forget to stretch out again, for a further 5-10 minutes, as you did pre-workout. Follow similar moves to those you did pre-workout, focusing on the major muscles of the body. Use deep breathing while stretching to help oxygenate the body.
- It helps to massage out your muscles with a firm massage ball or foam roller. Focus on your feet, calves, upper body and neck. If you don't have time to do this straight after a run, make time later in the day, just a few minutes is all you need.
- If you've been running longer than 45 minutes it's important to refuel. Both fluid and food are important to replenish your carbohydrate, fat and protein stores. Glucose pouches are great for a quick hit and will save you during race day. When glycogen stores are depleted, performance is dramatically impaired. Research also recommends upping your protein intake after 1 hour of exercise, especially endurance based workouts. 1.2 to 1.4 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight is ideal for marathoners.
- Using magnesium products will also help soothe sore and tired muscles. I love Neom Organics Mineral Bath salts and the Magnesium Body Butters. BetterYou have handy Magnesium Oil Sprays for instant relief post-run.