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How to be the coolest runner in the London marathon: Part 2: Training

Updated on February 11, 2015

You’re High On Adrenaline

If you close your eyes, you can see it all. April in London. A perfect Spring day. Warm, but not too hot. Ideal running weather. You’re at the peak of your personal fitness. You’re on the start line. Daffodils are encouragingly nodding their golden heads at you.

You’re high on adrenaline and the buzz of maybe glimpsing Mo in the distance. The sheer oomph of the crowd is infectious too. But all of that is still 5 months off yet. Just now, it’s a cold, grey November day. It’s raining like some kind of biblical come-uppance. You’ve woken up feeling distinctly jaded from a vaguely remembered Christmas party the night before. You’re still in bed and you don’t feel like getting up any time soon. Time then to start marathon training.

It's All About A Training Plan!

Unless you’re a seasoned marathon runner, it’s probably a good idea to follow a training plan. There are loads of free ones available online, which you can simply print off and use as your training guide. Before you choose one though, you have to be honest with yourself about your personal starting point. The amount of time and distance that you are regularly running now will dictate how quickly your body can adapt to running further and more often. So if you’re already a keen runner, you could choose a 17 week plan, whereas if you’re starting from scratch, the training might be spread across a greater number of weeks.

All of the training plans set out a week-by-week and day-by-day schedule, telling you how many miles to run on which days. They all build in much-needed rest days too. They’ll all start off gradually, building up the mileage until you reach your longest training run of 18-22 miles. With around 4 weeks to go, the plan will start to taper off your training, gradually decreasing it, so that you are fresh as one of those daffodils for race day.

Your Feet Will Hit The Ground Over One And A Half Million Times During Training

Getting through both the training and the race injury-free is a challenge. Your feet will hit the ground over one and a half million times during training. Then you’ll take around 40,000 steps on the day of the marathon too (Burfoot et al, 2013; Anderson, 2014; Burfoot et al, 2012, University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority, 2015).

Each time your foot hits the ground, the impact force is equivalent to around two and a half times your body weight (Run3D, 2013). Poor body conditioning, or recruitment of core and glute muscles, combined with the high mileage required for marathon training, means the risk of getting injured is high. But fret ye not, for there are lots of other things you can do to help reduce this risk.

Trian, Train & Train Some More

All of the best training plans will include an element of core strength work and stretching, as well as the running. Though most people are less motivated to stick at this part of the training, it will reduce your risk of picking up a running injury. Ideally, you need to include strengthening work for your core muscles and glutes (butt). In his 2012 book on running injury free, Leigh describes how we use our core muscles to keep everything nicely in line when running. Weak core and gluteal (bottom) muscles mean that once a runner gets fatigued, they can’t maintain a nice, straight body alignment.

Nikki Kimball wrote a useful article on glute strength in 2011, pointing out that weak glutes can lead to injury to the Achilles tendons, shins, knees and IT band. Just in case you were wondering, The IT band is that the oft talked about flat bit up the outside of your thigh, aka the iliotibial band. Static core exercises are good for runners, but dynamic core exercises seem to be even better. This is because when we run, we are using our bodies dynamically.

If you train your body to recruit (‘fire’) particular muscles whilst moving, then it seems your body more readily recruits those muscles when you’re running too. If you put the search terms ‘dynamic core exercises for runners’ and ‘best glute exercises for runners’ into any search engine, you’ll come up with a heap of good exercises to try. Dr Christian Barton argues that, although glutes are important, working on the glutes alone won’t injury-proof your knees.

Instead, it’s a case of making sure that the whole kinetic chain is working effectively. This is lingo for getting the whole of your body working well together to perform movements. It makes sense that exercises that closely mimic the running action are helpful in preparing you to run more and better.

There is lots of advice available about building other exercise, strengthening and stretching into your training schedule. A lot of this information is available online, but be careful to cross reference and pick reputable sites. To get the perfect cross training regime for you, it may be useful to consult a running coach or specialised personal trainer at an early stage of your preparation.

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Getting Through The Trainig Pain

If you start to get little niggling pains from training, ice helps reduce local inflammation and so ease the pain. You can use a sports ice pack or the cheaper option of a bag of frozen peas. Remember to never put an ice pack in direct contact with your skin. That can lead to ice burns and even, in the worst case scenario, frostbite.

Always put something, such as a slightly damp cloth, between your skin and the pack. Apply the ice pack for 20 mins at a time and use several times a day. Before getting started on icing, have a squizz at the Patient UK expert guidance written by Sambrook. It’s also worth seeing a sports physio or osteopath.

They can help pinpoint the root cause of the pain and find out whether there are musculoskeletal imbalances. If you develop a worse injury, where the pain is sustained, or sharp and shooting, don’t try to run through it. Stop running, listen to your body and seek out advice from a musculoskeletal specialist straight away.

Try Yoga!

Some people swear by yoga as a useful complement to running. The two activities are certainly a bit yin and yang. Whilst running tends to tighten up your muscles, yoga tends to give them a good old stretch out again. Yoga helps improve strength, balance and flexibility.

Like any sport, yoga can injure you. But Jennifer Van Allen says that, so long as you mix and match the demands of yoga and running correctly, adding yoga can yield improved fitness and faster running times. So there you have it. Train clever, keep injuries at bay and please nod back to the daffodils as you go whizzing by.


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