If you ask most people what April means to them, they’ll probably reel off a list that includes Easter, school holidays, more daylight hours, and maybe a BBQ or two. If you pose the same question to a runner, you’ll undoubtedly be met with the response: “marathons”.
Yes, April is marathon month. As well as the infamous Virgin London Marathon, these epic 26.2 mile races are also held in Brighton, Boston, Blackpool and Southampton, to name a few.
But running that far can’t possibly be fun, can it? Why on earth do people put themselves through it? We asked one superkeen runner for some insider knowledge.
So, how many marathons have you run?
My first was the London Marathon in 2013, and I’ve done a couple since then. I’m just about to race my fourth, and it’s my home city so I’m really looking forward to it.
But doesn’t the thought of running all that way fill you with dread?
Not really, more of a nervous excitement. It’s about pushing yourself, but it’s also very tactical. You can’t approach that sort of distance by going full pelt and sprinting the whole way, so it’s a mental discipline exercise as well as anything else. Naturally, you want to hit the finish line and for it to be over, but it’s all about endurance and coping with the discomfort when the miles seem endless.
What does a typical training schedule look like for a marathon distance event?
I usually give myself four months to train and get my body in optimum condition. Three of my four marathons have taken place in April, so I generally have quite an epic Christmas then be very disciplined from 1st January. Usually I give up alcohol in that four month window, which I definitely think helps. My lifestyle is pretty healthy anyway and we’re a very active family, so it’s not a case of making huge changes, just tweaking things a bit.
I aim for two long runs a week, and a third run that usually takes the form of hills or interval (speedwork) training. My longest run will usually take place on a Saturday morning and incorporate Parkrun as part of the final leg. My second longest run in a week will be a recovery run, but where I still aim to get high mileage in at a slower pace.
So would your longest training run be the week before the race itself?
No, it’s important to factor in around three weeks of tapering. This is where you gradually scale back on the intensity and distance covered, to avoid burnout and reduce the risk of injury. I usually pitch in my longest run about three weeks before the race, and it’ll be about 21 miles or so. After that, your body needs to rest, and it’s actually the rest period that gets you absolutely where you need to be in terms of strength.
How important is nutrition when training for a big event?
It’s crucial, without a doubt. If you’ve got an intense training regime then you need to fuel your body correctly to support it, there’s no point working hard but eating a load of rubbish. I try to eat relatively cleanly anyway, but during training season I incorporate a lot of complex carbs into my diet as well as white meat and lots of fish. Porridge is a mainstay, and tends to form the basis of most of my early morning training runs.
What’s your top evening meal for the night before?
Nothing too heavy, and certainly nothing that you’ve not tried before. Race-eve is not the time to experiment with spicy foods! I usually go for something like turkey mince meatballs with wholewheat pasta and lots of cheese. I usually add in some pulses too for extra protein.
What about during the race, what do you take on?
I’ve tried gels before but they can leave me feeling a bit faint and lightheaded towards the end of the race, as they’re such an immediate burst of sugar designed for runners who are fatigued. I personally like jelly babies and I’ll have a few in my pocket to eat when I need them. Fluid wise, I stick to water during the race itself and make sure I visit every water station on the course, even if it’s just for a quick glug. After the race has finished I resemble a human dustbin and normally consume the edible contents of my goody bag within seconds!
So after it’s all over, do you relax your eating and exercise habits completely?
No – you’ve just put your body through enormous pressure so if anything, you need to supply it with even more good stuff and plenty of rest combined with gentle movement. Water is especially important, considering April can often have a welcome burst of high temperatures that the average Brit isn’t used to training in. You can sweat out up to 2litres of fluid during an hour of exercise so it’s really important to take all of that back on, plus more besides, and keep your fluid levels up in the days following the race.
Any other tips for a marathon newbie?
Enjoy the buzz, remember how hard you’ve trained, and soak up the crowd at the finish line. If you’re finding it really difficult to get around the course, think of the one thing you can’t wait to do after it’s all over and just focus on that as your motivator. Good luck!
Thanks to Adam for his words of wisdom!