Marathon Training TipsBy Adam Sinicki
Over these last few months I have been rather busy training for the London Marathon 2012 and making my feet and groin bleed running frantically around London. Last Thursday I did my biggest run yet - 18 miles outdoors - and now I am biding my time and eating huge amounts of carbs while my body rests. This is the calm before the storm, and certainly my favourite part of the training so far.
The whole thing has been something of a rush and hasn't gone quite as smoothly as one would hope. I only got a place because my lovely girlfriend Hannah was working at Arthritis Care at the time and tasked with finding volunteers. It was getting very close to the deadline and people were dropping out and so she called me on the train to ask if I wanted to do it. I had one hour to think about it (and fill out all the forms) and just under three months to train once I'd agreed. What made things even more fun was the fact that at the time I had a bad knee (after sprinting to the gym listening to 'Live to Win') which hurt every time I walked down stairs (my patella was misaligned....).
Being a retarded idiot though I still thought this was a good idea, and have since done a very meagre amount of training in the build up to Sunday, but nevertheless I thought I'd try and make an article out of it. In my bid to get into running-rather-than-lifting shape very quickly, here are some of the things I've learned.
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What You Will NeedThe most important piece of marathon training advice I can give you is to get good shoes. This is something that I have actually only just done myself, but you should do as I say and not as I do. Make sure that you go to a running shop that has ‘gait’ technology and they can measure your stride on a treadmill. I went for ‘Brooks FreeFlow’ because they’re a little like Vibram’s Five Finger shoes in that they have no heel. This encourages you to run correctly as we would have in the wild before we had healed shoes meaning that you’re running in the way you were evolved to (cavemen didn't have Nikes as it turns out). I’m going to go into this in a lot more detail in a future article. For now read my Vibram Five Fingers review which has a lot of information in it. Either way you want shoes that are comfortable and light that won’t upset you too much for the run. Also a good idea is a water bottle. I did 13 miles without one and I thought I was going to die. Then you need some good shorts/shirt etc to try and prevent chaffage and let me highly recommend using talcum powder. I didn't on my 18 mile run, and as a result my inner thighs turned at first red and then eventually purple and blue from skin burn. I was walking like John Wayne for a considerable amount of time afterwards so heed this warning! If you choose to wax your balls and tape your nipples that’s your business – I don’t want to know about it.
The Psychology of RunningThe main thing about running these distances to me at least is the psychology. Ultimately you aren’t going to kill yourself by running 26 miles, so it really just comes down to the sheer ability to push yourself on mentally. (Actually some people apparently do die... but they're probably mostly older folk than yourself... Or me... shit...)
And what I found worked best for this was to use a series of ‘rewards’. For instance I would take music, but not let myself listen to it until I reached 7 miles. On the treadmill I activated a fan at 12 miles. You might opt to slow your pace for a bit at 14 miles, or to have a small snack at 6. What this does is that it means you are running towards something that you know will make life a little bit better which makes the whole thing seem a lot less futile. The best reward for me I find is to listen to motivation music such as Stan Bush's 'The Touch'. Don't listen to music the whole way around the run as it will quickly get tiresome and distracting - rather save a few tracks for those moments where you really need a burst of energy.
At the same time it’s a good idea to try to distract yourself from the pain and discomfort. Whatever you do - don't focus on the parts of your body that are aching as any psychology worth their stripes will tell you that pain is a matter of perception more than anything else. If you find yourself hitting a mental wall and just hurting an awful lot then give yourself something else to think about, take a look around you at your surroundings, or even listen to an audio tape. It's like reading a book on the tube - the journey seems to go a hell of a lot quicker while you're distracted.
You should also make sure to pace yourself of course. I tend to get a bit carried away and over excited because I am an ego maniac. At the start of my 18 mile session I was running more than jogging
Running TechniqueAs I mentioned, the technically accurate running technique will always be the one that most closely mimics the way we were evolved to run. That means running as though you weren't wearing any shoes - on the balls of your feet and with your knees bending a lot. This is kind of running technique gives your leg more spring which protects the knees, and it's recommended by most athletes and trainers these days (look up 'pose' running technique, or 'chi' running). Keep your stride fairly short and increase the tempo to speed up.
The other really important thing is to keep a rhythm. Try to make your legs like a metronome because once your body falls into a comfortable rhythm it's much easier for it to maintain that and your body will start to work like clockwork. Keeping pace with another runner is actually a good way to do this - choose someone in front of you running at a similar speed and if you watch them you'll find you can zone out and let your body fall into its rhythm. Having some music for a bit with a steady beat can also help you to regulate yourself (again very handy as a pick me up later on). Make sure that you also start much slower than you feel like you need to at the beginning because remember that you're going to feel a lot worse 18 miles in (trust me on that one). Once you pass the 20 mile mark, if you're still feeling healthy you can always try and get some of your time back with a quicker stride.
Something that also worked for me on my 18 mile run, though is potentially not exactly great advice, was to try switching technique at certain points. By running onto a slightly different part of my foot I was able to lessen some of the pain toward the end (of my trial run... I need to stop acting like that's anywhere near as painful as the real thing is going to be...).
Finally, remember your arms. Don''t swing them too much because that's wasting energy too, and try to keep them fairly relaxed as if they get tense you can cause your traps and deltoids to ache fairly early on which has been a common nuisance for me. Don't be afraid to massage your ass and legs while you run too - just try not to make it look provocative.
Improving Stamina and Fitness QuicklyIf you read online about how to improve your stamina and fitness you'll mostly hear about how you should do lots of long runs and gradually increase the distance by 10% a month or something. Poppycock!
Running long distances is great, but unless you're a hobbo you're unlikely to have the time to run 15 miles more than once in the build up to the race, and you'll be prone to injuring yourself too if you're constantly putting that much strain on your body. No, don't do what I did and start training just three months before the race, but note that there are other ways you can increase your stamina and your cardio fitness without it having to take hours, and without your feet becoming sacks of blood and bone.
You can for instance try running on a very steep incline on a treadmill or on sand, or running holding dumbbells (I did this and warning: you will look mental). Likewise you can use my old favourite: interval training (or 'anabolic running' as I call it), where you sprint for short periods of time and then walk slowly for periods of time too. You can do this outside - stand by a lamppost, sprint to the next one, walk back, sprint to it again, walk back and repeat 10 times. This uses the same processes in your body to produce and supply energy, but it can help you to get the same amount of training done in a shorter time. Don't be afraid to mix it up from time to time either and to try riding a bike in the gym or going on the rowing machine for a bit when your feet are hurting too much to run.
Now in the build up to the big day you need to let your training drop off. This is certainly not an event you can cram for and what's most important is allowing your body to recover from all the abuse its been through the last few weeks ready for the big day. That means you should have at least a week with no training, and at the same time you should stock up on lots of carbs. Eat a lot particularly the day before the race so that your body can store these carbohyrdrates for later use. I read somewhere that some people are recommending eating fats rather than carbs as they are quicker and easier for the body to store as subcutaneous fat stores. To this all I have to say is no, no, no. Not only will these stores then be more difficult for your body to get energy from subsequently, but at the same time you'll be clogging up your circulatory system with lipids. You need your circulatory system when you're running and the last thing you want is arterial plaque building up.
Some Final TipsHere are some things that you might not have considered leading up to the race which I discovered were pretty important when I did my big run: