8 Weeks To Go – The Balancing Act
The last 8 weeks before the Baxters Loch Ness Marathon is all about balance. Yes it’s about getting your training to peak so you feel you have your fitness where you want it to be on race day, building confidence in your ability to tackle the distance or hit your goal pace. However this also needs to be balanced with not cramming in so much training that you arrive on the start line tired.
In my last blog I have quite a few tips about what your final long runs might look like and when to do them so do go and check those out. In this blog I cover some other areas I often get asked about as race day approaches. The key bit now is the focus on what you can do, not what you haven’t done and to keep enjoying getting out for those sessions.
Diminishing returns: Training is there to get your fit, not prove you are ready. The truth is you won’t be 100% ready until the taper is over and the race his here. Many runners undo months of hard training by focusing too much on their peak long run, over cooking it and still being tired on race day. Be smart and don’t fall into that trap! I mentioned this in my last blog but cover it again here for emphasis as the gremlin starts to chat to you!
Try this: Go much beyond 3 hours 15 minutes in your longest long run and you risk leaving your best marathon in training. This might mean you don’t hit 20 miles in training – that’s OK it is the collection of all your training that will make your marathon not just that longest long run. If you are more experienced a good quality steady run of 21-22 miles with work at or near marathon pace will likely have more value than 24+ miles of easy running.
Do the maths: There is no hard and fast way to work out your best marathon pace. Much of it needs to be based on feel and your own perception of how fast you feel you can cover those 26.2 miles. If you plan to run-walk on race day remember your marathon pace is all about the split you use and doing this from the start (e.g. 10 minutes easy run, 2-3 minute brisk walk).
Try this: To get a very general idea if you have run a good recent 10km multiply this by 5, and minus 10 minutes to get a sense. Remember though that the course at Loch Ness has hills you will need to factor in and, as always, the weather might mean you need to adjust your targets.
Risk of the round: Round numbers have a satisfying ring to them. Over the years I have been coaching the appeal of the ‘round target’ is one I have seen undo many runners come race day.
Try this: If your body is in 3:33 shape on your best day, gunning for 3:30 because it looks nice could see you ending up with 3:40+. Conversely if you can run 3:48 but you start out at 4:00 pace there is a chance you will end up selling yourself short. Be guided by your fitness not a number.
Hit your arc: Doing your key sessions too close to race day can be a risk for many runners. Yes some top athletes will get away with training very hard up to the final 10 days or so. The reality is most of us need a little longer to gradually cut back.
Try this: As a broad rule of thumb two weeks out from race day your volumes might cut down by roughly 30%, in race week 50% of what you have previously been running. Aim to keep the frequency of your running the same but reduce the volume of each run. Keep some quicker efforts around marathon pace or up to 10km-10 mile type pace every 3-4 days.
Minimise the risk: With the long runs really pushing out now your body will be tired and this needs to be respected. The marathon should be your focus now so think about some of the injury risk factors surrounding your running training.
Try this: High intensity, high impact sports, HIIT, team sports like football and rugby are all great but remember you might not be used to doing these with a 2-3 hours’ worth of long run in your legs. It might be worth replacing some of these actives with more controlled core and gym work to ensure you maintain your strength but reduce the risk of injury.
Focus on yourself: There is no one ‘right’ way to train for a marathon. As the nerves of race day start to tingle it’s very easy to get caught up with what everyone else is doing. We all lead different lives, recover different and no one person’s training should be the same as anyone else’s. Stay confident with what you have done even if it feels less others are doing.
Try this: Social media can be great for motivation but it can also cause stress. Consider giving yourself a little break from Strava or social media apps if you are finding them leaving you worried about your preparation. You are where you are…
Remember to enjoy it: You chose to do this. Remember that. You made an active choice to fill out the firm and enter. You are going to tackle one of the most beautiful road races in Europe and whilst nerves are normal these shouldn’t outweigh excitement and the enjoyment of your day to day training.
Try this: Varying your routes, perhaps get out to some locations you’ve not seen before. If you take your phone for safety that’s fine but perhaps turn it on silent, forget the photos and immerse yourself in the act of running itself.
Get race ready: In my last blog I mentioned the importance of practicing your race day routine. If you have not done this yet now is the time to start!
Try this: Practise your pre-race breakfast roughly 3 hours before you run and consider having a small snack 60-90 minutes before you get out of the door. Aim to practice with the gels or other nutrition you will use on race day taking something on every 30-40 minutes. Plan to have worn your race day kit several times before the big day and try to complete at least one of your long runs around 10am when the marathon starts.
Sort your logistics: Get a plan ready for race week – when will you travel? where will you stay? Where will you eat the night before the race? It might sound obvious but in the final couple of weeks you need to minimize as much stress as possible so getting this sorted early is the way to go.
Try this: Work back from the start of the race planning to arrive 75 minutes or so before the start. Check out the FAQs and race day information on the website to ensure you know when buses leave to get to the start.
Tom Craggs is England Event Lead for Long Distance Running and Runners World UK Head Coach. He is one of the UK’s most in demand coaches, coaching runners from beginners right through to GB elite athletes including some of the UK’s most well-known runners.