Marathon Training – What they don’t tell you.
My marathon is in 1 week. The final week of ‘training’ is here, or the ‘taper’ as it’s known to marathon runners and I must resist any urges to go out and overuse my legs which are ‘full’ of running and all the great training sessions crammed into each pin! This all sounds great doesn’t it, ready to rock and roll! However, it has not been totally great to be honest with you…it’s never easy at all and if I try to sound positive and motivated, this only masks a lot of anxiety and nerves as well as failed sessions, injury and disappointment. Each journey to a different marathon has thrown up different challenges… most of the challenges are on this journey, though the training and getting to the race itself. The day will come and go… it will hurt, maybe not in the same way as a guts-out 10km or half marathon… or even a public relay event with stomach issues. . but it will be that point from 20 miles which is the real test, where the training under your belt really pays off.
OK so you are probably wondering – so what haven’t I told you?
So …a lot of marathon runners are lonely runners, with your own pace and your own goal, it’s all about your own training plan. This is a lonely business if you really want to crack it. If you are not so bothered about achieving your own personal best…then it is mentally easier to deal with long runs if you are with others. However someone will be running a bit quicker than ideal…others slower… so overall there is a lot of give and take in group training.
Some enjoy the solitude… there are advantages but disadvantages too. You can go out when you want, no-one is waiting and if the weather is horrendous you can plan around this without pressure of notifying others. This was particularly good for me in May when I went out on a long run starting out 7am as it had been a very warm week and I was fully expecting a hot one. I was also able to plan a route which had a pit stop at home to refill my water bottle. I can also be ‘anti-social’… emergency toilet stops and listening to pod-casts of Friday night Comedy and Marathon Talk – but also just ‘zoning out’ of the daily pressures and being in a zen-like chilled out place, listening to my body and breathing. The disadvantages though.. they may seem to take longer (not so bad with podcasts) and that human contact is sometimes a comfort blanket and motivational.
OK so you may have heard it all before … black toe-nails, athlete’s foot, snot-fests, chaffing, gel on the face instead of in the mouth… and gurning on hard sessions. When I say ‘hard sessions’… these are things like tempo efforts (almost race-pace sessions, on your own), mile long repeats, long hard hill efforts …even guts-out Parkruns! Your body will be going through a long series of tests… of endurance and strength so your nutrition and recovery is key! I have been relying on SIS REGO Recovery shakes after hard and long sessions and I have used the High5 ISO-gels on the runs… sometimes with successful top removal and the gel has all gone in my mouth and not all over my fingers creating a frustrating distraction throughout the run. Some other bits which you may not have heard… hair growth(! ) My hair has been growing at an astonishing rate…I have to shave my legs daily pretty much (you can almost watch it grow!) I would imagine this is protein linked – from the recovery drinks. You become a Cookie-monster. If anyone has food… you track it like a homing missile, you will find you beg and borrow even contemplate stealing! People will wonder ‘where it is going?’ Trust me – the calories will get used – if you do it right and listen to your body, you shouldn’t lose any pounds at all because the craving induced extra eating makes up for the extra training (ohhh!) Ahh and how could I forget.. the potential ‘gingerbread man incidents’. Any regular downloader of Marathon Talk podcast will understand the term ‘gingerbread man’… best described by an unfortunate event in the region of pantsville – and I am not talking the ‘yellow snow’ variety. Top tip…always plan a route with some ‘duck in a bush’ potential or even past public toilets if you are strategic enough. Also – tissues are a long run must. Expect to radiate the attractiveness of sweating beetroot or – dragged through a wet bush backwards after wind-swept, stormy days.
OK so there is a goal, which helps. A challenging course is difficult to train mentally for. It isn’t like a fast, flat, time-based goal – where anything quicker than a previously set PB is the simplest of goals. I seem to keep doing this… I want to have a mentally stimulating course involving beautiful surroundings and I have absolutely no idea what time to expect for it which creates some dilemmas in training sessions. I really messed up on the Snowdon marathon… ‘trying to make up for the uphills’ with quicker downhill sections is NOT the correct plan. It’s not purely the anxiety as the race approaches, with the best strategy of attack, but it’s everything else going on…in life! Being exhausted from working hard then getting out on your own on a training session…is tough. Coping with the challenges of a new career, when people test your good nature and unforeseen disasters! About a month ago, a fire at my clinic which disrupted the flow of life… luckily the team was strong and there wasn’t too much impact on business as we found alternative premises, but this was obviously a concerning time. Also this particular training has taken a bit of a toll on my immune system – in the last week battling against a niggling chesty cough which is being dealt with now with antibiotics. You love it, you hate it… days when you get a crippling side-stitch and you have to walk when you wanted to do a tempo pace, but also days when it is so cold and wet outside and you brave it …then splash wildly through puddles like a crazy thing with puzzled onlookers. Those days are fantastic.
You agonise and self-diagnose every niggle which crops up… is it my old tendon injury come back to bite me? What is that in my knee… is that ‘pain’? That’s a new one…up my shin, oh please don’t say I have ‘shin-splints’?! Then onto Google and forums only seeing things which frighten you more! You can become unbelievably neurotic and a real bore to your partner and friends.. personally, I have been hiding this a lot as I tend to focus on dealing with other people’s niggles as a sports massage therapist so people may ‘believe’ I am incredibly optimistic with no injury concerns or problems…but this is not true at all. I have been managing any problems that have cropped up with immediate remedial responses, but I have focussed this time on more PREVENTATIVE measures… the obvious being sports massage which as an advocate, I regularly receive myself and has kept me in check particularly when my calf played up in May. A LOT more core conditioning work this time round I think has been KEY to providing a strong efficient running style so the susceptibility to injury has been lowered. Also stretching – particularly the key areas of hamstrings, quads, hip flexors and calves… religiously, after every hard or long session but also a longer weekly session. I have had some chiropractic adjustments to address my leg length discrepancy and have been doing exercises to strengthen my glutes so more power is coming from there (very weak before!)
I am incredibly lucky to have a partner who is also a runner and understands the commitment and consummation of marathon training. He is also a coach, so an endorser of a thorough training regime and plan… so happier that I am out doing it than not. I also do not have any ‘dependants’ – no children, no dogs.. just a very easygoing cat which lets itself in and out. This definitely helps with getting out training… however I know a lot of people have more to think about and fit training around. There is not just the time consuming aspect which takes you physically away from others.. but the extra sleeping, eating and general healthy-living eats into all aspects of life. Your social life will take a back-seat to the consideration of early starts for fitting long runs in on week-ends. If I do a project, a job …anything in life, I like to give it my best shot! This might make me seem ‘obsessive’ on occasion ..I am sure the neighbours think I am an absolute weirdo doing a long run on ‘that blustery day’ back in April (Stratford Marathon was cancelled due to the conditions)… that was a real test of commitment. But I wanted to finish that week’s training log.
Is it all worth it? Yes absolutely. I can now go into the race feeling confident and that even if the elements are against me… there is some experience under my belt. This is a test of character and is very personal to me. I respect a marathon and understand what a challenge it is, the challenge is over now in a way. I just have to do the race. I have to count all my blessings… the training runs that went well, the mile reps where I managed to maintain a target pace…. the efforts of those I treat and constant inspiration of them and their achievements… my fantastic running club and ladies team who all put so much work in. I owe it to all those people and I need to finish this off!
OK – so fingers crossed for next week-end and I will be reporting back!