Training tips for spring marathons

With Christmas fast approaching it is getting to the time of year when many of us turn our attention to the many spring marathons which are just around the corner. Some of us have perhaps had an autumn break after a summer of racing, and so building back up to the longer distances should be approached carefully in order to not only achieve our goals, but to also stay injury free during preparation.

To help you start thinking about next year’s training, we have compiled a few thoughts from our growing team of fitness and health care professionals for anyone thinking of increasing their training volume, or simply wanting to make those first early steps in to running.

Think about your goals

We all secretly have a goal in mind when training for an event and we’re often reluctant to make them too ambitious. The fear of not succeeding can mean we become too conservative in our outlook and thus our commitment can start to drift.

The easiest way around this is to set more than one goal and create flexibility in what we want from a race. These can vary depending on your experience and previous achievements at a particular event. It might be increasingly ambitious finishing times or a position in the field. A good number to set is three:

  • Your main goal; e.g. completing the race
  • Your additional goal; e.g. an ideal finishing time
  • You aspirational goal; e.g. a preferred position

Whatever the goals, by having a range you can still be both ambitious and realistic in how you approach everything; not simply on race day itself but also whilst training. If you miss a block of training through injury or other personal commitments, having a range of objectives means you won’t loose motivation if your aspirational goals become less likely.

As hard as it can be, it’s also important to try and share our objectives with those around us, not only will you discover pointers from fellow runners but it also helps you feel that what you’re aiming for is tangible. The more we talk about something and our fears, the less daunting they will seem.

Consider other interim goals

The training process for a big event such as a marathon is a long and daunting one, but remember it’s not always about the destination but the journey along the way. Preparation for a marathon involves incremental increases in distance and could well involve racing shorter races at 5k, 10k and half marathon as your fitness increases.

A great way to keep focus and motivation throughout this process is to have interim goals as you increase your training and racing. This can help break up the training with smaller measurable achievements and also mean that if your target race doesn’t go to plan, you still have something to show for your hard work. Free events such as ParkRun at Stoke Park are a good way of mixing up your training and remaining social, whilst the classic pre-marathon race the Cranleigh 15 & 21 miler offers a well placed opportunity to gauge your fitness before the big spring marathons.

Get the right equipment

We and the staff in the Fitstuff Shop are frequently asked which shoes are best. This is a question which is long and complex, and needs a thorough discussion with each runner to ascertain their own needs. Specialist retailers such as our own Fitstuff offer complete and detailed consideration of each runner’s aspirations and objectives alongside their sporting background to inform the shoe recommendations we make. This is then coupled with a treadmill assessment which provides an opportunity to look at the runner’s gait analysis and also to test out any recommended shoes.

The objective of this process is to give a runner a complete picture of the footwear they are purchasing and all the various options that are available to them. Shoes are a completely individual choice, and what works for one runner will not work for everyone. Physically, running is an incredibly demanding sport and making sure that any shoe you opt for is going to work for you properly will go a long way to you staying injury free alongside a sensible training plan.

Our treadmill is an ideal opportunity to test any potential shoes you might be thinking about.

Run with other runners

Just because running isn’t a team sport, doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from the social side to running. Runs with other people feel more enjoyable and break the monotony of the dark winter training runs necessary for a spring race. You may well gain valuable training and racing tips from those around you and avoid making mistakes that many have made before.

They also help us complete sessions like the dreaded speed or hill work (if we’re honest we never try quite as hard at if left to our own devices!) Completing these kinds of demanding sessions with a group makes it a special experience, and means sharing that post-session glow with fellow runners which is key to staying motivated. Long runs can also benefit from a more social approach that can see you complete well over an hour on your feet without really noticing how long you’ve been out for. There’s then always someone around for a welcome and well earned coffee after your run.

There are a range of local clubs such as Waverley Harriers Running Club, Guildford and Godalming AC as well as social groups such as our own Fitstuff Run Club who meet at the shop on a Wednesday at 18:30 and Friday at 10:00.

Do not ignore niggles

Running will cause niggles, particularly when aiming for the high mileage demands of marathon training. The trick is to know if these are something you need to get advice on, or if they will settle with rest. A great way of paying attention to developing issues is to start keeping a training log that records what you did, how you felt and any pains that you might be feeling. Over a prolonged period of time you will begin to see patterns that can point towards weak areas which might need work, or certain kinds of training that repeatedly cause you problems. With this information you’ll be far better informed to catch injuries early and adapt accordingly.

If you do feel a persistent niggle, adapt your training for that week (cross-training or reducing your mileage) and see how it settles. If it continues, or even worsens with adapted training then get it checked out, the money spent on a proper physical assessment by one of our physios or osteopaths can make all the difference to ensuring that your training progresses smoothly and stays on track.

A few of our lovely team!

Have you ever seen yourself run?

The way that we run can (and often does) cause issues, especially as the mileage builds. Technique can be very easily adapted to suit each individual and helps with efficiency, speed and injury prevention. Get yourself checked with one of our 30-minute running analysis’ or a more in-depth Runners MOT. During these thorough assessments you will be able to see how you run and will receive specific advice on how to strengthen and improve your technique. Proper form will mean utilising the right muscles at the right time and ensuring that the entire biomechanics of the leg is stressed in the correct way to better absorb the impact of running. Proper technique will also improve the efficiency and performance of each stride length

We’ve covered in the past the importance of developing good technique around the hip area in this blog here.

Do not ignore strength

Fitness improvements are made not just by running alone, but by committing some part of your training schedule to a program of strength and conditioning work. One of the most effective ways to prevent injury is to incorporate running specific strength training into your plan which will make you a far more resilient runner.

Training in this way can take many forms, from simple bodyweight exercises such as single leg squats through to a more bespoke training plan that utilises a full range of gym equipment. There are a range of free resources available online but it is no replacement for a detailed discussion with a personal trainer, who can advise on technique but also appropriate exercises. If you are unsure as to what might be most appropriate for you, book in with one of our specialists who will go through our thorough movement screening to see what exercises suit you best. This information can be invaluable for developing an effective weight training programme.

Training intelligently

The biggest mistake we see in the clinic is people going too fast too frequently, or increasing their distances too quickly. Often enthusiasm gets the better of us and we can find ourselves quickly overtraining. A well devised training plan means that progression is kept gradual and means that training can be properly fitted to any work and family commitments. Equally if a session is missed we’re less likely to cram extra sessions in to make up for the time we feel we’ve lost. Instead we can see an entire overview of our training progress and see any missed sessions within a broader perspective.

A training plan should take all aspects of your life into account whilst also ensuring that you’re not making too large a jump in your training volume. General rules of thumb include keeping long runs at a conversational pace and focus mainly on getting prolonged time on your feet. Equally any increases in distance (be it total weekly mileage, or any single run) should not be more than 10% each time and keep any intense interval sessions to no more than two sessions a week.

Running Coach Darrel May from Raced Coaching works with both the shop and clinic to create training plans that can incorporate our other nutritional, strength and technique specialisms which creates a complete picture of each runner’s aspirations and existing ability. Assessing the likes of VO2 Max means that appropriate training zones can be applied to each session and give valuable data for tracking the individual’s progress.

It’s important to start early with any plan in order to build base fitness before a 12 or 16 week schedule is implemented. The tendency is to wait until the New Year however getting out on your feet and building a base mileage, even if there’s no plan yet in place will pay off as you get in to a structured training routine.

There is little replacement for a properly devised training schedule. Such a plan is devised over a thorough consultation process that takes the runner’s background and existing fitness level alongside their wider time commitments. Free online plans can be a good starting point but they can quickly become muddled once they’re applied to each runner’s situation. Equally working with an experienced coach will mean that a plan can be reviewed continually and changes made depending on the athlete’s changing commitments and situation. At Fitstuff we often plan every 4 weeks in advance and review towards the end in preparation for the next 4 weeks.

At Fitstuff Clinic and RunLab we specialise in helping runners achieve their goals. We not only work to prevent and treat injuries, but also advise runners of all abilities on how they might improve their technique, training and nutrition to make them stronger, healthier and happier runners. We have worked with hundreds of clients who’s ambitions stretch from a first 5k through to ultra distance runners and who want to remain injury free.

If you have any questions, please email us and we’ll be happy to chat over any questions you have.