Marathon Minus One
by: Ian Kemp
This will be the final article in the series (Previous article: Marathon Minus Two).
Only one month to go! Well, if you are still keeping up with the programme described in these articles, you should have pretty much built up to your peak kms/week workload by now, and should have regularly been doing long runs in excess of 21km, with at least one and preferably two or more cracks at the 32km 'warm up' distance. If so, then you are almost a dead cert for the marathon! Hopefully you entered the event now, and are beginning to think about the race itself.
A reminder - this series of articles is intended for those running their first marathon, or those who have run one or two previously who now want to make a reasonable time. It is not intended for the elite level athlete! I will give general guidelines in these articles - I do not want to give specific training schedules as is it not really possible to set up one program which will suit everyone, rather the articles offer some practical tips and hopefully some advice in gauging your progress.
This time I'd like to cover a few points specific to the final stage of your training programme, as well as a few details related to race day itself.
This month for the first time I would like you to not increase your kms/wk, but instead to simply maintain the workload you have built up to. For most of the last six months you have hopefully been increasing you weekly kilometres gradually by perhaps 10-15 km/week each month. It is time now to simply stabilise on the current volume and give your body a few weeks to adapt to it. By not increasing km/week any further, you are starting to conserve energy for the marathon.
An important concept in preparation for the marathon is the taper, which basically means that in the last few weeks before the event you actually decrease in workload, basically saving energy and allowing your muscles to recover and be in top condition for the event. There is no single answer as to what is the best taper to use, you really need to experiment for yourself over several marathons! To get you started, I'd suggest your peak km/wk should be about 5-6 weeks before the marathon. After this, maintain the same workload (or a little below) for 3 weeks, then reduce the total volume over the last 3 weeks.
Here is a suggestion for a taper - the two cases relate to whether you are currently running 120km/wk (ideal) or 90 km/wk (minimal!)
M-6 weeks 120 90 M-5 weeks 110 90 M-4 weeks 110 85 M-3 weeks 100 80 M-2 weeks 90 70 Marathon week 80+M 50+M
After such a long time period running at a high volume, you may find yourself pretty restless during the last couple of weeks! You should also expect a couple of physiological changes, which will be discussed below. Don't worry about 'loss of fitness', you will not lose the benefit of 6 months training in 2 weeks! The idea is to remove the stress of a continuously increasing workload, to give your body a rest ready for the stress of your longest run ever!
Anyone who is interested in the marathon has probably come across the concept of carbohydrate loading, and the depletion-superloading which is now commonly used by elite athletes. My advice to the beginning to average runner is DON'T TRY IT! Depletion-superloading is a quite stressful process which can, if badly managed, seriously impair you fitness just before a major physical challenge. My simple advice is to not make any significant changes to your diet, or any other normal habits for that matter, in the lead up to the race. Basic carbohydrate loading on the other hand, is quite a good (and enjoyable) tactic which can simply consist of pigging out on pasta, rice and other carbohydrate-rich foods during the last 2 days before the marathon. The aim is to ensure that your store of Glycogen in the muscles and liver is as full as can be when you line up for the race. The taper in workload combined with high carbohydrate intake for a couple of days should achieve this for you. Please also remember that the storage of glycogen also requires water, so drink plenty of water in the last 24-48 hours before the race, to ensure you are fully hydrated for the event.
One result of the reduced workload and high carbo+fluid intake is that when you come to line up at the marathon start line your muscles may feel heavy, stiff and unresponsive. This can be quite off-putting if you are not expecting it, but you can take it as a sign that your muscles are jam packed with fuel and fluid, ready for the major event.
Select your gear!
One factor you should consider during the last couple of weeks before the event is actually what you intend to wear on race day. Quite possibly you will want to pick your 'best stuff' so that you stand out in the crowd, but it is a good idea to test your proposed outfit on a couple of long runs before the marathon. You should be on the lookout for any signs of chafing or discomfort from your clothing - what may be a minor annoyance on a 10km run after work can become a nightmare 30km into the marathon! If you do notice chafing effects they can often be overcome by strategic use of sticky plasters or vaseline, again try it out on some long training runs first..
This may be obvious but: don't buy a new pair of shoes for the marathon! use tried and tested gear you are comfortable in.
Race day logistics
Race day itself is simple enough - just make sure you are at the start line when the race starts!! Other than that there are a few minor details - if you can drive over some of the course a day or two before the race this is beneficial in knowing what to expect & to see where you will be going. On race day the course will be laid out with progress markers each km, so you will know precisely how far you have run! When you are counting down the last couple of k's, just remember that the full distance is 42.2km (not 42!), but there will be a big crowd around the finish line to cheer you in!
You should also have a close look at the information on drink stations provided by the organisers. You need to judge whether the drink stops are sufficient or whether you want to take extra water. Remember to drink plenty early in the race, by the time your mouth is dry with thirst, it is too late! You may like to carry a small water bottle, at least for the first half of the course, to supplement the official drink stations. Again it is a good idea to test your plan before the race, e.g. carrying or drinking from a bottle should be practiced on some of your longer runs in the lead-up period. If you want to supply your own drinks you will need to hand these to the organisers early in the day so they can be taken out to the drink stations on the course.
At the start of the race, you should be feeling keen, strong and restless! As mentioned earlier, when you actually start running you may be surprised to find your muscles a little heavy and unresponsive. At all costs you must stick to your race pace! Probably the major reason for people failing to finish the marathon is that they feel great at the start of the race, go out at a too fast a pace, then hit a 'wall' later in the run! If you stick to the pace you have been using on your longest runs, or even a little slower, you will be able to last the distance. If you get carried away with the excitement and try to stick with the race leaders for the first 10km, you can expect to come to a sticky end!
In summary, exercise restraint early in the event, get lots of water in the early part of the race, look around and enjoy yourself! At last after all that training you are finally running the marathon! Have confidence in your training - if you have done the 'miles' over the last few months you can expect to finish and in good form. When you cross that finish line and get your finisher's medal, you will realise that you have done it!
Action plan for this month
1. Get out there and run the race!
2. Have fun
3. Send me an email after the race & tell me how you got on!
Ian Kemp, Cool Running Australia, 18.03.98