Last month I found myself very interested by the Training Talk segment in the episode of the Marathon Talk podcast I was listening to. It was all about using the end of January to check in with your marathon training and gave advice for progressing in February. On my Sunday long run this past weekend I was again treated to a Training Talk segment, this time with advice about the long run as anyone training for an early spring marathon such as Paris or London will be hitting their biggest runs in March, and I thought I would use the points raised to consider my own long runs and reflect on how effectively I’m using them to progress my training.
The main point here was about sensible progression in distance. The hosts focused on recovery and made clear that if you’re still not fully recovered by Friday after a Sunday long run, then you’re probably overdoing it. Personally, I have been taking my progression really seriously as I’m sure mistakes here have contributed to past injuries. I was adamant that there should be a cutback every fourth week, my long runs never increase by more than 2 miles from my previous longest run and I have a tried and tested recovery strategy that works well for me: stretching, legs up the wall, recovery shake when I’ve run 10+ miles, a nap if necessary, compression tights/socks and an Epsom soak. I also make sure my long run is followed by a much easier day, usually a swim and maybe some yoga to help ease out my muscles. This has all worked really well through January and February, and I have a clear plan in place for progression in March.
Here, the importance of knowing what your fuel strategy will be for race day was discussed. Some people might not take any fuel at all, some might rely on water from aid stations, others might carry specific drinks/gels they want to take. Whatever the choice, it’s important to test it out in training. Even if you plan on taking nothing more than a sip of water, it’s important that your body is trained for this (and it was recommended that you stil carry something during training just in case, even if you don’t actually take it). Fuel is something else that I have pretty much tried and tested. Although some people are happy to use the on-course nutrition/hydration (and train with it to ensure it agrees with them!) I prefer to be a bit more self-sufficient. My preferred hydration is High 5 Zero and I carry this in a hydration pack so I can sip it whenever I want. I always carry more than I need so I’m used to carrying the pack (crucial for race day preparations) and know I can supplement this with bottled water from the aid stations along the course (plus in Paris that pink drink they give out around mile 18 that acts like rocket fuel for me!). As for nutrition, my strategy has always been a gel every 5 miles as this should be about every 45 minutes or so (longer and I start to feel a bit sluggish). I then take an extra one with 5k to go and carry a spare in case I need it! I have changed the gels I use and have been training with them throughout this month so I’m happy that fuelling for me is under control.
Pacing can be a tricky thing in the marathon and even the best of the best can fade in the final miles. This part of the discussion was all about building in marathon-paced segments to our training and the recommendation of a tune-up half marathon around 5 weeks out from race day to see how well we can sustain the required pace. I have thought a great deal about pace in my long runs, and have been using the philosophy that the long run should be slower in order to build endurance. In theory this endurance, combined with the speed work I’m also doing, should all come together on the big day. But while I’m trying to keep the pace down, I’m trying not to be a slave to the watch and running by how I feel, hence why my second 12 mile run was faster than my first – I was fitter by the second one and was therefore moving faster with the same effort. I have also noted a few occasions when I have run a bit quicker towards the end, hitting the sort of pace I’d like on race day, so I know it’s in there somewhere. As for a tune-up race, I do have a half marathon factored into my training plan for March and that will be a great opportunity to test out my race day kit and see if I can maintain a faster pace for the duration of the race.
I found this really interesting as it was a great reminder about how powerful the mind is. It’s important in training for a marathon than we don’t just train our bodies to go the distance, but our minds as well. Our mind will always give up before our body, so we need to find strategies to be able to push past that. The idea here was to be more mindful, to focus on the moment – the phrase used was, “don’t judge, focus on the process”. What this means is rather than thinking I can’t do this or I can’t run at the pace I need to, we focus instead on the moment, the process of running and what needs to be done to meet our goal. One recommendation to stay focused was to get used to running alone: no company, no music, etc. Training solo is something I’ve done for a long time now so I’m quite content out there with my own thoughts, and have battled through enough tough races to know that tenacity might as well be my middle name! As for not having music, well I do like to listen to podcasts when I run, but that’s more about using the time to fill my mind with useful or inspiring content than looking for a distraction. Come race day, I find it quite hard to focus on anything other than the race and am barely aware of anything playing through my earphones! In general I’m feeling positive about my long runs and am trusting my training. I want a PB in this race so if it’s my year then that’s what will happen. If not, there’s always next time!
5. Mix Things Up
The last part of the segment focused on ways to mix up the long run training e.g. progression runs, marathon-paced sections, etc. I have been focusing on keeping my long runs slow in order to build endurance, but I do try to run strongly through the final miles (which are often up hill!) in order to simulate the latter stages of the race. This will be really important on my longest runs as it will give me confidence that I can keep on going as my body tires. Playing around with paces and routes is a great way to stop the long run becoming tedious (especially if you’re running solo) but I have to say, I quite enjoy the time I’m out there as it gives me a chance to clear my head and have some time away from all the other demands in my life. Perhaps that’s just me though – I’ve always rather enjoyed marathon training!
Now it’s time to get my head down and embrace The Monster Month!
How has your February training gone?
Are you making any changes as we head into March?