Welcome to my marathon training journey, where I'll be taking you along with me as I prepare for the full 26.2 miles of the London Marathon. Call this your definitive guide, from the highs (crossing that finish line) to the lows (the long training runs, so help me), I'll be taking you along with me throughout my journey. Whether you're in training or you're just intrigued to know what it takes to get marathon-ready, let's do this.
The 2018 London Marathon is officially 10 weeks away. Ten—sounds ages away, ages! But it's actually short weeks that will pass more quickly than I can run right now. Ahead of me are weeks of long runs, speed runs, strength training, sweat and probably a lot of tears. To be completely honest, I'm not entirely sure I'm ready for it, which is why I'm sharing my journey with you. A problem shared, is a problem halved, or so the saying goes.
Don't get me wrong—I'm not a complete novice. I've run half-marathons (well, one, to be precise) and I have spent a lot of time pacing the pavement. I like to think I'm a relatively fit and healthy person. I know I'm more than capable, but running a marathon is as much about your mind as it is about your fitness, and right now, my mind is a little anxious about what I'm about to take on… You with me? This is what it takes to train for a marathon.
FUELING YOUR BODY WHEN TRAINING
I still don't feel like I've fully grasped exactly what, when and how much to eat before I set off begrudgingly for a long run. I like to think I have pretty good eating habits (aside from my sweet tooth), but I eat a pretty balanced diet, and since training, the only thing that's changed is that I'm hungry all the time. By all the time, I mean every single second of every single day. I'm now a machine, and it's time I learned the correct way to fuel and refuel my body pre and post run.
Nutritional therapist Karen Alexandra from Wild Nutrition told me that with any exercise, fueling yourself with the appropriate nutrition is vital. Eating the correct balance of protein, fats and carbohydrates is key to your performance both on race day and during training. I feel like I currently have that locked down. I eat carbohydrates in abundance and am still not bored of my morning porridge. I date an Italian, so there's no shortage of olive oil or healthy fats. Plus, I eat a range of protein from beans, chicken and my new favourite, Innermost's The Fit One Chocolate Protein (£30). This superfood protein blend contains whey protein, maca to improve energy, magnesium and rhodiola root to help reduce the effects of fatigue following exercise. Oh, and it tastes like a chocolate milkshake, so it's safe to say that I'm addicted. Another thing I'm loving is Wild Nutrition's TurmaForte Full Spectrum Tumeric (£32) supplements. Given that I'm putting my body under extreme pressure, these supplements help to reduce any inflammation in my joints. Turmeric is a known anti-inflammatory, and it's not something I'd necessarily include daily in my diet, so having it in supplement form makes it so much easier.
As a runner, there should be a focus on a higher intake of carbohydrates a few days before a long run and equally on the day of the run. Before any long distance, it's so important to eat the right amount of carbs to gain muscle-fuelling glycogen, but it's important you eat the right carbs to ensure your body is receiving optimal nutrition and can repair for the next run. Think potatoes, butternut squash, beetroot, brown and basmati rice, quinoa and buckwheat.
Karen also recommends a breakfast with at least 100g of carbohydrates before any long run—like porridge with honey and six to eight almonds to get some healthy fats in there too. Then allow at least two hours to digest before you start running—something I never do. I'm guilty of leaving an hour, so I will definitely wait longer for this weekend's 11.75-mile run. Pray for me.
WHY STRENGTH TRAINING IS AS IMPORTANT AS CARDIO
If there's one thing I've learned over the past year, it's that strength training is as important as the running itself. Last year I started my marathon training focusing just on running and left time for little else, which resulted in me injuring myself and having to postpone my place. At the time, I was gutted, but now I'm glad I've taken a year to educate myself in other ways of training to help build my strength to carry me around the 26.2 miles.
Personal trainer Adam Hewitt from Ten Health and Fitness confirmed that strength training is as important as running when training for a marathon, as pounding the pavements can take it's toll on your joints and strong muscles help protect them. Think of it this way: If the body isn't strong enough to take the increased volume (read: very, very long runs) then you're at more risk of injury. An injury is what you need to avoid at all costs.
The best way to approach strength training is with a programme focused around your goal (in this case, to run a long way) but also your weaknesses (in my case, lazy glutes). In time, this effort will pay off improving both my movement and my functionality (read: my ability to run this race). All while easing any stress on my body.
My plan starts with a warm-up, but it swiftly moves into glute activation and reformer work, using a range of exercises with a loop around my knees. This includes squats, glute bridges and hamstring pulls. Hewitt gave me these moves to activate muy glute, the band offers added resistance to make the moves tougher. Compound movements (like a squat) utilise multiple muscles, so you're getting more bang for your buck.
We then moved on to crab walks (my least favourite exercises ever), as I have the tendency to collapse medially, which leads to knee valgus—which is essentially when your knee caves or sinks as you squat or land. By doing crab walks, I was able to activate my glutes, strengthen them and improve my knee control.
Next in my strength plan is the bit you'd normally associate with "strength training". Hewitt and I focused on a range of movements done in sets of 10. From goblet squats to Nordic leaps to single-leg step-downs, Hewitt made me move from two-leg to single-leg movements to help improve my lower-limb strength. Strength training for runners should include a lot of single leg work because when running you spend more time on one leg than two.
I'll admit that at first I was confused by the type of training Hewitt and I discussed. It didn't feel like the type of strength training I'd practised before, but after two sessions, I was hooked—and I still am. The thing is that most of us live busy lives, so it just takes a little planning to fit both running and strength training in, but I promise you it's worth it. Granted, this is a tailored plan, but if you are planning on taking on a challenge like a marathon, I'd highly recommend visiting a personal trainer and sorting yourself out a strength plan. You can get your first one-to-one class for £15 at Ten Health and Fitness or visit your local gym.
LET'S TALK TRAINERS
I've run in a lot of trainers. With full support to no support, my feet have seen and felt a variety of shoes that have both helped my running and ruined it.
Given that I've grown up with a father who does Ironman Triathlon's for fun (look it up, yes he's mad), I've always felt clued up when it comes to trainers. I know not to step out for a run in my weekend Vans, and I also know it's better to have a pair for the gym and a pair for pacing. But finding "the ones" (aka, the ones you're going to commit to running 26.2 miles in) can be a tricky task.
I decided to turn to the one person that helped me find my marathon shoes, Rebecca Gentry. Mine are the Nike Zoom Pegasus 33, if you're curious.
Gentry is not only a Nike run coach but a personal trainer and all-round lover of running. She's literally never not running, so naturally, she knows a thing or two about trainers. The first thing we did together when I found my trainers was have my gait tested. Our human gait essentially refers to the locomotion achieved through our movements. It's defined as bipedal, biphasic forward propulsion of the centre of gravity through the human body. Sounds scientific, right? In simpler terms, when you have your gait tested, which you can do in places like Runners Need, you have to walk, and then run for a short while on a treadmill while being filmed and wearing a netural shoe with little or no support. This helps to highlight any abnormalities in your gait, so they can see what type of shoe you need.
This video is then assessed, and a shoe is recommended. I tried a variety of shoes, as I tend to roll my feet inwards and this means I need some support, but not too much. Gentry told me that a shoe should feel comfortable and encourage stability through the whole body from the foot upwards. She also told me that there should be about a thumbs width distance from the end of your big toe to the end of the shoe—I can definitely now confirm that this is because when you're running a lot, you're feet swell. It isn't pretty, but trust me that extra width will save your feet.
According to Gentry, the correct shoe should aid your run, not hinder and the shoe shouldn't be trying to correct your foot strike as you run as that's what working on your biomechanics is for (more on this in week 6).
The other aspects of a trainer to consider are very much dependant on the runner and their distance. As I'm training for a full marathon, having cushion within the shoe is essential. It will help me to propel my foot forward after 25 miles and (hopefully) keep my feet intact.
This cushioning is also helping to protect my right foot from injury. As I mentioned before, I tend to roll my foot inwards (due to a tendon injury) and having my gait tested highlighted this. Becs recommends visiting an expert like Christian Poole at The Running Lab or Emma Kirk at ProFeet if you're concerned about injury and want your feet checked out.
What to do before starting your marathon training
I'll fill you in on a little secret: I was actually supposed to be running the London Marathon in 2017, but because I didn't prep properly and went full speed ahead into my training without thinking it through, I got injured. And you know what? I'm glad I did. Because now I'm doing it properly. I started my journey with a full body MOT (£120) at Ten Health & Fitness with Ant Brightwell, the physiotherapy manager.
An MOT is essentially what it sounds like: a full-body checkup to make sure everything is in working order. Why should you get one when running or embarking upon the longest run of your life? Well, think of it this way: You're about to put your body through an extreme amount of pressure, as Ant told me. No matter what level runner you may be or what level of general fitness you may have, it's so important to get yourself checked out with an MOT by a physio before pushing on with your training plan. Ant went on to say we might not realise how our lifestyle impacts our mechanical balance or puts our body through stress. That's where my MOT came in handy—it highlighted the predisposing factors that could cause me potential injuries during my training.
So, what was up? What was my body trying to tell me before I gave up my life to the road? The tendonitis I'd spent months nursing after I injured myself last year was caused by a lazy glute on the right side. After talking about my individual goals, Ant looked at my posture in a range of positions and assessed my dynamic movements to watch how my body moved. It transpired that my right leg was a lot weaker than my left, and this was causing me to exaggerate it over to the left as I walked and ran. All because of my lazy glute. Fantastic.
This is the important bit, though—without a full body MOT, I would not have known that my tendonitis was caused by this. I wouldn't have known the correct exercises to do at home or what part of my body to target with my foam rolling.
Ant told me that by carrying out a set of physio-approved exercises at home and stretching out the leg muscles (calves, quads, hamstrings, IT band and glutes), I would go on to run the marathon fine. Given that I train, of course. My advice if you're planning on running a marathon, or a half for that matter? Get booked in for a full assessment with a physio at somewhere like Ten Health & Fitness, then give the below glute-strengthening exercise a go at home. Chances are, if you have a desk job, you have lazy glutes. Invest in a foam roller to ease tired muscles in your legs and bum after running, and buy yourself a pair of running tights that feel and look great. I'm currently obsessed with the Nike Epic Lux tights (£90).
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