As both a runner and a coach, you can always learn more and there are always areas to improve on!
My marathon time has improved from 3:17 to 2:24, mostly by trial and error, finding out what works best for me and then sticking to it religiously.
I’ll be sharing my best tips, biggest learning points and what I’ve found works most effectively in order to improve as a runner. My goal is not to beat anyone but rather to improve as much as I can and help as many fellow runners improve along with me in my journey. Just to note, what works for me, may not necessarily work for you.
With Cheshire elite marathon getting confirmed with just 19 days to go, I managed to hustle an entry and get on that start line. In many ways I did not prepare for this race as I usually would. However, with this and by doing things differently, came some big learning points for me, which I’ll share in this article. My official finishing time was 2:24:04.
There’s a lore more insight I could go into, but I’ve narrowed down my top 5 tips that I learnt from this experience which I’d like to share with you;
1) My Longest run was only 30kms
For someone running their first marathon, I usually recommend you get in at least one 30km or 32km prior to race day. This doesn’t just help from a physical point of view but a mental point of view too. That way, mentally you know you’ve been to let’s say the 32km distance before and it’s just a case of hanging in for the last 10km. However, at the level I’m currently running at and with me targeting a sub 2:25 marathon in this race, I would usually get in a few runs over 32kms (probably around 4), with one 40km run in too.
This was not the case at all! Over the past 8 months prior to race day, my longest run was only 30kms, and with my entry coming just 19 days to go, there was no time to fit in a last minute 40km.
Having said that, my weeks were very consistent, and I had averaged around 130kms a week from the start of the year. Just goes to show you that those really long runs aren’t crucial in achieving your goal marathon target. It’s more about getting the regular runs in and consistent high mileage weeks.
A usual week would look something like this;
- Monday AM: 12km recovery run (incl. 4 X 200m strides).
- Monday PM: 8km recovery run.
- Tuesday AM: 8km recovery shake out.
- Tuesday PM: 10km Track session (usually around 5km of volume).
- Wednesday: 20km recovery run.
- Thursday: 18km tempo session.
- Friday: 8km easy.
- Saturday: 20km tempo and interval work.
- Sunday: 26km longer run (controlled with a 1km Hot Spot).
*I still did track on Tuesday the week of the race - I just took the first half easy and opened up second half.
2) Instead of carb depletion I reduced my calorie intake before increasing it
What I’ve done in the past prior to race day is a thing called the Saltin diet. In summary, you deplete your body of all carbs for 3 days, followed by carbo loading for the 3 days before the race. This has worked for me previously, however, I’ve found it to be quite intense, causing severe headaches and there’s no actual proof that it works. So what I chose to do this time instead was eat as per usual, just reducing the amount of calories I was taking in for 3 days, before increasing calories and carbs for the 2 days in the build-up to the race.
To give you some insight into my meals: The day before, I had yoghurt and oats/muesli for breakfast, sweet potato and a protein (tuna) for lunch, and whole wheat pasta with protein (chicken) for dinner with reduced sauce for obvious reasons. On the morning of the race, I had peanut butter on whole wheat toast.
In my last 31 marathons, I have never had stomach issues or needed to go to the bathroom. Like I’ve said in the past, if it’s not broken, don’t fix it! This has worked for me previously and continues to do so, so I haven’t changed a thing
3) Race nutrition: two gels and a caffeine. 400ml of liquid (Maurten drink mix)
Throughout the marathon, I had 3 Maurten gels (two normal and one caffeine), and just 400ml of Maurten drink mix. Conditions were fairly good on the day, but in the past, I’ve made the mistake of thinking that because I was running a marathon I needed to get loads of nutrition/liquid in throughout the race. This marathon clearly taught me that if you have had the right nutritional build- up to the race, then your body actually stores the energy you need for it, so that during the run there’s no need to force excessive nutrition down.
I had a gel at the start, a gel at 15kms and a caffeine gel at 28kms
I had 3 sips of my Maurten drink mix every 6kms.
*Obviously if you’re running for longer or if conditions are hotter then your body is going to need more nutrition/liquid.
4) Ran my own race and didn’t care who was in front or behind me.
Always such a catch 22 in a marathon when there’s a group just in front of you and you have to make that decision whether to speed up now to catch them and risk blowing at a later stage or do I run within my comfort zone, but risk running the rest of the race solo. Thankfully, in the beginning, there were good groups to work with, up until half way.
There are big benefits to running in a group - you can share the work, the drag effect helps you maintain the same speed with slightly less effort and of course you can shelter if the conditions are windy.
At the halfway point I made a decision to break away from the group I was in. I knew I would run the rest of the race solo, however, I felt really good at that stage and I knew I would be better off risking doing the rest of the race as a lone wolf, rather than staying in a group where the pace was dropping, which actually would have resulted in me missing my sub 2:25 target (the group I was in finished in 2:27). On a different day and in different conditions, I may have stuck in a group for a lot longer in order to share the work, but in this race I made the right decision to risk running the second half solo, but knew that at least I’d be running my own race.
5) Morning routine just about every day including day of the marathon.
My morning routine is constantly evolving and changing in ways that I find to be most beneficial to me. I add in extra exercises to address my weaknesses (previously this has been my calves and Achilles). Doing a morning routine day in and day out is great, but doing the same thing every day is not as beneficial as if you were to change it up and give extra love and attention to areas you know you need to. Some days I felt like it, some days not so much, but I knew at the end of the day, that if I cross that finish line in sub 2:25, which I did!! then every single second spent doing my morning routine would have been worth it!
There’s loads more I could give insight to but these are probably my biggest learning tips from this marathon! Like I said previously, what works for me, might not work for you. But if this helps just one fellow runner improve and achieve their goal, then it’s been worth it!
Next goal sub 2:20 @ London marathon. Let’s go!!!!
If you have any questions, please feel free to give me a shout.