Thursday, February 25, 2016

5 Tips to Improve Your Marathon Time

As we're now at less than 60 days before the London Marathon it's time to have a think about what are the major things you can still do in order to improve your performance.

Two months is still a very long time and you can make a substantial performance improvement in just 8 weeks - here are 5 things I think that can be done in the final couple of months to get you running at your best come race day.

1. Marathon paced runs

If you're looking to run a marathon at a quick pace then you need to get your body used to the pounding on the roads and the specific motions your body will go through during the race (no... not those motions).

It's important to separate this out into what I'm nominally going to call the "faster" runners and "slower" runners as both sets will be training quite differently.

For the "slower" runners your marathon training (where you are focused on a specific time and wish to maximise performance rather than get around) will have included numerous long runs at marathon pace and you will likely have quite a substantial differential between your marathon pace and your tempo pace. Your body is well conditioned to marathon pace.

For you - the aim is to run at the mid-point between your marathon pace and your tempo pace for approximately 50-70 minutes with a focus on running at a high aerobic effort.

For the "faster" runners you will likely have been training at up to a minute a mile or more slower than marathon pace - for you the effort will definitely be focused on trying to get a decent volume in and work on feeling comfortable at your marathon pace - checking that your shoes aren't rubbing, kit works well and practicing taking on nutrition at race pace. Generally I find that it takes 3 or 4 efforts of between 70-90 minutes at race pace for me to feel really comfortable about the race.

This should also clue you in really well about how realistic your marathon pace is - if you're unable (even in a heavy training week) to keep marathon pace up for 8-10 miles then it's probably time to re-evaluate your race pace.

Sample sessions can include:-

  • 75 minutes at race pace
  • 4 x 20 minutes at race pace off a minute
  • 8 x 5 minutes at race pace, 5 minutes at race pace +15s
  • 90 minutes at race pace + 15s
  • Half marathon race at marathon race pace

2. Run some more mileage

We still have 6 weeks of training - that gives you a great chance to continue to build your mileage. I don't agree that you necessarily need to impose artificial restrictions like 10% - the key is to listen to your body and what it's able to do.

Anything extra you can do, be that walking, exercise biking or very slow running - to give you more aerobic power - will be a big help.

One month is more than enough time to make a substantial impact on your training - it can be transformative and you can make a step change.

Sample changes could include:-

  • Running to work once a week
  • Running home from a session rather than taking the bus
  • Going for a walk on a Saturday / Sunday afternoon after your morning session

3. Nutrition for performance (next month)

*Caveat - the below does not apply to people either with an eating disorder or at risk of one, neither to runners under the age of 20*

The people that tend to win the London Marathon tend to look pretty damn lean. Part of this is genetics and part of this is a careful attention to detail and realizing that for any elite athlete keeping a healthy racing weight is important.

I would highly recommend a book like Matt Fitzgerald's Racing Weight for Peak Performance - available on Kindle and hard-copy.

It takes a commonsense approach to improving your overall diet quality by looking at the habits of elite athletes and seeing what they do that leads to their success without stopping you from eating anything in particular  - HINT - carbs are absolutely key for high level endurance.

Amazon Link  and a blog piece

Sample changes could include:-

  • Replacing sugary cereal with whole-grain cereal
  • Having a jacket potato, beans and cheese instead of a fried meal for lunch.
  • Replacing a trip to KFC with a trip to Subway (just for a week or two...)
4. Nutrition for performance (race day)

If you are planning on taking gels or other food on race day - it is absolutely vital that you practice with those gels in advance.

If you have struggled in the past - go out right now to your nearest running store and buy up 10 different gels - £15ish and try each of them on a run over the next couple of weeks - hopefully you will find one that suits you perfectly.

I particularly like the "Nectar" brand from For Goodness Shakes - I find them liquid enough to take without worrying about water (unlike Gu) but without a totally watery consistency.

Before you do a long run that starts at the same time as your target race - practice your race morning nutrition and try and get it down to a T. (Note - not to a "tea" - you should be having more than that).

Also - seriously consider incorporating some form of caffeinated gel or pre-race caffeine into your routine - caffeine is one of the few legal proven performance enhancers.  It is also more effective if you prevent yourself from taking it in the month up to race.

5. Speedwork (in moderation)

You should stay in touch with speedwork over the next 60 days but it should be relatively light touch - less is more both in terms of volume and pace.

The focus should be on maintaining a smooth and quick running action so that marathon pace feels relatively slow on race day whilst at the same time you are getting to stretch your legs out and not adopt the marathon runners shuffle.

Session ideas:-

  • Attend your club track or speedwork session and only do half the volume but don't increase the pace.
  • Attend your club track or speedwork session and do the whole session but at a slower pace (say 10k pace instead of 5k pace).
  • Add in 10 x minute at a fast (but not flat out) pace on a run with 1 minute jog recovery inbetween

You still have 60 days! That's loads of time to make a substantial change in your fitness. Make sure you listen to your body, get it prepared for the task at hand and focus on the important elements of your training. 

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Bryn Running

Training diary and musings on running in general.