Don’t mess up your London Marathon prep with a few weeks to go

When I was one of the London 2012 staff preparing for the 2010 London Marathon we were lucky enough to have a pep talk from the boss a few weeks before the race. It was 25 miles beyond his preferred distance but Seb Coe had run a ‘fun’ London with his Haringey club mates and gave us one killer tip: there’s not much you can do in the last few weeks to improve your performance but there’s a lot you can do to mess it up. Pretty sure he used a stronger word but you get the gist…

Slow or fast you’ve got to get to the line

Alongside Seb’s great advice I was steered to a 2hr56mins marathon, the best I could’ve run on the day, by Pete Marsh and Charlie Dickinson and their merry band of wise and experienced runners at Belgrave Harriers. Here’s a selection of their combined expert advice on getting yourself through the last few weeks. If I hadn’t have absorbed and followed this I would have messed up my marathon. I’ll share their race prep tips a week before this year’s run. [There is a shorter version of this blog on Guardian Running]

The long runs are done

You have done your long runs. You may have had a niggle, you may not have gone as far as planned, it was cold, you didn’t have your favourite hat on and you could squeeze a long run in this weekend. Don’t. You have done your long runs and it’s time to taper.

Whatever you have managed to do for your longest run is the foundation of your marathon this year, which you use to work out your pace and target time. Your likely performance is already in the bank if you prepare properly but you can still mess it up end up going slower. Based on the old school rule of a mile-per-day recovery from a long run, anything close to or over 15-18 miles now risks nibbling away at the training and performance you have already banked.

It’s taper time

Perversely, and marathons are perverse, the moment you take your foot off the pedal and ease up on your training is the toughest. The idea of ‘the taper’ is to wind down your mileage, heal any damage and start building your reserves and strength to get to the line in Greenwich in the best possible shape.

But it makes you feel rubbish. Nerves you pounded into submission spring back into life, muscles twinge to celebrate their new found freedom and you feel sluggish. You’re tempted to think these aches and pains are due to the lack of training, which you are now highly addicted to, but just say no and stick to your schedule. My marathon guru Pete Marsh (a 2:20 man in his day) gave me the schedule below but pick one that suits you from the many available – Runner’s World has plenty. The aim for me was to reduce the miles and fine-tune my pacing and mind for the different parts of the race, and to keep me busy. I still felt rubbish throughout the taper.

Pamper thyself

Unless you are one of the rare freaks of nature built to run marathons, you are feeling battered and bruised. Now is the time to rest, heal and pamper yourself.

Hopefully you’re already being pummelled regularly by a sports masseuse and pummelling your self on your foam roller, every distance runner’s new best friend. If not get both lined up ASAP as you don’t want to do anything new in the last week (see below).

Convince your neglected family that long hot baths are essential to your marathon glory, as is the Alberto Salazar (Mo’s coach) biography you’ll be reading in the tub. If you’ve not been having ice cold baths, don’t start now. This is not the time to self-inflict any more pain.

Think about your daily routine and do everything you can to reduce the strain on your body. Wear comfy shoes to work. Sporting luminous running shoes in the office could turn conversations with colleagues into marathon talk, and extra sponsorship.

Get up from your desk regularly, have a stroll at lunchtime and avoid lugging anything heavy. Think about going without coffee and wine, and then decide that the positive effects of a little of both outweigh the supposed negatives.

Gear up and go with what you know

If you’ve run close to or beyond the recommended life span of your trainers (usually 500 miles) and have yet to buy your silver-dream-lucky-race trainers, stop reading this and go and get them.  As in now, not online to be delivered in a week, from a shop, today. Buy exactly the same size, make and model and start wearing them on your shorter runs, building up to your next longer run. Don’t be led by the running shop pied piper of new shoes towards another model or brand, go with what you know.

If you want to buy magic go faster shorts buy exactly the same model and shape as you’ve worn in training. New bits of material will find new bits of the body to rub against. Personally I go for the 70s style high-thigh shorts as I’d rather my thighs on show than bleeding from chaffing. If you’re wearing a vest or other top that you haven’t worn before, start wearing it on your longer runs – also a good way to be spotted and high-fived by other London marathon runners.

Quench your thirst, fast

Taper time is also a good chance to perfect your plan for drinking and fuelling on the run. Of course you’ve already tummy and taste tested your own energy gel and/or drink or the ones that will be on offer at the drinks station? Only the mighty Paula Radcliffe can run a blistering marathon with a road side pit-stop. Best to try your energy gel and/or drink on a few of your longer and faster runs to be sure you don’t watch your target time slip down a portaloo. Test the go-faster energy drink and gels they’ll give out at the stations too, it tastes a lot stronger after 20 miles. I went for water and Go energy gels instead.

Also practice sipping from a bottle of water on the run. Stick a £2 coin in your shorts and nip into a newsagent half way along one of your faster runs. Sip half of it over 3-5 mins then pass it to another runner or into a bin. A £2 coin is a lot lighter than a running bottle or camelpak and doesn’t make you run wonky.

Be boring 

Don’t try anything new. New food, drink, magazines, routes to work, restaurants, kama sutra techniques – why risk it? Ok, no need to be quite so obsessive but don’t fill the space in your training schedule trying out a Zumba spin class or sweaty yoga for the first time. Be boring and stick with what you know, it will be worth it.

In moments of doubt I remembered the best advice I had, that you can’t do much to improve your performance in the last few weeks but you can really, really screw it up.

My last two weeks pre-marathon – courtesy of Belgrave Harriers marathon guru Pete Marsh

Sun 13M steady; Mon 4M easy or rest; Tue 4*2000M on track with Belgrave (80% effort); Wed 4M easy or rest; Fri 8M tempo (above race pace by approx 40 secs per mile); Sat Rest

Sun 10M easy; Mon 4M easy or rest; Tue 2/3*2000M on track (steady); Wed 4M easy; Thur 4M easy or rest; Fri rest; Sat rest (but I snuck out for 2 mile jog in race gear).

4 comments on “Don’t mess up your London Marathon prep with a few weeks to go
  1. Really interesting (and timely) post Ben. I know a few people still planning one last long run. I’ll tell them not to taper.

  2. Tom says:

    Great post, very useful. One question-does ‘above race pace’ mean 40 seconds *faster* than race pace? If so, that’s a much heftier tempo than I was planning in my final weeks!

    • Ben Hurley says:

      Hi Tom. This kind of ‘tempo’ run was a new experience for me that brought newfound fitness and the little debate on Guardian Running in response to the shorter version of this article shows it means different things to different people: http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/the-running-blog/2013/apr/03/marathon-tapering-tips-last-two-weeks

      The overall message I received and have passed on is to stick to the programme/approach that has got you to this point and not be steered off-course by the last minute panic that many people feel in the last few weeks before the marathon. I was lucky enough to have a schedule tailored, by a very experienced marathon runner, to both the time I could put in, my target time and my slight fragility under heavy mileage – we went for quality over quantity.

      My tempo run was between 10mile and half marathon pace and was one of the hardest types of session i’ve done. I built up from 3 miles to 11 over 4 mths and alternated with sets of 2 mile intervals – which were a new kind of painful.

      So, in short, I would stick with what you know and bear in mind that your performance will be based on the training you’ve already got in the bag. If you’ve not been doing high-intensity tempo runs it isn’t worth risking starting now. You could instead use it as a chance to familiarise yourself with your marathon pace to help train your mind not to let you go off too fast on the day.

      I hope that helps. I’ll write a note on race day prep with a week or so to go to the race.

      • Tom says:

        Many thanks for the detailed reply. Most of my tempos have been closer to.race pace-but can certainly see the benefits of going quicker. One for next year!

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  1. [...] (originally identified by Kevin Chamberlain) is great on the importance of this and you can read it here.  However, what the article also outlines is how you are focussed on not losing the ‘edge’ [...]

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