How to train your body for a marathon, race or big running event

With the 2021 Virgin Money London Marathon countdown under way and a host of other running events going ahead, many of us are going back to training.

But what’s the safest way to get your body to peak performance?

We asked the experts for their advice on preparing mind and body for the challenge.

Incorporate hill climbs

‘Hills are great to have in your programme at the beginning or end of a training
block,’ says running coach Anthony Fletcher, founder of One Track.

‘Hills require more effort and therefore energy to propel you up against gravity, so you can get the stress you need for less miles. However, make sure you progress slowly and have plenty of recovery between hill sessions.

‘To target fatigue resistance, intervals should be no longer than two minutes, with around one to two minutes’ recovery.

‘For power and speed endurance, sprints can be anywhere between six and 30 seconds, with one to three minutes’ recovery.

Starting them at the beginning of your programme develops skills needed to build your endurance later.’

Plan pain relief

Rushabh Savla, founder of London physiotherapists R&D Physio and ambassador for Biofreeze, says there are a number of products useful for long-distance runners.

‘Certain products can stimulate your muscles and also help post-run to minimise delayed onset muscle soreness and any potential aches and pains you might pick up along the way.

‘It’s handy to carry topical pain relief on race day as well as during training, should you pick up any minor injuries – helping you deal with the problem as it occurs and get back into training as soon as possible, or continue with the rest of your

Get the right trainers

Marthe Solberg, technical representative at On says a gait analysis will help you understand your unique running style.

‘During distance runs your feet will probably swell, so your toes need room to
move freely. Thumb-width space between your big toe and the front of the shoe is about right to help avoid black toenails.’

And put some miles into your shoes before race day. ‘Rotating between different pairs could aid the breaking-in part and allow for a back-up,’ says Marthe.

Drink two to three cups of tea a day

‘Tea is rich in polyphenols, which have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects,’ says dietician Dr Carrie Ruxton, of the Tea Advisory Panel.

‘Endurance training puts chronic stress on muscles, ligaments and bones, which leads to inflammation and micro tears in the muscles.

‘Rest and recovery are needed to reverse the damage so you can continue training, so tea polyphenols help to support this. Green tea, in particular, has been linked with stronger anti-inflammatory effects.

‘Tea also contains a moderate amount of caffeine, which helps to promote fat burning.’

Start Planning

Olympian Sarah Lindsay, founder of Roar Fitness says: ‘Write a periodised training plan building up to the competition – then stick to it. A lot of people just do more and more running, but this doesn’t always mean you’re going to get fitter and often leads to injury.

‘You need to build up your miles on the road but also make sure all other areas of training are covered, ie prehab/injury prevention, stability, technique and, very importantly, recovery.

‘Nutrition and sleep are just as important as the training itself, so structure both into your plan.’

Interval Training

‘Interval runs could help improve your endurance and give you a chance to learn how far you can push your body before the big day,’ says running coach Cory Wharton-Malcolm.

‘After your warm-up, try running four to six reps of an 800m distance. Try it a little faster than your goal race pace with 30-60 seconds’ recovery between each rep, either walking or jogging at an easy pace.

‘As time passes increase the reps and lower the recovery time.’

Try an Ice Bath

Cold water therapy – a cold shower or an ice bath – is a brilliant practice to include in your pre-marathon training, says performance and purpose coach Mark Whittle.

‘Cold water causes the blood vessels to constrict and this sends blood to the vital
organs, which decreases the metabolic activity round the site of the muscles.

‘Ice baths have anti-inflammatory benefits, too, as when we get out of the cold, the blood rushes back to the extremities, so we get the benefit of that fresh blood and the muscles get repaired.

‘It can also help your training on a mental level, as it’s about pushing yourself through an uncomfortable situation to get to the end, much like a marathon.’

First time in an ice bath? ‘Start with a few minutes and gradually work your way up to 15 minutes, which is the maximum,’ says Mark.

Need more of an incentive?

‘Running has changed my life,’ says health and wellbeing influencer Jess Megan (@jess_megan_), an advocate for exercise no matter what your shape or size.

‘I used to use alcohol as a coping mechanism and, although I still like to drink every so often, running provides me with a much healthier method to weather storms and stress.

‘For me, running is therapeutic. My main motivation to run is anxiety. In the first few weeks, I’d advise you to get used to the feeling of moving your body in a new way. It’s OK to have goals but don’t sweat the numbers.

‘Also, don’t punish yourself for not moving quickly enough. After a mentally strenuous year, our bodies need all the goodness they can get.

‘Running is no longer exclusive to “elites”. It’s for everyone. I have a wobbly belly, a big bum and jiggly thighs and yet, they look absolutely fantastic in stretchy joggers. If I can run, I promise, you can too.’

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