How to prepare yourself in the last month before running a marathon
Don’t skip the warm up!
You’ve heard it all before, warming up helps to prepare your body for exercise and enhance performance by increasing body temperature, heart rate, blood flow to the muscles and speed of nerve impulses.
Be aware – Static stretching prior to running is not recommended as it may increase your risk of injury.
Your warm up instead should consist of 7 to 10 minutes of aerobic activity such as walking, jogging drills such as butt kicks, high knees , leg swings (forwards/backwards/sideways), standing toe touches (opposite hand to opposite foot) and grapevines. This is followed by some dynamic stretches to put the soft tissues and joints through the ranges of movement that will be used in the event.
Make sure that you have activated your gluts and ankle muscles by doing glut bridges and squats.
The longest run before the marathon should be 1 month before. After this you need to taper off and shorten the long runs.
The final week should involve shorter runs 1 to 3 miles and rest. Don’t panic if you feel more achey, this is because your muscles and joints are recovering from all the little micro traumas that training has put you through.
If you have niggles when you run, it’s good to reduce the pace and even try to shorten the stride length and consider your posture. At this point it is quality over quantity.
Don’t just run
A good strength and conditioning program helps your body to deal with the significant load long distance running puts on your tendons and joints, therefore reducing risk of injuries.
Running consists of the same movements in a singular plane over and over again. Therefore the same muscles are being repeatedly used while others are not doing much – you can see how this can easily lead to muscular imbalances and overuse injuries.
Strength training should include exercises for the leg, gluteal, back/postural and core muscles but with a strong focus on multiplanar, asymmetrical, single leg movements and balance. Some examples are single leg squats, lateral step ups, skater drills and side planks. Pilates is also a great option that targets these muscle groups.
This program should be done x2 weekly on your rest days from running.
When to Seek Help for Niggles/Pain
The 3 Day Rule: As a general rule if you have been experiencing symptoms (pain, swelling, stiffness, increased warmth, etc) for three consecutive training runs then it is likely that it won’t just go away by itself and is worthwhile seeking advice from your physiotherapist.
Pain After Running:
Pain after you run can simply be due to the volume of training and it will often improve either by itself or by reducing the volume of your training for a few days to allow your body to adapt and heal.
Pain During Running:
If you experience pain during your run that eases as you continue and doesn’t linger afterwards then you can probably manage it and continue to run. However, if the pain is worsening or continues on your next two runs (3 day rule) then you should consult your physiotherapist for a professional opinion.
Pain Hindering Running:
If pain is affecting your training by causing you to limp or reduce your mileage then it’s certainly time to back off and get it assessed.
Pain Preventing Running:
As physiotherapists, we see this all too often – runners who have ignored their pain thinking it will just go away on its own and continued to train. Unfortunately, by this stage the injury is chronic, usually indicating that it will take much longer to heal, interrupting your training and potentially meaning you may have to pull out of the marathon.
Don’t Underestimate the Importance of Sleep
Sleep is vital for tissue healing so make it a priority. Aim for 7 – 8 hours sleep per night. Rest well the night before the race, no alcohol and an early night are the way forward.
Fuel your Body
Make sure you are eating enough complex carbohydrates, protein, fruits and vegetables to give your body the fuel it needs to train and enhance recovery. Try to avoid alcohol as this will increase inflammation in the body and may slow healing.
In the final week increase your intake by 400 calories a day
Practice consuming energy gels/bars, snacks during your training runs so that your gastro-intestinal tract will be used to digesting on the go and don’t forget to carb-load the night before race day!
On the day have a good breakfast but don’t try anything new! The last meal should be 2.5 to 3 hours before the race. Bananas, energy bars and drinks are all good sources of energy and can give you an extra boost in the last hour or so leading up to the event.
Wear the same clothes and shoes that you have worn in training. Warm up as above but keep doing it as you are likely to queue for the start.
This begins in the days leading up to the race. Make sure you are well hydrated by taking regular sips of fluid throughout the day, rather than guzzling down big drinks all in one. On race day, again a full drink about 2 hours pre race should be followed by only small sips – too much fluid sloshing around in the stomach can cause a stitch. Be sure to have some electrolyte salts in your drinks too, particularly afterwards as part of your recovery.
The worst thing is to burn out in a race, try to avoid a blistering first mile which will usually be followed by a disappointingly sluggish remainder of the race. Set yourself a realistic time for the race distance (gauge this from your training runs) and split the time into miles or km as appropriate, that way you know roughly what pace to go and if you are feeling good you will have enough for a super fast kick at the end!
Equally important – helps you recover more quickly and prevent injury. Some gentle aerobic activity to bring the heart rate down followed by stretches, in running we mainly think about the legs but do not forget also your lower back, upper body and arms – running is a ‘whole body’ sport!
Goom, T. (2016) How to Prepare for Marathon Training. https://www.running-physio.com/marathon-training-prep/
Jung, M.K., Callaci, J.J., Lauing, K.L., Otis, J.S., Radek, K.A., Jones, M.K., Kovacs, E.J. (2010). Alcohol Exposure and Mechanisms of Tissue Injury and Repair.
Shellock, F.G., Prentice, W.E. (1985). Warming-up and stretching for improved physical performance and prevention of sports-related injuries. Sports Medicine. 2(4). 267-78.