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How To Choose The Best Training Plan

A training plan is much like a diet plan.  If you stick to it, it will work. The big question is “can you stick to it”?

 

If you type ‘running training plans’ into a search engine, you will be greeted by pages of different plans. There will be free plans and plans that you have to pay for before downloading.  Most of these plans will be generic plans that are for a set timeframe and a set distance target. Each will be slightly different to the other, so how do you choose which one to follow? Which one is going to be the best one for you?

 

Firstly, you need to decide on a few things and I suggest writing these down.

What is your target? Is it to complete a certain distance? Is it to run a particular time or run at a certain pace?

What are your barriers to running?  This is important if you have a family or work to consider. What days of the week can you run and how long can you commit to each day?  Will you be able to run regularly without it causing issues at home or with work?  Work on minimum time and then anything else is a bonus.

Where are you with your running at the moment?  If you can currently run a 5k in 30 minutes, setting yourself a target on running 5k in 20 minutes within two months is unrealistic. Make it a challenge but be honest with yourself.

How injury prone are you?  If you often suffer injuries when you get to a distance of 10 miles, why is this and how will you cope when you need to run over this distance?  Do you also need a strength or mobility plan to supplement your running?

 

Once you have all of these things in front of you then you can be more specific with your searches.  For example, if you want to complete your first marathon, search for “beginner marathon training plans”. If you are looking to run under 40 minutes for a 10k then search for a “sub-40 10k plan”.

 

The next step is to download a load of plans. Work back from your race or target date and look at what mileage the plan would have you doing now (or at the start).  Is that realistic for you? If you can run 5 miles at the moment and the plan says you have to run 10 miles next week then it is not right for you (delete it!). Does the plan fit in with your life and the days you can commit to? If not, can the runs be moved to fit without changing the structure of the plan?  If not, delete it!  You will hopefully end up with at least one plan that looks right for you.

 

The next thing to do is make sure you understand the words on the plan and how you do it. For example, on Facebook I saw a question a runner had with a run on their plan. The run was “Tempo 3 miles 2×8 on4’ “.  She had no idea what that meant and the answers she got varied from “3 miles warm up and then 2 x 8minutes at tempo pace with 4 minutes recovery” to “2 x 8 minutes at 4 min mile pace which should be 3 miles”.   You can see how people would get confused. If you do not understand the plan then it is not for you (delete it!).

 

Can you mix and match plans?  This is possible if you know what you are doing and that the changes you make to each doesn’t render it useless for your targets. Training plans are written to get harder over the course of the plan to enable you to be at your fittest or fastest on race day.  If you change the balance of the plan it may be that you do too many miles or too much speedwork, for example, and get injured, or too few and you don’t make the improvements you want.

 

The final thing to think about is what will you do if you get ill or injured.  Most improvements are made after training for a minimum of 8 weeks but realistically the longer your training plan the better.  That means that if your plan covers 16-20 weeks and you suffer an illness or injury and have to miss two weeks of training, how do you then adapt your plan?  Do you start back at where you were and hope you can catch up later, or ignore the weeks you’ve missed and start back to where you would’ve been had you carried on?  Get this wrong and you will be overreaching with where you start back from or trying to adapt your plan later by making bigger jumps in the mileage that the plan was designed for.  This can have a negative effect on your confidence and increase the risk of injury.

 

There is another way, a personalised option.  Most runners, from a novice to someone aiming for a sub-3 marathon or quicker, will benefit from having a coach.  A coach will write a training plan personalised around your lifestyle that will take you safely from where you are to where you want to be. The plan should be easy to understand and if not, the coach should be able to clarify the run before you do it. The plans should only be written on a shorter-term basis, usually monthly and be adapted by the coach when needed.  Want to run with friends? No problem.  Can’t run today?  Just a small tweak to the rest of the week and all is ok.  Doing better than you thought? The goals can be adjusted as you go along.  Last minute race you want to enter?  A quick change of the plan and advice on how to run the race and it all works.

 

For a small outlay per month all of the time and effort that you invest in training and improving yourself can be used far more efficiently and effectively.  A good coach will provide you with feedback as your progress, so that you know how you are doing and not guessing by looking at a piece of paper with a load of runs on it. A good coach should also act as a sounding board, mentor and be there to hold you accountable.

 

It can be a scary thought if you’ve never considered working with a coach. A lot of runners don’t believe a coach would want to coach someone like them.  Maybe you’re a novice, maybe you think you’re too slow, maybe you don’t have a specific target race?  I have coached a very wide range of runners to meet their personal goals – including to ‘complete’ a marathon, to run under 3 hours for a marathon, to run their first 5k, to run a 5k under 16 minutes and a 60 year old to complete a 24 hour race.  More importantly, I’ve helped a lot of people to keep running and improving through lockdowns, even without the focus of races.

 

Remember, the best running plan for you is one that you will stick to. It is that simple; if it fits around your life and you can follow it consistently you will improve.

 

Please have a conversation with a coach before you commit and pay any money. All good coaches should offer this as they will be confident that having that conversation will reassure you of what they can offer you.  Make sure you feel comfortable with them as a person and what they are offering is what you want.  Find out what other clients think about the coach.   Here are a few reviews from my own clients who have benefited from my personalised coaching approach:

 

“Thank you Martin. Without your support and advice I wouldn’t have achieved my dream of running a marathon, and running it all, no stopping or walking. I’m still on cloud nine!”

 

“I enlisted the help of Martin to write me a training plan for running the London Marathon. I had a conversation with Martin about where I was with my fitness, my aims and end goals for the marathon and my availability for training days.  Once I commenced my training plan, every month I received a tailored program for the month ahead. From my feedback on each training session, and by reviewing my Strava, I received weekly detailed feedback from Martin which was a great aide for keeping me motivated during the training. Martin was available for extra questions and support whenever I needed it.   Thanks to the training program written, I was achieving PBs at races throughout my training as well as achieving my end target of completing the London Marathon in a time that I never thought was achievable for me.  Martin is a great trainer with a brilliant insight in to racing at all distances. His personal approach makes it worth every penny.”

 

“I had a strange idea that I might be able to achieve a Good For Age time at Vienna Marathon and Martin gave me the belief, the tools and the confidence (not to mention the speed) to not only achieve that time, but smash it by 9 minutes.  He understands that my time to train is limited, given my busy family and work schedule and the training plan was entirely suited to meet these needs.  He helped me through an injury that laid me out for 3 weeks, despite my confidence crisis and insistence that it would stop me achieving my goal.  A genuinely nice guy, really supports you and understands what is going on in your head as well as your legs. And really wants you to do well.  Thank you Martin, you helped me achieve what I didn’t really think I could – and got me to enjoy it at the same time.”

 

“Can’t recommend Martin as a running coach highly enough! I’ve been training with him (virtually rather than in person) for just 5 months and have a new PB at every distance including nearly 40 minutes off my marathon time.  I’m officially faster in my 40s that I was in my 20s, and I enjoy running so much more now.  Everything he advises me is evidence based, he can explain reasons behind his training programs and always has a good answer to my endless questions.  Truly life changing – thank you Martin”

 

 

I hope that you can take something away from this blog. I would love to hear your thoughts and I’ve set up a very supportive free Facebook Community where like-minded people can share their experiences of life and exercising. Please feel free to join and invite others you know who may be interested.

 

I also have a Facebook Club for runners where I post two weekly workout videos, host a live weekly Ask The Coach question and answer session plus a monthly live webinar on a host of running related topics.  This is ideal for those who use free plans but want to have access to a coach and ongoing information.  You can find more information and join here.

 

Do you want a personalised training plan?

Want to know more about running or personal training?

Contact me today to ask any questions or to book your FREE consultation.

Email me at martinhulbertpt@gmail.com or contact me via Facebook Messenger

Martin Hulbert

Running Coach & Personal Trainer Leicestershire

MH Health and Fitness Online Community

www.facebook.com/mhhealthandfitness.co.uk

#MHrunners

 

 

How to Recover from a Marathon

Marathons are tough on your body. Sorry, but that is a fact.  Recovering from a marathon is a critical component of a perfect training plan but is something that is often neglected.

Unfortunately, if you don’t properly recover from a marathon, you will increase your risk of injury, limit your long term potential and increase the risk of overtraining symptoms.

Muscles, hormones, tendons, cells, and almost every physiological system is pushed to their limits during a marathon.  Muscle soreness and fatigue are the most obvious signs of damage in the days following a marathon.  One scientific study conducted on the calf muscles of marathon runners found that both the training for, and the marathon itself, induce inflammation and muscle fibre necrosis (premature death of cells) that significantly impaired muscle power and durability for up to 14 days after a marathon.  It will take your muscles about 2 weeks post marathon to return to full strength.

Muscle memory and coordination are also compromised. This will make repetitive stress injuries more likely when running faster/harder in the weeks after the race.

recent study confirms that the immune system is compromised for up to three days post marathon and is a major factor in overtraining syndrome.  This also increases the risk of contracting colds, flu and other illnesses

Therefore, it is important that marathon runners have a 2-week marathon recovery plan that focuses on rest, recovery and a gradual return to running.

 

The First Hour

Congratulations! You’ve completed your marathon.  As soon as you cross the finish line (in a race or virtually) your legs go from running to ‘incapable of movement’. However, don’t stop! Recovery starts now and the best thing you can do is to keep moving. Slow is fine but keep moving.

Get yourself into some clean, dry clothes and comfortable shoes as soon as you can (if you are travelling to your marathon, remember to take everything with you).  Some people swear by recovery shoes, compression tights or other products to aid recovery. If they work for you then change in to them as soon as you can.

Walk for at least 10-15 minutes to cool down, instead of sitting down immediately. This will help two major issues:

  • Low blood pressure often occurs immediately after a sudden stop. This will make you feel dizzy or possibly faint.
  • Walking will promote blood flow to clear your muscles and blood stream of by-products caused by the marathon (lactate, cortisol, adrenaline, etc).

At most marathons, there will be fluids and food available at the finish line. Take advantage of these or have something either in your kit bag or with your supporters. Focus on the following:

  • You are probably dehydrated. Start drinking fluids as soon as possible.
  • Focus on carbohydrate-rich foods. I know that you have probably had enough of these with your carb-loading, but you have just run 26.2 miles and you have burnt a lot of energy.
  • If possible, include something with protein in it to help to start to repair damaged muscles.
  • While the perfect advice is to eat a large nutritious meal, realistically any high sugar or processed food will help to start the refuelling. Treat yourself.

 

Later That Day

As per my previous advice on keeping moving, a shower is often better for your recovery than a bath on marathon day.  With a shower, you are staying on your feet and it is easier to continue to promote blood flow through your muscles. The best way to do this is a contrast shower.

A contrast shower is simple. Just alternate between hot and cold water. The hot water dilates your blood vessels and increases blood circulation. The cold water constricts your blood vessels and decreases blood flow. The contrast of the two creates a pump effect that further flushes your muscles and blood of the by-products of your marathon (lactate, cortisol, adrenaline, etc).

  • Start with a hot shower (don’t let it burn) for 2 to 3 minutes
  • Slowly turn down the water temperature from hot to cold
  • Take a cold shower for 1 minute
  • Repeat the hot and cold cycle for 10 minutes
  • Place the water stream on any painful or sore areas for added relief.

The cold water may be a bit of a shock at first, but you soon get used to it.

After your shower it is time for more substantial food, especially if you were unable to east much straight after finishing.  As with earlier, while best advice is to eat a big nutritious meal, just eating is best. The ideal is a mix of carbohydrates and proteins in a 3:1 mix. Being honest, often my go-to post-marathon meal has been a large burger and chips from a motorway service station on the way home (burger has protein, bap and chips are carbs)!

Depending on what time you finish your marathon, think about having an afternoon nap. Sleep is the best time for the body to repair muscle and generally recover.

Finally, go to sleep earlier and ideally try to get as much sleep as possible. Your body will thank you for it tomorrow.

 

The Next Day

After a (hopefully) good night’s sleep you will be ready to continue your recovery.

Aim for some form of active recovery today. No running though!  If you have access, swimming or cycling on a static bike can be a good form of active recovery. You are not looking to build or improve fitness, but just to move your muscles.

If you do not have access to a pool or static bike, go for a gentle walk for 30 minutes. Once again, this is in no way a training session or power-hike. It is a gentle walk.  If you have any niggles (not aches, these are normal) or really sore spots, stop the exercise.

Now is also a good time to get a massage. Keep it light. Deep tissue massage at this point can be detrimental to muscles that are trying to repair damage. You want the massage to promote blood-flow.  Deep tissue massages are best kept for 1 to 2 weeks later.

Make sure you still keep sleep as a priority and keep eating, even if you have to get back to work.  If your job involves sitting at a desk, try to take breaks where you can stand up and move around. Easy movement is good in the days after a marathon so that your joints do not stiffen and your muscles continue to have blood flowing through them.

 

The Next Few Days

Stick with prioritising sleep and food, but now try to start getting back to a more normal way of eating as the week goes on.

Keep cycling and swimming if you can and also include walks. and as the week goes on, increase your walks from 30 minutes up to 45 minutes if your legs are starting to recover. Listen to your body and if your legs say no, stop and go home.

When you can comfortably walk for 45 minutes, it may be the time to try a very easy run the following day (not before Thursday though).  When you do feel ready to run, aim for a 20-30 minute run. The goal of the first run is to test how your legs feel. If your legs feel really heavy or if anything hurts, stop and walk home and give your recovery a few more days before trying again.

You are not proving anything to anyone by running earlier, further or faster than your legs want to. Park your ego as if you don’t respect your recovery, the injury, illness or overtraining symptoms mentioned earlier are likely to come back and get you in a few weeks.  Now is not the time to test if you are invincible.  Remember that muscle memory and coordination are compromised. This will make repetitive stress injuries more likely if you don’t allow recovery.

 

Week Two Onwards

When your running does feel comfortable and niggle free, you can employ a reverse taper (build up miles in the opposite way you tapered prior to your marathon).  Do not try to do too much too soon and don’t try to run hard or race unless you feel 100% recovered.

I’ll reiterate it again, be sensible and you will be able to continue running with no extra risk of injury.

 

Going Forwards?

Make sure that you are recovered first. So, I wouldn’t advise booking any races in the first 2-3 weeks after your marathon.

Some people can suffer from post-marathon blues. You’ve invested so much time and energy in to your running that you may feel a bit of a void. When you feel like this, it is then good to have a focus to get you back running again so go and look at some races and see what you want to do next.

Some people will only do one marathon a year and then focus on shorter races. Others use a marathon as a stepping stone to an ultra. Some will just want to continue enjoying their running. Some people may want to better their finish time and look for accountability. A few of my clients came to me after marathons wanting to improve in future races.

Whatever will motivate you to keep running after you’ve recovered from the marathon, please keep going. Completing a marathon is a big achievement so don’t waste all of that fitness you’ve built over the last few months.

 

  • Enjoy basking in the glory of completing your marathon
  • Recovery sensibly or pay later
  • Enjoy your future running

 

I hope that you can take something away from this blog. I would love to hear your thoughts and I’ve set up a very supportive Facebook Community where like-minded people can share their experiences of life and exercising. Please feel free to join and invite others you know who may be interested.

 

Do you want structured training to keep you running after your marathon?

Want to know more about running or personal training?

Do you want a personalised training plan?

Contact me today to ask any questions or to book your FREE consultation

Call me on 07815 044521 or email me at martinhulbertpt@gmail.com

Martin Hulbert

Personal Trainer & Running Coach Leicestershire

MH Health and Fitness Online Community

www.facebook.com/mhhealthandfitness.co.uk

#MHrunners

 

Fuelling a Marathon. Carb Loading and Race Day Nutrition

There are two big fuelling traps that runners fall in to before they run a marathon.

 

  1. They go into the race under fuelled
  2. They eat loads the night before

 

Carb-loading has evolved over the years. In the 1970-80s there was the process of doing a really hard run the week before your marathon, then having little or no carbs for 2-3 days before eating a very carb-heavy diet for 3 days leading into the race.  This was in the belief that if you emptied the muscles of carbs, when you then introduce them again your muscles will hold on to them.  However, some runners would get really run down with 2-3 days without carbs, some fell ill and with the more recent sports science studies showing little benefit, the carb-depletion phase is very rarely used nowadays.

 

The practice of carb-loading though, is very much still alive and recognised as essential to good endurance performance.  This is because unless you are going to run your marathon at a very easy effort your body will be burning mostly carbohydrates.

 

According to research from the Mayo Clinic, runners working at a moderate intensity will use up their normal stores of glycogen (energy stored in muscles) after about 90 minutes. Unless you are planning to beat the world record by half an hour, you will need to top up your energy levels in order to continue running without issue.

 

To help to increase this 90-minute period you should try to increase the amount of glycogen stored in your muscles you should be increasing your carbohydrate intake in the three days before your marathon. This is not increasing calories but increasing the percentage of carbohydrates you consume – the Mayo Clinic suggests that about 70% of your calories should come from carbohydrates in those final three days.

 

As you’ll be tapering and running less (see blog for how to taper) the increase in carbohydrates will be naturally increasing your glycogen stores.

 

How should we be getting the carbs?

A three-day carb-fest sounds great, but in reality, it is hard to be able to eat enough carbohydrates for the needs of a marathon and you risk feeling heavy and bloated on race day unless you carb-load wisely. Choosing low-fat options may help, as fat delays stomach emptying and promotes fullness, something you don’t really want just before race day.

 

Those who are prone to gastrointestinal distress should choose low-fibre carbohydrate sources. Too much fibre may result in diarrhoea or cramping on race day. White bread, white rice, pasta, sports bars and sports drinks are better compared to the brown, more fibrous options.

 

Another way to increase your intake of energy is to consume carb-rich drinks. Not only will this increase your carbohydrate intake, but it will also help to fully hydrate you prior to race day. You can include fruit juices or sports drinks as your carb-rich drinks.

 

How much carbohydrates is enough?

Most information relating to carb-loading suggests consuming between 7-10g of carbohydrates per 1kg of bodyweight. Personally, I always aim to go for the 10g per 1kg as then if you fall short (it is tougher than you think) you will still be way above the 7g per 1kg minimum amount.

 

I start to increase my carbohydrate intake from breakfast on Thursday (when running a Sunday marathon). The key to carb-loading is preparation. You need to look at the amount of carbohydrates in a portion size of foods you are likely to eat. Then choose the foods with the highest amount of carbohydrates as that means eating less food overall.

 

I will have written a list of what I need to eat in advance and have bought everything. This way I can break up the foods and drinks into manageable amounts, plus it is thought that most people can only absorb 90-100g of carbs per hour. I continue this through Friday and then on Saturday I eat 90-100g of carbs from waking until about 3pm when I have a normal sized carb-rich evening meal together with sports drinks.

 

As I mentioned earlier, most people think a massive carb-rich meal on the Saturday night is the most important thing to do. However, depending on the speed of your digestive system, if eaten later in the evening, the meal may still be sitting heavy in your stomach as you start the marathon. This increases the risk of having stomach issues during the race. By finishing the carb-loading process by mid-Saturday afternoon, your stomach should be emptied the following morning.

 

This is my carb-loading menu to give you an idea of what I consume in the days before a race of half marathon distance and above.  If you do not eat any of the foods on the menu then please look for foods you do eat that have similar carbohydrate values (you should be able to open this photo in a new tab or save it to view it in more detail).

 

 

For those of you who like to weigh yourselves before races, you may notice an increase in weight of 2-4lbs. However, this should be fluids and not body fat because each gram of carbohydrate stores about four grams of fluid. Once you get running you shouldn’t notice this and it is a good thing as, you’ll start more hydrated and need less fluids during the marathon. Don’t worry about the number on the scales.

 

Marathon Day

Your race day breakfast should have been practiced as part of your long runs. You should aim for 1-4g of carbohydrates per 1kg of bodyweight, about two to four hours before you run. This will help to promote steady blood sugar levels early in the marathon. I tend to have my breakfast about three hours before the start and then sip on a sports drink while heading to the start, finishing about 30 minutes before running.

 

During the Marathon

If you think of your glycogen stores as your fuel tank, you want to stop that fuel running out during the marathon, known as “hitting the wall”. A lot of new marathon runners will have heard horror stories of people who can’t run a step further and end up painfully shuffling to the finish while others run effortlessly by. All that has happened is that those hitting the wall have failed to prepare properly or have failed to follow a sensible race day plan.

 

Proper carb-loading will have helped to fill your fuel tank and what you consume during the race will stop that fuel from running out.

 

As with breakfast, this should have been practiced during your long training runs.  The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends 30 to 60g of carbohydrate per hour for events lasting 1 to 2.5 hours, and up to 90g of carb per hour for events 2.5 hours or longer.

 

As most people reading this will be aiming for a finish time over 2.5 hours we should be aiming for as close to 90g of carbohydrates per hour as possible. If you haven’t practiced with 90g of carbohydrates per hour, don’t expect your stomach to be happy with this on race day. Stick to roughly what you’ve practiced with and you know your stomach can tolerate.  For any future events, practice consuming more carbs each week on your longer runs so that your stomach will tolerate more in your next marathon (there’ll always be another…..).

 

Start to consume carbohydrates after the first 30 minutes of the race and then keep taking them at regular intervals, taking in as much as you know your stomach can tolerate.

 

I always stick to sports nutrition products when running a marathon. These have been designed to be consumed while running and work as quickly as possible. Carb-gels usually have around 20-25g of carbs per gel and so 2-3 of these per hour will keep the energy levels of most of the quicker runners topped up. Gels are easy to consume and many now can be taken without water. These are better for those working at a harder effort when it may be difficult to chew whilst running.

 

For those who are running for over 4 hours, or those running at an easier effort or taking walk breaks, energy bars or real food can be used as well as or instead of gels. Taste fatigue (when you get fed up with the same thing or flavour) can occur for those who are running for longer and a variety of carb sources may help. You don’t want to get fed up with what you have with you and then stop consuming carbs as this will eventually end up with you hitting the wall.

 

Just remember that you want to be consuming carb-rich products if not using sports nutrition. Some people use jelly sweets as an alternative, just make sure you have enough and know how many to consume and when.

 

Finally, always carry a little extra. There is always the possibility of dropping something as you run.

 

It is useful keeping a food diary around your long runs and races. You can log what food and drinks you consume, how many carbs in each product and how you felt and performed in each race. You can then replicate this for future races (there’ll always be more).

 

A big caveat to all this information is that those with diabetes or other specific health conditions should always speak to their doctor or consultant before adjusting their carbohydrate intake. Plus, those with any specific allergies or intolerances to certain types of carbohydrates may need to do further research to minimise possible illnesses or stomach distress.

 

Finally, if you’ve completed every run on your plan, eaten all your carbohydrates, drank all your fluids and consume your carbs regularly during the race, you can still hit the wall. This is because the final piece of the jigsaw is pacing. Aim to run at an even pace based upon your realistic and practiced target time. If you go out too fast you will be burning your energy too quickly (think about your fuel tank when you speed in your car). Once you get into energy deficit you cannot consume enough carbs to pull it back without slowing right down or stopping. Even starting 10-20 seconds a mile too quickly can cause an encounter with the wall.

 

I give the runners I coach, when they are going for a specific finishing time, a 10 second per mile window based on their target and training times. If they keep each mile within this pace window and fuel as discussed above, there should not be any energy deficit and they should be able to finish strong and evenly paced. If in the last few miles they feel good, they still have the energy to push on and finish faster.

 

To summarise:

  • Consume 7-10g of carbs per 1kg of bodyweight from Thursday to Saturday afternoon (for a Sunday marathon)
  • Eat a normal sized carb-rich evening meal the day before race day
  • Have a practiced race day breakfast of 1-4g of carbs per 1kg of bodyweight
  • Don’t start too fast
  • Aim to consume between 50-90g of carbs per hour during the race

 

If you follow all of this, I have no doubt that you can have the best race day experience possible. Marathons are hard work, but let’s not make it any harder than it needs to be and let’s make sure we don’t encounter the fabled wall.

 

I hope that you can take something away from this blog. I would love to hear your thoughts and I’ve set up a very supportive Facebook Community where like-minded people can share their experiences of life and exercising. Please feel free to join and invite others you know who may be interested.

 

Want to know more about running or personal training?

Do you want a personalised training plan?

Contact me today to ask any questions or to book your FREE consultation

Call me on 07815 044521 or email me at martinhulbertpt@gmail.com

Martin Hulbert

Personal Trainer & Running Coach Leicestershire

MH Health and Fitness Online Community

www.facebook.com/mhhealthandfitness.co.uk

#MHrunners

Tapering for your marathon

Tapering For Your Marathon

Over the last few months your training should have been gradually getting harder, you should have been running more and more miles, both your midweek and long runs.  As you have now completed, or about to complete your longest week and your longest run of your training, you may well be thinking about the taper.

 

What Is Tapering?

A taper is a reduction in training intensity before a major race or event to give the body time to recover and adapt to reach a peak in performance.  Simply put, you are going to reduce mileage for the last couple of weeks before your marathon so that you don’t have tired muscles when you start your race.

 

As your training builds, your fitness will increase with your increase in mileage. However, as your training builds you will also notice your fatigue (tiredness) levels increase. As you can see from the example graph below, I coach people to have cutback weeks every 3-4 weeks. This is to lessen the ongoing fatigue that runners feel during training. It also helps your body adapt and recovery, lessening injury, keeping motivation to train, and helping you to push harder and further in the next few weeks. For those who use training plans without cutback weeks, the line of fatigue (black on the graph) will just increase and increase until you are just knackered and lose the motivation and energy to train, or suffer an overtraining injury.  By cutting back every now and then you lessen the fatigue and can push harder next week.

 

 

  • Fitness builds as mileage builds, but so does fatigue
  • Cutback weeks reduce fatigue
  • Peaking (Taper) phase reduces fitness a little but fatigue by a lot, meaning you feel fresh on race day

 

And this is where the taper really comes in. I like to call it a peaking phase as that sounds more positive to most runners, especially those going for a certain time or personal best.  You are reducing your mileage over the course of usually the final 3 weeks. The taper period will vary from 2-3 weeks depending on the mileage you’ve been doing, how hard the weeks between 10-14 have been (if you have had a week out for any reason a 2-week taper will be better) and how your body reacts to higher mileage. For the purpose of this blog I’ll use a 3-week taper.

 

Week 13 will be your highest mileage week. You will be doing your longest or hardest long run at the end of your hardest block of training. You should feel tired and ready for lower mileage.  That is a good sign because it means that you have loaded your body with fatigue which means you will create fitness adaptations with less mileage.

 

If you are having a 3-week taper you will start to lose a little fitness before race day. However, it is not really noticeable (only really from physiological testing) and you will actually feel fitter on race day due to the reduction of fatigue. As you can see in the graph your fatigue levels drop dramatically in the final two weeks. The bigger the gap between fitness and fatigue the better you will feel.

 

How to Taper

Week 14 should contain roughly 65% of the mileage of week 13. As an example, if you ran 50 miles in week 13 you want to run roughly 33 miles in week 14.  I would usually say the long run in week 14 should be between 14 miles for less experienced runners to 16 miles for people on higher mileage.  Include some miles at your race pace to get used to it during a longer run. Practice your pre-race breakfast and the fuel you will consume during your marathon.

 

Week 15 should see your mileage total being roughly half of your longest week (13). This means that there is not a big reduction from week 14 and it mainly comes from the longer run, which will vary from 8-10 miles for less experienced runners to 10-12 miles for those coming from higher mileage. Include some miles at your race pace to get used to it. Practice your pre-race breakfast and the fuel you will consume during your marathon.

 

Week 16 (race week) is where the most noticeable change comes in. You want to be at roughly 25% of the mileage from week 13 (this doesn’t include race day miles), so from 50 miles a week you will be running around 12 miles only.  A typical race week for people I coach will be along the lines of:

Monday – Rest

Tuesday – 5 miles (1m steady, 3m at race pace, 1m very easy)

Wednesday – Rest

Thursday – 4 miles (1m steady, 2m at race pace, 1m very easy)

Friday – Rest

Saturday – 3 miles (1m steady, 1m at race pace, 1m very easy). Run in race kit

Sunday – 26.2 miles at race pace!

 

You will notice that you are still running regularly in this final week. Doing nothing just gets your legs conditioned to doing nothing. You want to still be running in that final week, but from previously running far longer than these distances, plus the rest days in between, your legs should start to feel more rested and more bouncy as the week goes on.

 

The second thing to note is that there is still a certain amount of intensity in your runs. There are known neuromuscular connections that are built by practicing race pace. In the final two weeks before your race, you should include some amount of race pace miles in each run. This means that on race day you are used to how this pace feels and more importantly, it feels normal.  People in the past have complained about either doing nothing in the final week, or running very easily and then on race day their race pace feels really hard. That is just a lack of practice.

 

Tapering after compromised training

I’m writing this in September 2020, 4 weeks before the Virtual London Marathon. This year has been very disjointed with the spring cancellation of marathons.  Some people expected the autumn rescheduled events to be cancelled, some have lost motivation with the uncertainty surrounding the lack of definite events, some have been homeschooling, been injured, ill or just couldn’t be bothered. For those, depending on how your recent weekly mileage has been you may want to consider the following.

 

If you have not trained much in the last few months and still need to build mileage for fitness or confidence reasons, you can have a 2-week taper.  If so, look above at the week 15 information but reduce mileage by 50% of your week 14.  Then continue week 16 as described above.  The is known as an aggressive taper and something similar will also be used by some more experienced runners who find a 3-week taper doesn’t work for them.

 

It is important that your longest run is no closer to race day than 14 days. You may struggle to reduce your fatigue levels enough if your long run is 7-10 days prior to race day. You also do not get any physiological benefits in the last 10-14 days, you just risk starting with tired legs.

 

Race Week

Make sure that you use the extra time in the last week to prepare your race kit, get your race day plans finalised (if you haven’t already) and prepare your carb-loading (another blog to follow on that).

 

Think of your taper as the icing on your cake.  The taper won’t work without the training base and the training base can be compromised without a well thought out and executed taper.  Do it right and everything will be in place for you to hit your targets on race day.

 

Stay positive, be confident and trust in your training.

 

I hope that you can take something away from this blog. I would love to hear your thoughts and I’ve set up a very supportive Facebook Community where like-minded people can share their experiences of life and exercising. Please feel free to join and invite others you know who may be interested.

 

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Martin Hulbert

Personal Trainer & Running Coach Leicestershire

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