Marathon training week 16: Race week

I've targeted the Kingston marathon in October to get a new PB (target sub-3.30, current best 3.38 at Edinburgh in 2014). Over each of the next 16 weeks, I'll be addressing a different aspect of marathon training. Follow me on my journey and tell me about yours!


Better than a Snickers. Maybe.

Better than a Snickers. Maybe.

This is it!

All the getting fitter is done and the race is just a few days away. Here are some tips on what to do in the run-up (ha ha) to the big day.


Or more accurately running less. As I mentioned last week, avoid hard sessions in the days before the race. It will feel weird and you'll almost certainly get inexplicable aches and pains and go a bit mad but if you can hang on for a few more days, you're home and dry.


By now you've probably heard of carbloading or carbo-loading. The basic premise is to eat lots of carbohydrates in the days before your marathon so you don't run out of fuel (stored in the body as glycogen) during the race and 'hit the wall'. As you might expect though, we are all different and not everyone hits the wall.

This article by Matt Fitzgerald explains the science behind it but the bottom line is it won't hurt to do it. What I would say is don't eat too much in your last meal before race day, or eat it too late. Being carbed-up is one thing; bloated and uncomfortable is another entirely.


Unless you're really lucky, you'll have to travel some distance to your race. Whether it's an hour or days away you should know your route to the start, what you need to do and when (do you need to be there the day before to collect your race number?), and have a back-up plan allowing extra time in case something goes wrong. En route to my first ultra marathon, the train I was delayed which meant I would have missed my connecting train if that hadn't also been late. As it was, I had to run a mile to the start just to get there in time - and extra miles were the last thing I wanted!

Also - and this might sound obvious - check when the race starts. Just because 'most' races begin at 9am doesn't mean this one will.



By now you should have what kit you're going to wear on race day sorted. It's an old adage but unless you're 100% sure it will work, don't try anything new on race day. Depending on the climate or weather, you may need different options so make sure you have them ready too. Get it all ready days in advance. It may seem unnecessary but it won't if you end up forgetting something. Race number? Sunglasses? Plasters? Energy gels?



The night the race you'll probably be nervous, excited and full of adrenaline so the likelihood is you won't get a great night's sleep. The trick therefore is to target the night before the night before (Friday if your race is on a Sunday) and get an early night then. Even if you don't get a good night's sleep the night before the race, it most likely won't affect your race day that much anyway.


Toilet strategy

Most marathons start in the morning, which means getting up early. Depending on your digestive tract, this may or may not play havoc with the timing of your morning visit to the porcelain palace. You can potentially bring the whole thing forward by eating earlier than usual the night before but this needs trying out in advance. You can also limit the number of visits by not over drinking before you start running, Hydration should take place the day before, not on the morning of the race.

However you plan your poo (and wee) strategy, find out where the toilets are near the start (and en route if you think you'll need them) and allow plenty of time. There won't be enough and there will be a queue so be prepared for that. You might even want to take toilet paper in case they've run out by the time you get there. Or you get caught short on the way round.


Race plan

Have a race plan. Have two, or even three. Because 26.2 miles is a long way and if something doesn't go quite right, it's easy to get disheartened and lose sight of your goal, whether that's simply finishing the race, or doing so in the best time that you can. If it's your first marathon, finishing may be the only goal. But if you allow yourself a plan to stop or walk for a while, that's absolutely fine, as long you remember your ultimate goal. Every step will get you closer.


The start, the middle and the finish

If it's cold, take a bin liner to 'wear' at the start. Even if you warm up (and you should), you could be standing around for a while waiting to get going.

Pre-race 'poncho'

Pre-race 'poncho'

Don't set off faster than your target marathon pace. It will be hard because you'll be full of energy and adrenaline but you can only do harm by setting off too fast. Take it easy and relax into your rhythm.

Get water when you need it but be careful around the water stations. People have a tendency to stop without warning, change direction suddenly and throw down cups and bottles directly into your path. Slow down if necessary. A couple of seconds lost is better than a twisted ankle.

If there's one certainty in marathon running it is that, at some point, it will get tough. It will probably hurt and you will start to question if it's worth the pain and the effort. Remember all the training you've done and why you're running the race, whether it's to raise money for charity or to prove something to yourself. And then keep going. You will forget the pain. You won't forget your time or the medal.

The finish line is one of the best sights you'll see but try to enjoy all of the race, not just the end. Enjoy the support of the crowds as much as you can and if you've got enough breath, thank the race marshals and volunteers, they'll appreciate it.

Once you've stopped, get some calories in you as soon as possible. My favourite is a Fudge Brownie Frijj milkshake (other brands are available) but anything is better than nothing. If you can manage it, do some stretching. It will be the last thing you want to do but you'll feel worse later on if you don't.

Then celebrate. You've just run a marathon!

Read all my posts on marathon training

Marathon training week 6: Being flexible

I've targeted the Kingston marathon in October to get a new PB (target sub-3.30, current best 3.38 at Edinburgh in 2014). Over each of the next 16 weeks, I'll be addressing a different aspect of marathon training. Follow me on my journey and tell me about yours!

Unless you're a professional athlete (and if you're reading this you’re probably not), life has a habit of getting in the way of your precious training time. Work, family, sleep, holidays, injuries, illness, going to the pub, boxsets, household admin, watching videos on Facebook of puppies being cute - actually, how do we find the time to run at all? Let's see how it can be done, and how to cope when it can't.


9 to 5

For many of us, work takes up around 8-12 hours of the day, five days a week. That figure may or may not include commuting, depending on how far you live from your job and how demanding it is. Sometimes we have busy periods with work and that's life. But if you have some semblance of a routine it's possible to maintain and even improve your fitness with a bit of planning and creativity.


Keep on running

The ability to use your commute as a training session will not only save you in travel costs, but also make the most of your time. Whether you can actually do it will depend on the distance from home to work but it is possible with a few key things in place i.e. showers at work (but if there are none, only run from work to home), and having a backpack that can carry everything you need. If you live too close, you have more time to go for a run before or after work so no excuses there! And if you live too far and travel by car, bike or train, stop early to create an exercise opportunity.

If run-commuting really isn’t an option, get up early one or two days a week, or use a lunch break a week to fit in a quick speed session. If you want to make it work, you will find a way.


Rock around the clock

In my first job, I had this idea of writing a novel but couldn't figure out when to do so (there was a lot of going to the pub in those days). So I started getting the train to work instead of driving. Suddenly I had 80 minutes extra a day so I used those to write.

If you you don't have time for a training session, use real life to get some exercise in. Make sure you walk where you can (I always walk up and down the escalators on the London Underground), get off the bus a stop or two earlier, or even walk all the way home or to a friend's house. While you're waiting for public transport or to meet someone, do some stretches. I can usually be found doing calf raises on train platforms. Although I draw the line at doing press-ups as I’ve seen some people do. Each to their own though!

Some of these you can do on the fly, but for other more regular things it might be best to have a repeat calendar alert. Whether that's 10 minutes of core work as soon as you wake up, or 20 minutes of stretching as soon as you get home, getting into a routine will make it far more likely that you get them done. Just as running becomes a habit, doing the essential but often overlooked complementary fitness routines will also soon be second nature.


The Powerline Trail, near Lake Tahoe, California

The Powerline Trail, near Lake Tahoe, California


Now and again you might be lucky enough to get a holiday. I've written before about my love of being a run tourist and this can be a good way of keeping the mileage ticking over while you're away. It might also be the perfect time to do even more running than usual. But... if you need a rest or your holiday is family or partner focused and that doesn't revolve around running (heaven forbid), don't worry about it. You won't lose that much fitness in a week or two and the extra sleep and rest you get (hopefully!) will be beneficial.


Make things right

As I mentioned last week, we all get injured once in a while. The same goes for illness - and the effects of a bad cold or flu should not be underestimated. The key is to take your time in getting better or you risk slowing down your recovery or making things worse. This is just common sense but the number of people I see trying to do too much too soon, while understandable, is shockingly high. So be (a good) patient and take it easy. Most importantly, don't try to 'catch up' on missed sessions. You'll most likely overload your already weakened body and won't gain anything from it. Forget it, and move on.



Sometimes life gets in the way. You have to work late, a friend has a crisis and beer must be consumed IMMEDIATELY. Missed training sessions happen. Here’s how to handle it.



  • Try to fit it in on the same day as another session; you will most likely break yourself.
  • Fret about what's happened (or not happened); you cannot control the past.



  • Be flexible; swap it with another session that week if you can.
  • Focus on the big picture.


In the grand scheme of things, a single missed session won’t make much difference. If it starts happening every week then maybe it’s time to reassess how many times a week you can realistically run. Remember, this is supposed to be fun. If you’re constantly getting upset about missing sessions, it soon won’t be fun anymore.

One last thing. If you’ve yet to set out on your marathon journey and are worried that it will take over your life and be month after month of drudgery, pain and depriving yourself of alcohol, it needn’t be. I put off doing a marathon because of these very fears and like so many other people I know, quickly fell in love with the training. Far from being a drain on your time, it’s actually a great way to fill it with something new.

Read all my posts on marathon training

Marathon training week 3: Get off the road!

I've targeted the Kingston marathon in October to get a new PB (target sub-3.30, current best 3.38 at Edinburgh in 2014). Over each of the next 16 weeks, I'll be addressing a different aspect of marathon training. Follow me on my journey and tell me about yours!

Worm's eye view of the Runnymede Relay

Worm's eye view of the Runnymede Relay

Last weekend I took part in a marathon relay. That is to say, I ran a few miles and so did some others and in total we ran 26.2 miles. (Although maybe there's room for a race where EVERYONE runs a marathon and it goes on for days.)

The race, hosted by Runnymede Runners, is an annual event held in Windsor Great Park with Windsor Castle as a backdrop. As well as taking part in a relay race - I don't think I've ever done one before - it was that it was off-road. It's tougher than road racing, and invariably slower, but I find it a lot more fun.

At first glance, it might seem as though there are two types of runners. Those who run on roads and those who don’t. I used to be firmly in the road running camp. After all, I was training for a road marathon so it made sense for me to practice on the surface I'd be racing on. To an extent, this is a sensible approach. Specificity in training is crucial to success.

Another reason I avoided trails was that I felt it increased the chances of me twisting my already weak ankles - ligaments damaged from years of football-related injuries. But having completed five months of training and racing on the roads, I got bored. Bored of the surface, bored of the same old sights near where I lived, even a little bored of running. On a whim, I entered a trail half marathon taking place in Devon.

It's impossible not to take photos of this sort of thing

It's impossible not to take photos of this sort of thing

The closest I'd been to off-road running previously was on the Tamsin Trail round the outside of Richmond Park. As anyone who's run it knows, it's barely even trail. So I was wholly unprepared for the rocky, root-ridden, hilly paths of rural Devonshire and found myself sprawling face-first to the dirt within the first mile. No harm done, but it was a big wake-up call.

Despite my little tumble, I had the best time seeing the countryside on a beautiful day, not worrying about my time (it was about 15 miles anyway) and testing out some new skills (not falling over).

Sea crossing; swimming optional

Sea crossing; swimming optional

Since then, the vast majority of the races I've entered have been off-road and here's why I recommend trying it out if you've only ever run on the roads.

It develops new muscles

The uneven surfaces means you use and develop stabilising muscles, particularly in your feet and ankles.

It’s a natural obstacle course

The trails can often create their own obstacle course which keeps the mind focused and helps to hone your (not to be underestimated) leaping-clear-of-fallen-branches skills.

There are often hills involved

Not always, but when there are they will give you a nice little interval-style workout as you're constantly having to change your pace. It also gives you a chance to walk and enjoy the views, or even an opportunity to leap down them like a mountain goat.

It’s a chance to explore

Sure, you can explore in cities too but getting lost in woodland trails is far more fun. Better still, learn how to use a map and compass and don't get lost!

The softer the surface, the quicker you recover

Tarmac is very unforgiving on muscles and joints. Fields and trails - even hard-packed ones - are easier on the body than our man-made roads and footpaths.

The peace and quiet

Nothing helps clear the mind than a run in silent forest or a mountain footpath. We don't all have the Alps as our back yard but you don't have to travel too far to find some solitude and get away from traffic and Sartre's idea of hell (other people).


Did I mention how beautiful it can be? You might even see some wildlife. (Any excuse to include the following photo of a bear I saw while trail running in California.)

If you go down to the woods today...

If you go down to the woods today...

I didn’t see any bears in Windsor Great Park but did have a great day out with some lovely people.

The South London Mavericks (Photo courtesy of   Jen Slater  )

The South London Mavericks (Photo courtesy of Jen Slater)

Strava data: 5.34 miles in 40:17

Strava data: 5.34 miles in 40:17

Marathon training week 2: Run your easy runs easy

I've targeted the Kingston marathon in October to get a new PB (target sub-3.30, current best 3.38 at Edinburgh in 2014). Over each of the next 16 weeks, I'll be addressing a different aspect of marathon training. Follow me on my journey and tell me about yours!

The Thames at Putney

The Thames at Putney

Take a look at any sensible training plan for distance running (i.e. 5k and further) and you'll see a lot of 'easy' runs. While they may not seem to be as exciting or have as much purpose as speed work, hill reps or tempo runs, they are just as important, if not more so. But why is what some people call 'junk miles' so critical?

To get to the bottom of this, let's take a look at the role that easy runs play in your training schedule. Here are five things they do.

Build base mileage

Obvious, right? But this is important because without a foundation, without those miles in your legs, you can't do the harder sessions.

Increase muscle tendon strength and bone density gradually

One of the reasons we're advised to do exercise in general - and particularly weight-bearing exercise such as running - is that it works and builds muscle and improves bone density. By running easy, we do these things gradually. Running hard all the time puts a huge strain on the body and increases the chance of injury.

Develop slow twitch muscle fibres

Slow twitch muscle fibres are the ones we recruit when running slowly. Everyone has fast and slow but genetically we are all slightly different. Sprinters will have more fast twitch muscle fibres, for example. By running slowly we use and generate more of the slow twitch fibres and while there is a finite amount we can acquire, the more we get the better it is for continuous use over long periods.

Improve your ability to use fat as an energy source

The faster you run, the more you require carbohydrates as an energy source. But if you train by running easy, you essentially teach your body to use fat as an energy source, meaning you run out of carbohydrate fuel later and delay 'hitting the wall' in your long runs.

Provide active recovery

I'm a huge fan of rest days but there's a place for active recovery too. Some use alternatives such as cycling as it has a similar effect without the impact of running, but easy jogs can help to clear waste products and prevent stiffness after a hard session. Do two or more tough workouts in a row and you're in danger of overtraining and risking injury.

How easy is easy?

The general consensus is that your easy run should be 1-2 minutes slower than your target marathon pace (MP). For many, this will feel like a slow shuffle. I would guess that most people have a default pace they slip into and that it's a fair bit quicker than even a minute slower than MP. Personally, 8.30 minute miles feels fairly comfortable, but as my MP is 8.00m/m, I should really be running at 9.00m/m, and probably even slower. In reality, I don't do this very often so that's something I'm addressing in this 16-week training block.

Trying to keep it easy

Trying to keep it easy

Partly because I know I'm guilty of running my easy runs too fast, and partly because it's the hottest week of the year and it's just good sense, I've been making doubly sure to slow down. It's easy to monitor your pace if you have a GPS watch but if you don't, employ the rate of perceived effort approach, where 0 is sitting on your sofa and 10 is a full sprint. Easy runs should be 3-4 on this scale - running but very little effort. For harder sessions, it's beneficial to run with people slightly faster than you. But for easy runs, it's actually better to run with someone slower. Or if you can't guarantee you'll be able to do this, run by yourself on your easy days. Don't get dragged into someone else's workout.

Beware of running for kudos

There’s no doubt that Strava is useful for recording your workouts, enabling analysis and providing a community in which like-minded people can comment and encourage you. However, there is a risk that you get influenced by a) what others are doing or b) what you think others think of you. Perhaps you don't include the warm-up section of your workout, or skimp on it altogether so that your average pace doesn't suffer. Or, maybe you just run the whole thing quicker so that you appear speedy to your online friends. While this may give you instant 'Kudos', is it worth it in the longer term? Think about it. What are you gaining by impressing your followers? Unless it translates into race results you're proud of, what is the point of all those thumbs up?

Thought for the week

Take your easy runs seriously. Don't skip them. Understand that they play a crucial role and aren't junk miles. Use them as an opportunity to run with someone slower than you, or to focus on your running form. If you can't get your running form right when you're running slowly and are fresh, you sure as hell won't when you're tired and trying to run fast. Enjoy the calm before the hard session storm.

Do you run your easy runs easy enough? Be honest now!


Read all the marathon training posts

Marathon training week 1: Find a reason to run

I've targeted the Kingston marathon in October to get a new PB (target sub-3.30, current best 3.38 at Edinburgh in 2014). Over each of the next 16 weeks, I'll be addressing a different aspect of marathon training. Follow me on my journey and tell me about yours!

Once you've signed up for a marathon it's easy to think that the race itself is motivation enough to get out there and do your training runs. You've made a commitment to yourself or to a charity and that should be enough, right? However, it's not always that simple. Maybe the race is so far in the future that it feels like anything you do now isn't going to make any difference (it will). Maybe you're feeling tired (this will become a regular theme). Maybe you'd rather stay home and bake a cake (recommended but not in place of a training run).

In the first week of a training programme, I feel excited about the journey ahead. But after a big spring race (read my not-entirely-to-plan Thames Path 100 race report) and resulting injury, physically I'm not quite where I want to be. So Monday's easy six miles wasn't looking as appetising as it usually might. Unlike some people, I'm at the stage of my running that I'll go whether I really want to or not. Having said that, the news that the car from Back to the Future (my all-time favourite film) was outside the Royal Albert Hall absolutely sold me on a) getting out for a run and b) the route I was going to take.

"You built a time machine... out of a DeLorean?!"

"You built a time machine... out of a DeLorean?!"

As a result of my excitement in nearing the car of my dreams (I'm not a big fan of cars generally but this one, with a flux capacitor, and the ability to travel through time, is pretty exciting), I ran mile 3 a bit too quickly (see below - that is not easy pace) but otherwise I'd call it a successful session.

I realise that film memorabilia won't always be available as a motivator, or that it isn't for you, but with a little imagination, you can usually find a reason to run. Maybe take the long way round to the shop you wouldn't normally go to, get the groceries and walk back. Maybe you've got a friend to visit and they're just the right number of miles away for it to fit in with your plan. Or maybe you can make a delivery. I once ran 17 miles across London to deliver some DVDs for our video editor. It saved the company on couriers and I got my long run done.

Thought for the week

Trick yourself if you have to, but get out there. Not if you're injured or completely shattered - I'll come onto that another week - but if you're just missing your mojo, find a reason to run.

What gets you out on your run if you're not feeling up for it? Please share your tips and tricks in the comments.


Read all the marathon training posts