Setting the goal of completing a marathon?
It’s vital that you are mentally and physically ready and have a strategic training plan in place! If you’re looking to train for a marathon or train effectively whilst injured, keep reading!
Marathon programs roughly run over a minimum of 16 weeks and consist of four phases – the build phase, peak mileage phase, taper phase and finally the race itself… Let’s look at those phases and what we’re aiming to achieve in each one.
During the building phase, we are focusing on building training volume here, which is simply the mileage or distance (Km’s) covered per week. A 10% build-up in total mileage per week is best to avoid training errors and injury, with the main goal of running comfortably.
It’s best not to run on consecutive days to allow some recovery time, try one longer run a week and two shorter runs to build your volume.
Injury prevention is also essential here! Good footwear and running technique as well as strength in your calf muscles and gluteals are important aspects for injury prevention in runners. Try our three favourite gluteal strengthening exercises here!
Volume is a priority as this is an endurance event so these longer runs must be slow! It’s about the time spent on your feet, not the speed at which you run. If things start to ache, drop back for a week or two and make sure you see your physio. If you’re struggling to hit those longer runs, it might mean you need to sacrifice a run or two during the week to minimise fatigue and help you reach those longer distances. Have your strength or running technique assessed by your physio.
An additional aspect of this stage can be to integrate a recovery week which involves a 10-20% reduction in mileage, occurring generally every 4th week. This allows for fatigue to settle and for you to address any injury symptoms with your physiotherapist.
The final tip for the building phase (especially if you’re injured!), is substituting runs with some cross-training. This includes swimming, cycling, or rowing. For example, if you are only managing a 50-minute long run and need to hit an 80-minute run, you can top up that extra 30 minutes needed with cross-training to ensure you’re maintaining use of your aerobic systems.
At the end of the build phase, we have the peak mileage phase.
This is usually the last week of training prior to the taper phase and contains your longest run yet. This is generally around 32-35kms however, elite athletes will often run longer than 35km, up to 3-4 occasions leading up to the marathon.
The next stage is the taper phase. Now, this phase is crucial and needs to occur in the two weeks prior to the race. Training volume needs to be reduced significantly prior to the race to reduce fatigue and any injury symptoms you might have. During this period training volume is reduced to allow recovery. Research shows us that tapers can improve performance by up to 6%. (Bishop et al, 2006).
Many runners can may feel frustrated during this period and will want to train, but less is more here! Pre-race tapers are a great way to also bank as much sleep as possible. Sleep loss not only impairs sport-specific skill execution and cognition but impairs mood, lowers muscle glycogen stores and can be a huge factor in the development of bone stress injuries.
Lastly, we have the race phase. Make sure to have an idea about the pace you’re going to be setting and then if you’re injured, have strategies in place with your physiotherapist about how to manage your pain flare-ups if they occur on the day. This might include a particular warm-up technique, shoe selection prior to the race, technique tweak, manual therapy, or taping. As this is race day, this is not the time to try anything new. Now is not the time to test any new fuelling strategies, shoes, hydration techniques or technique ideas! Stick to what you know best, the tried and tested stuff. Good luck!
Physiotherapist Hannah Rasmussen has a passion for helping patients with lower limb and running related injuries! Like to learn more about common injuries in runners? Read more here
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Bishop, P. A., Jones, E., & Woods, A. K. (2008). Recovery from training: a brief review: brief review. Journal of strength and conditioning research, 22(3), 1015–1024. https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0b013e31816eb518