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Published: 15 March 2017

8 weeks until the Stratford marathon!

That’s right the Stratford Half Marathon is just under 8 weeks away and hopefully your training is going well. In my latest blog I am pleased to share my thoughts on where you should be and how you can improve your performance in the next few weeks.

The good news is that you only have another 4 to 5 weeks of training before you will need to ‘taper’ and reduce your running ahead of the race. No doubt there will have already been some hiccups and disruptions along the way…illness, weddings, Storm Doris but hopefully a few weeks into your training you are starting to feel fitter, stronger and excited that you are inching closer to your goal.

Ideally you will be at the following point in your training:

  • Have been running (or run/walk if this is how you plan to approach the Half) at least 3 to 4 times a week.
  • Can comfortably run or run/ walk for approximately 20-30minutes on most sessions.
  • Have been including one longer mileage run or run/walk a week
  • Have been progressively building your longer run by adding about 2 miles a week.
  • Based on your progress, have decided what your peak ‘longest run’ will be. This should take place 3 to 4 weeks before the Stratford race. This should be a minimum of 10 miles and a maximum of 15 miles, so that you can feel confident that you will be able to cover the distance on race day with energy to wave to the crowd! Within 3 weeks of the race you will need to ‘taper’ and reduce your miles to a maximum of 8 miles so that you have refreshed those legs for race day.
  • Be injury and pain free!
How can you improve your performance in the next 4 to 5 weeks?

Nutrition and hydration:

As the race draws closer it is crucial that you begin practising taking on drinks, and if necessary, nutrition. Marathon runners in particular will avoid hitting ‘the wall’ so severely, and may even side step it, if they have got their nutrition right.

Taking on race drinks can be harder than you would think; your body needs to get used to drinking on the run, so please do not leave it until race day to try this for the first time. With spring thankfully increasingly upon us, the weather will also be warming up (we can but hope!) so hydration becomes even more important. The best way to practise taking on drinks/nutrition is on your longer run:

  • Take a drink with you or better still, see if you can collect a drink from someone while running. I once even left one on my wheelie bin so that I could run past the house to practise getting a drink off the table!
  • Find out what drinks will available on race day, and at what mile markers, and practice taking on the same drink at the same points on your long run if possible.
  • Sip your drink slowly…you are not partaking in a university drinking game! Avoid a stitch by taking a little sip at time. Think about drinking little and often.
  • If the weather is warmer, you will obviously need to take more fluid on board.
  • Guidelines on fluid replacement suggest that runners should aim to drink no more than 400-800mls per hour. Higher rates apply for faster, heavier runners competing in warm or humid conditions and lower rates for slower runners/ walkers competing in slower conditions.
  • Gels: again need to be practised in training. You only need a gel on runs lasting longer than 90 minutes. One gel every 10k should be sufficient so for a half marathon you will probably only need a maximum of 2.  This can vary from runner to runner however so experiment with what works for you and what brand of gel you like and can tolerate.

Speed/ interval work:

If you are comfortably able to run for 30minutes, you will get faster by adding in some mixed pace workouts. These will also break up your runs and make your training week more varied. The faster running will also make half /marathon pace feel easier!  2 minute to 5 minute intervals, with a 3 to 5minute recovery, are a good place to start and you can reduce the recovery time down to 2 minutes or 90 seconds as you progress.

Half/ marathon sessions:

In order to run consistently at your target marathon / half marathon pace, your body needs to have practised running at this specific pace or close to it. Integrating this pace for a period within a training run, or running for shorter periods at a harder pace than you will be required to race at, will give you increased confidence ahead of the race. Obviously you should not be trying to do this on every run, once or twice a week is sufficient or you risk getting injured. Do not be tempted to run every Sunday long run at your target pace or you risk having run several half marathons before you even start the Stratford Half! Below are a couple of points to note when integrating some faster workouts into your training:

  • Any faster running is not immediately following a longer run and that each faster workout is followed and preceded by an easy day. Running hard on back to back days is a recipe for injury and especially for beginners.
  • Do not get too fixated on pace to begin with but rather just feel that you are running faster, and that you are able to pace yourself to complete the session.
  • Start with a low number of reps to begin with and then when you feel ready, and that you could hold the pace for longer, add one or two more reps. Remember that from 3 weeks away from the marathon you should reduce the number of reps back down, to ensure that you are recovered for the race.
  • Beginners should only try one faster session a week to start with and should not add in a second workout until at least another couple of weeks or later. Sticking with one a week may be preferable. When you first want to try introducing some speed work do not feel it has to be a structured interval session. You could just be choose to run faster from one tree to the next a few times or work harder up a couple of hills that you encounter on a run to get used to a change of pace.

Good luck – I can’t wait to see you all at the start line.

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