Last time I looked at how we selected a marathon training programme and the key training elements we focused on. This post covers some of the other aspects that impacted training for the Virgin London Marathon 2013.
Last time I noted that the most important element is regularity in following the training programme: every week you'll go through days where you're excited, but others where you're exhausted and don't want to do another run. I found that having a training partner really helped to maintain morale and ensured I kept to the plan.
Normally, I don't run with anyone and I'm not in a running club: part of the value of running for me is the ability to switch off and be with my own thoughts. Most of the mid-week runs I continued to do on my own as part of my commute. But, we did the long runs together which was great as it was easier to practise things like pacing and fuelling together. Generally having a training partner kept me honest, making sure that I had the additional social guilt element to push me out onto a training run even when I didn't want to.
Another benefit was that it meant there was someone to share information and thoughts with during the training programme. Even if you run a fair amount there's a lot of new information and experiences to take on-board: everything from nutrition to the concerns you have about your latests aches and pains. As your training partner is focused on the same goal it's a natural way to collaborate - and stops you boring all your friends about it!
The marathon is arduous, so the training is similarly difficult. That results in a lot of aches and pains, but you're also likely to get a few tweaks and you'll probably be injured at some point during the programme. N hadn't done any regular running which meant that as the mileage built up she picked up quite serious issues and we spent a lot of time managing them. My more regular running initially meant that I wasn't straining my system, but as we went through the last month of training the compound mileage meant I started developing knee problems.
Importantly, if you are injured it doesn't mean that your marathon attempt is finished. If you take immediate action by reducing mileage, getting treatment and looking after yourself you can stay close enough to the programme to keep building towards the target. For example, when my knee started giving me problems I immediately dropped two of my mid-week runs for two weeks, but made sure I maintained my long-run. Rest really is the best cure.
I'm really not stretchy, in fact a masseuse last year exclaimed that she wasn't sure how I could walk with a ITB that tight. Not good! And, all the running during the training programme just shortens and tightens everything. While I may hate stretching it quickly became clear that unless I could find ways to release my muscles and stretch them I was going to have real problems.
It didn't seem very likely that I was going to suddenly wake up one morning wanting to stretch. So I needed something that was structured and organised - yoga seemed like an option.
Now, in my opinion yoga is clearly not 'exercise' - it's mostly practised by stringy women who essentially do lamaze exercises while sat cross legged. In fact, Yoga is to exercise as tiddly-winks is to sport.
Unfortunately, I've found to my chagrin that it's really, really, hard and I'm absolutely terrible at it - my downward facing dog looks more like I'm trying to do a forward roll! Nonetheless, it's really good at stretching everything. And, mostly you don't have to say 'ommm'!
I worked with my trainer which was really helpful as she could adapt stances to deal with my tight hamstrings. I also used on-line videos from Yogaglo which was really useful as I could take the class when it fit into my schedule. Overall, I've found that the yoga sessions helped me stretch out my legs and back which helped my recovery and it also gave me more body awareness as you find and relax the parts that you're holding tightly without realising. Hopefully, it also played a part in injury prevention1.
Since you're running practically every day focusing on recovery to minimise fatigue is important and a constant effort. Things like food, sleep and massage really make a difference.
Massage is great, but does it work? According to a study Alex Hutchinson of Sweat Science reported on, massaged muscles recover 45% more strength than non-massaged muscles. So, it really works - at least on bunnys(!) - you'll have to read the article now.
It's pretty hard to fit a massage into a busy schedule, so I also used the foam roller to release muscles. It has to be said there's not much scientific evidence around to support Myofascial release - there's lots of stories but little direct evidence. So I treat it more as a massage, moving very slowly with the roller.
I've yet to find a way to use a foam roller with any agility: it basically involves treating myself like a large sheet of plasticine and scrabbling around on the floor in the living room. There's definitely a slight sense that this may be the most uncoordinated thing you'll do in your living room and the fervent wish that no-one is videoing it.
Everything I read said that I wouldn't lose any weight while training for the marathon. I found that pretty surprising since I was easily doubling the amount of cardio exercise I normally do - but it was true. I'm sure that if I'd kept eating at my normal level then I would have lost weight, but that proved impossible.
The first couple of weeks were fine but after about 6 weeks as the whole training load increased I found I was hungry all the time. I couldn't really hear any conversation for the first 15 minutes of any lunch meeting as I was too busy simultaneously trying to stuff as much food and fluid down my throat! One of my colleagues mentioned that watching me eat was awesome - by which I think he meant nauseating. But, if you don't eat enough you feel absolutely wrecked and over a couple of days the effect is really noticeable.
Eventually, I managed to even it out, finding that I needed a good lunch and then snacks mid-morning and mid-afternoon if I was going to train in the evening. In the end my muscle mass stayed static (which is good for marathon training and probably due to me continuing strength training) and my fat levels decreased a tiny amount!
The last thing that made a really big difference was sleep. I mean a lot of sleep. N and I were regularly going to bed at 9:30 pm and sleeping for 9 hours. My major hobby while "waiting to run" became sleeping! It has to be said that I like my sleep so it didn't feel like too much of a hardship. What I did notice was that if I didn't get enough sleep then it would really affect my mood: rightly or wrongly it felt like everything was that little bit more sore and difficult. Not much encouragement was required - pretty much every time I sat down I was landing up snoozing!
So that's the whole list of lessons from training for the London Virgin Marathon 2013. If there's a training area I missed you think is important please comment away!
Yoga is so useful I've even kept doing it after the Marathon. How galling! ↩