Get­ting ready for marathon sea­son

Most run­ners will en­counter at least one hic­cup on their path to the start line – here’s how to push on through

The Irish Times - Tuesday - Health - - Front Page - Mary Jen­nings

If your Dublin Marathon train­ing has been run­ning smoothly then you are in­deed one of the lucky ones. Spare a thought for the ma­jor­ity of run­ners who haven’t had such a clear run. Most run­ners will en­counter at least one hic­cup on their path to the marathon start line. Ill­ness, in­jury, fa­tigue or self-doubt can all leave a run­ner feel­ing anx­iously be­hind sched­ule at this stage of the game.

Septem­ber set­backs

Septem­ber means peak mileage, and it’s no co­in­ci­dence that most nig­gles, in­juries and doubts oc­cur this month. Run­ners some­times choose to ig­nore the early warn­ing signs and con­tinue to run re­gard­less of new aches and pains. They may also be­come com­pla­cent about nu­tri­tion, flex­i­bil­ity and sleep as they pri­ori­tise miles rather than mind­ing their body. It is rare to find a marathoner who feels fresh-legged at this stage of train­ing af­ter a long sum­mer on the roads.

An in­box of anx­i­ety

When train­ing is not go­ing to plan, it is easy to panic. We ag­o­nise over lost miles and de­te­ri­o­rat­ing fit­ness. Of­ten we feel like we are the only one strug­gling and be­come en­vi­ous of other run­ners. Many run­ners feel like they need to cram in ex­tra runs to make up for missed train­ing ses­sions. As a marathon coach, my job this month mainly in­volves re­as­sur­ing run­ners that they have done their home­work and to keep calm, make sen­si­ble de­ci­sions and not let mi­nor set­backs de­rail their marathon dream.

A sum­mer of mem­o­ries

If you have been fol­low­ing my marathon tips, you will now have at least 10 weeks logged in your train­ing di­ary, which is quickly be­com­ing a mem­oir of miles run, lessons learned and sum­mer ses­sions with run­ning bud­dies. When nerves and doubts creep into the minds of my stu­dents, I first point them in the di­rec­tion of their train­ing dairy for re­as­sur­ance. With­out the di­ary all the long runs blend into a blur in our mem­ory and it’s hard to see be­yond the most re­cent set­back. Run­ners tend to fo­cus on the neg­a­tive and rarely count their bless­ings and all the pos­i­tive lessons learned over these week­ends on the road.

The long run mood

One morn­ing on the road can make a world of dif­fer­ence to the mind­set of a marathoner in train­ing. The weekly long run ei­ther builds or de­stroys the marathon con­fi­dence. All it takes is one good run to make the marathon day an ex­cit­ing prospect. Equally, re­turn­ing from a dis­ap­point­ing long run can fill the run­ner with fear and anx­i­ety about the marathon dis­tance.

This fear of the next long run can play havoc with a run­ner’s con­fi­dence as they of­ten an­tic­i­pate a re­peat of last week’s per­for­mance. We would be wiser iden­ti­fy­ing what to change in our train­ing to make next week­end bet­ter rather than spend our time wor­ry­ing about the un­known.

When to take a break

Al­though we all need to as­pire to stick­ing to our train­ing plan, we need to main­tain a level of flex­i­bil­ity. Some­times we are forced to take time off due to in­jury or make a sen­si­ble and brave de­ci­sion to take a break and nurse a nig­gle. It can be dif­fi­cult to watch from the side­lines as friends and run­ning bud­dies log miles and put pho­tos on­line. The break from the road doesn’t mean it’s a wasted week and can of­ten be a hard but brave de­ci­sion. Re­mem­ber that marathon train­ing is not all about miles, and there is plenty train­ing you can do when not out on the road.

Feel­ing guilty

Run­ners are nat­u­rally re­luc­tant to miss a long run, as we worry how it will af­fect our marathon preparation. Be wise this Septem­ber and give your body and the marathon the re­spect they both de­serve. Think twice be­fore you run miles on a body that would ben­e­fit more from a week­end of rest. It may feel like cheat­ing, but this Septem­ber I have ad­vised many of my stu­dents to take a week­end off and re­turn men­tally and phys­i­cally fresher, stronger and more en­er­gised for the next long run.

Train­ing with­out run­ning

You can train your head while the legs take a break. There are many sim­ple but pow­er­ful ex­er­cises you can do to pre­pare like an elite ath­lete, us­ing this time to ap­ply some ba­sic sports psy­chol­ogy to your train­ing. You will calm the nerves, re­duce anx­i­ety and build con­fi­dence all with­out run­ning a minute. From vi­su­al­i­sa­tion to pos­i­tive self-talk, the ben­e­fits of men­tal train­ing can­not be un­der­stated. Re­mov­ing the wor­ries

Al­though we all need to as­pire to ■ stick­ing to our train­ing plan, we need to main­tain a level of flex­i­bil­ity. Some­times we are forced to take time off due to in­jury or make a sen­si­ble de­ci­sion to take a break and nurse a nig­gle

‘‘ When nerves and doubts creep into the minds of my stu­dents, I first point them in the di­rec­tion of their train­ing dairy for re­as­sur­ance

from your head and putting them on pa­per will free your mind for the ta­per­ing phase which is fast ap­proach­ing. Cre­ate a list of all your marathon day fears and iden­tify how you will han­dle them should they ma­te­ri­alise. This sim­ple ex­er­cise has been known to calm many a marathoner in dis­tress.

Build your con­fi­dence

Don’t let one long run or a set­back de­stroy your be­lief in your abil­ity to com­plete the marathon. Ap­proach Marathon Month with pos­i­tiv­ity, a sen­si­ble and re­al­is­tic strat­egy and an open mind to keep your body and head on track in the com­ing weeks. Rest­ing is not cheat­ing. And if needed, it will make you stronger as you re­place leg train­ing with head train­ing; for it is the head that will run the last few miles of the marathon on race day.

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