Seven tips for last-minute marathon training

Bupa UK Clinical Fellow
21 February 2018
It’s nearly crunch time for spring marathons. London, Edinburgh and Paris are all approaching fast, and hopefully your training has been on track over the dark, cold winter months. You may even have been following one of Bupa’s marathon training plans to get yourself ship-shape for the big day
An image of men's legs as they run a marathon

However, whether it’s down to injury, illness or pure laziness, some of us won’t have had the ideal build-up. This blog is for you – and goes through some tips and tricks to be in the best possible shape for your spring marathon.

  1. Be realistic.

    If you can’t run 10k without stopping at this point, or doing it activates an injury, perhaps this isn’t the year for you to shine. Most big marathons have a deferred entry system, where if you can’t run this year, you can carry your place over to next year. Don’t make an injury worse, or develop one, by trying to complete the distance when you’re not fit enough.

  2. Start training.

    There are still eight weeks to go until the London Marathon. So if you’re at a good base level of fitness (ie you can run 15k in under 90 minutes) you’ve still got time. Mix up your training between long runs (aim to run at least 18 miles at least once before a marathon), interval training, and faster tempo runs. (Find out more about these types of training from Bupa’s marathon training plans.) You won’t break any records, and you may not be able to run the whole way. But you should be able to complete the distance.

  3. Try walking.

    Sometimes, walking is what you need to do to finish 26.2 miles. If you know you’re not going to be able to run the whole way, trying a run/walk combo from the beginning of the race can work really well. Try walking for one or two minutes after each mile marker. This reduces stress on the body and mind, and gives you a bit of time to recover during the race. Practise this in training beforehand to see if it suits you.

  4. Modify your goals.

    If you’ve missed a lot of training, you’re unlikely to run a personal best time, so there’s no point starting off at a blistering pace. This will only cause you problems later on in the race, and may lead to injury. Setting a realistic goal in terms of pace will enable you to conserve energy, so you can finish rather than burn out halfway through. Be aware of what pace you can maintain from your long runs, and don’t be overambitious on the day.

  5. Cross-train.

    If you’re struggling with an injury, you can maintain fitness by working different muscles. Interval sets on a rowing machine, long cycle rides and HIIT sessions can all improve your cardiovascular fitness without aggravating your injury.

  6. Get your nutrition and sleep right.

    You can’t get better at anything unless you’re properly fuelled and recharged. Stop burning the candle at both ends and make sure you get eight hours of good sleep at night. Eat plenty of protein to aid muscle recovery, and complex carbohydrates to fuel your training. Giving up alcohol is probably a good idea at this stage too – Paula Radcliffe definitely wasn’t battling hangovers two months out from a marathon!

  7. Be safe.

    It’s your health and wellbeing on the line, and no amount of bragging rights or sponsorship money is worth compromising your future for. People get seriously unwell at marathons every year, and it tends to be those that are underprepared who fare the worst. There’s no shame in pulling out of a race that you’re not ready for, or stopping if you’re finding it too much. Just look ahead to the next challenge that you can really do your best for.


Dr Eleanor Atkins
Bupa UK Clinical Fellow

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