If you’re training for a spring marathon, you should be around a quarter to half way through your marathon-training plan. However, if unexpected circumstances, injury or illness has left you a couple of weeks short, don’t panic. You can still indeed make it to the finish line on race day.
The marathon-training journey is a rollercoaster ride, physically and emotionally. There are good days and bad days, great runs and terrible runs. The 16-week build-up was never going to be plain sailing all the time, so you should pause and consider the following: you still have time, you are by no means alone and, best of all, here’s what you need to do to reach the start line in strong mental and physical shape.
Focus on what you have achieved rather than what you haven’t. Despite the illnesses, niggling injuries and work demands, you have been training; those miles and that fitness are still in your system. Rather than staring at the boxes in your schedule that you haven’t completed, look at those you have ticked off. You’ll feel better. Concentrate on the positive – a happy runner is a successful runner.
Work out the number of weeks you have left and decide how many long runs you can still achieve in that time. You may have to make some compromises – you could reduce your taper period from three weeks to two, for example – but you should do your longest long run three to four weeks before race day, no later than that. You should not try to run your whole long run, or all your other weekly runs, at race pace. It simply isn’t sustainable and you’ll exhaust yourself.
During these weeks, try to find the occasional half-marathon, where you can run at your marathon pace and add some running at the end of the race (30 to 60 minutes at an easy pace, for example). This is not only a fabulous workout but also it will boost your confidence levels.
Don’t suddenly double your mileage or extend your long runs – this sort of cramming won’t do you any good. Continue to follow the rule for long runs – building by ten to 15 minutes each week or to catch up with “time on feet”, then simply add blocks of walking within your long run, so you cover the distance without risking injury by running too long, too soon.
Maximise your midweek moments: training is not all about the long run. Threshold running sessions during the week, along with blocks of marathon-pace work, are crucial to building the fitness you’ll need to be able to sustain your planned race pace for 26.2 miles on the big day.
Always consider adding a second semi-long run (75 to 90 minutes), including blocks of marathon-pace running. This kind of running will greatly improve your endurance.
If you have missed too much training and you can’t sustain your original marathon pace when you practise it in blocks, you may simply have to change your target time. There is nothing wrong with this; there will be plenty of other races. Either running slower to consolidate a previous marathon time or walk/running the whole event is allowed. Remember, it’s supposed to be a fun day for you.
Consider adding impact-free aerobic cross-training to your week. It will boost your cardiovascular fitness without the risk of injury. Your heart won’t know the difference: all it knows is that it’s getting a workout. Try cycling, swimming or aqua jogging, or, if you’re a member of a gym, using a cross-trainer or rower. These exercises will build fitness and they’re a great mental break from running.
Book in a few sports massages to make sure you recover from the long runs and hard training sessions. Good recovery means you will get the most from every run.
Become a little selfish: maximise your rest by going to bed early whenever you can, and focus on good nutrition to boost your energy levels. You will get greater benefit from your sessions and you will also limit illness and injury.