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  • Writer's pictureClaire Callaghan

London and Spring Marathons – simple coaching tips from the top

Updated: Mar 24, 2023

Ever wished you had a professional coach to guide you on your runs, helping you train smarter and perform better? I recently went and sought the next best thing at The London Marathon ‘Meet the Experts’ day. The event in Central Westminster Hall boasted Official Virgin Money London Marathon coach Martin Yelling and guidance from a specialist Sports Physio, Sports Nutritionist, the race director and a fund raising expert.

All were excellent, but for me, professionally and personally, the coaching tips really stood out. So often I see endurance running injuries that are the direct result of training error. We’ve all gone out too fast, increased our distance too quickly or worn the wrong shoes and suffered the consequences. Here’s some straightforward advice to help avoid common pitfalls and keep you on your feet.

5 top Coaching tips for Marathon training

1) Keep it simple was Martin’s key mantra. Have a running routine and be consistent. All sounds so easy!

2) Practice different running paces (see the picture for the percentage of effort each pace equates to)

3) Have a plan. The plan should fit your life, not the other way around. Protect training time – ring fence that time, not allowing for other distractions get in the way. Diarising it may help. A minimum of 3 runs a week is ideal – 1 x base/easy run, 1 x ‘pace’ run, 1 x long run, 1 x ‘bonus’ run if can. The long run is the most important part of your plan - see and follow the slide below. Build long run distance regularly from 12 weeks out, 1-3 miles at a time, with your longest run (18-22 miles) 3-4 weeks out from the big day. Practice mental strategies and nutrition and don't do anything new or different on race day.

4) Know your ‘why.’ What’s your motivation? Are you running for a charity, to challenge yourself or in memory of someone? Do you have a target time in mind? Focus and goals can help get you out the door and help maintain the spring in your step.

5) Progression: the goal is to PROGRESS in in the 2 months before tapering. February - strength, consistency and stamina. March – specificity of training and longest runs.

Feb/9-12 weeks out from race day: layering your running, increasing by no more than 5-10% distance a week, increasing strength, consistency and stamina.

March/4-8 weeks out from race day: increase specificity of training. Consider what your race pace might be and practice it. Don’t worry if you don’t know what that is yet – it will be more apparent as you do more long runs.

April/3 weeks out from race day: Do your last long run at end of March/start of April, stay healthy, injury free and be ready for performance to peak. Once the long run is done, don’t stop running – drop the distance but maintain the routine and intensity, practice target race pace. At this stage, more is not better.

What other exercise is helpful?

In the Q and A session, Martin was asked

“Are resistance and strength training useful for marathon runners?”

The answer was yes, for 2 key reasons:

1) If prone to injury or want to prevent injury, it helps you recover and keep training. If uninjured or managing injuries, strength work will enable you to train consistently.

2) As the race goes on, you will fatigue. Fatigue can mean you lose your form, you reduce your stride length and reduce your cadence (how many steps you take per minute). Strength work, especially on your core, hip and leg muscles can help when you’re tired. It will help you at the end of the race and reduce the chance of you ‘hitting the wall.’

If the gym and swimming aren’t for you, Yoga and Pilates were suggested as great ways to strengthen for endurance running.

Remembering rest and staying energised

The importance of having one rest day each week and slower recovery runs was also discussed. Nutrition is clearly key to both managing energy levels in training and on the day, but also helping the body repair after long runs. In a world where there are so many multimedia messages about what, where, how and why to train, this simple approach is refreshing.

Looking for a great podcast to listen to while you run? Try Marathon Talk with Martin Yelling and Deena Kastor. Interviews, advice and everything else you might want to know about running long races.

Want more updates on women's physical health, injuries and performance? Subscribe to my twice monthly newsletter here.

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