Tomorrow marks 16 weeks until the London Marathon 2022 and this is when most marathon training plans start, including mine. It might feel a bit daunting, like you’re only at the very start of a long journey. And you are, a journey that is going to change you physically and mentally. It’s going to be tough, even painful, inspiring, and sometimes exhausting, but it is going to get you ready for that important day. If you do it properly it’s impossible for it not to take over your life for the next 16 weeks and, especially if it’s your first marathon, it has the potential to be life-changing. Are you ready for the thrills and spills of this ride? Keep reading to find out…
I’m fortunate (or maybe unfortunate, depending on how you look at it!) to be a qualified running coach so I’ve been writing my own training plans for a while now. But most people will be using an ‘off the shelf’ training plan. These are absolutely fine, often really good, as long as you choose the right plan for you.
The basic structure of any marathon training plan is made up of three key components:
1. The long run – these are the most important runs on any plan and are the most efficient way to build up your endurance for the big day. Whilst you shouldn’t skip these runs, you can only complete them with the complementary training you acquire on the other sessions.
2. Intervals/Hills – these are shorter, faster sessions that work on your aerobic endurance, help you become a quicker runner and improve your running form. I usually alternate weekly between intervals at the track one week and hills the next.
3. Tempo/Threshold runs – run at a ‘comfortably hard’ pace, these sessions prepare your body to run longer distances at effort by increasing your lactate threshold (the point at which lactate accumulates in your blood faster than it can be removed – in other words, complete fatigue!)
Many marathon plans have more than three runs a week, including mine. I have a recovery run (a very easy 5k) and also parkrun, which I also do at a fairly easy pace. Mainly because I can’t miss parkrun! Occasionally, if I don’t want to get up early on Sunday, I might do my long run on a Saturday, and include parkrun by running there and back or doing extra miles and finishing with parkrun.
If you haven’t found your training plan yet, then there’s still time. The plans on the London Marathon website and Runner’s World are pretty good and are time-based rather than distance-based. I prefer distance-based plans but there isn’t any evidence to support that they are better and, potentially, time-based plans could even be better. If you’re using an off-the-shelf plan, a time-based method allows for a variation of pace from runner to runner, so you’re less likely to over or under-load your legs. The downsides are that you can only know approximately how far you are going to run, so you need to think about that when route planning.
Another thing we need to keep in mind this year for anyone who has run London, or any other spring marathon, is that this year’s race is in the autumn. This will be my third marathon and the fourth I have trained for (the fourth I pulled out of three weeks before - due to injury, of course). This means summer rather than winter training which I’ve always deliberately avoided. I don’t like the idea of getting up extremely early to avoid the heat and summer is the time for outdoor parties, like BBQs and weddings, which are not compatible with early Sunday morning alarms! However, there are some benefits. Longer daylight hours mean evening runs in parks and on canal and river paths. And with race day on 2 October, it’s likely to be a cooler temperature than during most training runs. Key thing to remember though is that warmer weather means more water required – so invest in a bottle belt, hydration pack or maybe recruit a support crew to keep you in good supply.
Once I’ve got my training plan in order, the next thing I do is look for races I can use for some of my long runs. Half marathons are the most common race distance and if the plan says I need to run a few miles more, I do those extra miles before instead of doing my usual pre-race warm up. You can do them afterwards but mentally it’s much easier to finish your training run when you cross the race finish line rather than stashing your medal and then heading out again when everyone is celebrating. You’ll be given water on route, you’ve no chance of getting lost and it’s psychologically better ticking off some of those tough training miles in the company of others. As long as you truly use these as a training run, not a race, and run them at your easy pace, you won’t regret it.
We might have 16 weeks to go but many of us will have already been preparing for the marathon, even before the training plan begins. I’ve been ‘training for the training’ officially for most of this year, or maybe even earlier. After a successful race back at Cambridge Half Marathon in October, I declared ‘The Road to London Starts Here’. I’ve overcome two injuries since then, so it’s not been plain sailing, but I’m definitely in the right headspace for this training plan. I’m still keeping a bout of plantar fasciitis at bay and have a new (but sort of old) ankle issue that needs some attention, but I’ve managed two 14km (8.6 mile) runs over the last couple of weeks.
More to come in future weeks about the many other important (and not so important) parts of marathon training – strength work, cross-training, nutrition, and massage. I’m better at some than others but if you’re starting your 16 week London Marathon training plan too, good luck and you’re welcome to join me on the ride.