Getting Marathon Fit In Under Three Months

The marathon’s about being in contention over the last 10K. That’s when it’s about what you have in your core. You have run all the strength, all the superficial fitness out of yourself, and it really comes down to what’s left inside you. To be able to draw deep and pull something out of yourself is one of the most tremendous things about the marathon.

Rob de Castella

I’ve always gone through peaks and troughs of fitness. This time around, the lull had overstayed its welcome by maybe 3 years if I’m honest. Having children fills your time (oh, really?) and committing yourself to a challenge is the main way I’ve found I can motivate myself (but even that’s failed in the past). My cousin and I had regularly mooted going for a run together then never got round to it, then her indoors started (constructively) taking the piss out of us for saying it and not acting upon it. So late January, in the cold of this nasty winter we’ve just left behind, we met up at the local park and went for a run. And it was ok. Then a week later we went again, and it was ok too. Then we agreed to run the Brighton Marathon on the 10th April 2011. We set out to run 5 times a week and we kept to it.

To be honest, I should also say that I wasn’t starting from zero. There was a bit of residual fitness left over from cycling to and from work last summer, about 25 minutes each way about 4 days a week for a bit under 6 months. I have to give credit to the Parkrun organisation. My elder sister introduced me to the Brighton one some time around the autumn last year and I was really impressed by the way it was run. It’s a free, timed 5km run on a Saturday morning. They’re all over the country. Your times get emailed to you later in the day, they get collated on their site and it’s a really good atmosphere amongst the ‘competitors’ (except it’s not so much about running against them but beating your own personal best). I’ve done both the Brighton one (over 100 people) and the Hackney Marshes one (about 35 people) now. The whole set up is an excellent yet gentle way to get people moving.

Bullet point advice for starting out in your training:

  • Get a training partner. Even if you end up running at different paces, just saying “I’ll meet you at the tree at 9am” forces you not to let down your buddy, so gets you moving where otherwise you’d roll over and sleep some more. That said, a couple of days I couldn’t make it for whatever reason so used a rest day or got an a.m. one in and then a p.m. one later that day.
  • Write up a training programme. We based ours on one of the ones offered by the Brighton Marathon organisers. Don’t write it in stone as you can’t judge how you’ll develop but use it as a framework to keep within.
  • Document. You can see how you’re improving which in turn motivates. I use of Google DocsMy Tracks (a Google GPS app) and more recently  Daily Mile (like Facebook but for excercise). The GDocs spreadsheet log shows I ran a total of 50 runs, ran for just under 57 hours and covered over 700 km. (I’ve given up on the GPS for now as my phone was irritatingly slow to pick up a signal). Counting up those numbers makes you feel like you’re getting somewhere.
  • Listen. I got into podcasts and then later on some fast tempo music. You’re going to spend a long time out there, so best make use of that time and either educate or entertain yourself. The BBC has some of the best ones that I know of, in particular I got into Desert Island discs for their inspirational guest list. I’ll upload my marathon playlist once I’ve finalised it. [Update: here it is, Marathon Tunes]

The weekly training schedule took the following form:

Monday: Rest

Tuesdays: c.1 hour (3 laps of the park)

Wednesday: 1 hour

Thursday: 1 hour 20 minutes

Friday: Rest

Saturday: Parkrun 5km

Sunday: Long run. Increasing weekly from 13km up to 39km then dropping as we close in on the marathon.

The great thing about this training is that you can eat as much as you like and you’ll burn it off. I do avoid eating for at least 2 hours before a run though. I have cut right down on booze – there’s no pleasure in going for a run with a hangover and you’ll notice a difference that even a couple of pints makes to your performance the next day. Boring as I am, I was even dry on a good friend’s stag do I went on last weekend. And finally, as unpleasant a subject as it is, I will mention pooing: So there’s no unpleasant surprises during a run, I always try to go the first thing in the morning. You also don’t want to run with a heavy gut, and no one wants to have to do a Paula.

This weekend is it then, we’re 2 days away and I’m feeling nervous. I’ve just watched the timelapse course video again and that’s making me more nervous. 26.2 miles is not a short distance. I have a time in mind but haven’t done a properly long run for nearly month now so gauging where you’re at is not easy. For me, this marathon will lay down a further milestone for where I really am and what I have to beat next time. Yep, I’ve gone and darn well booked another for next month. Again, without doing that, I know me, I’ll just sit down and have some more pies.

Looking further on, there’s others I’m considering to keep that challenge up there. That’s it though, yesterday I ran my final run before this Sunday’s Brighton Marathon 2011.

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