With only 10 days to go until the Virgin London Marathon 2016, we spoke to Mara Yamauchi, former Olympic long-distance runner and the second fastest British female marathoner after Paula Radcliffe, to get her tips for the final marathon push.
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1. Don’t Cram in More Training
If you missed a long training run in previous weeks don’t be tempted to try and fit it in now. In the final stretch you need to taper your training so you’re fully rested – mentally and physically – for race day.
From about five or six days before the marathon doing any training you think will make you fitter is pointless, it won’t. It’s too late and you can end up making your performance worse by tiring yourself out or causing injury. It’s far better to say, “I’ve missed that session but that’s not to be helped” and forget about it.
2. Stay Positive
In the week before the marathon, when you’re running less and nerves are kicking in, it’s common to start thinking negative thoughts, analysing every niggle and worrying you’re not prepared. Distract yourself with a good novel or a box set – something that’s absorbing but runs no risk of injury or tiring you out.
Another tip is to list all the good things you’ve already done, things like, “I’ve run 18 miles, I’ve been disciplined”. Runners tend to focus on the negatives like injuries or bad runs, but listing the good things can be a confidence booster and make you realise just how well prepared you are. The race is the culmination of hard work you’ve already done.
3. Start Focusing on Your Sleep Now
Sleep is really important for performance but don’t worry if you don’t sleep well the night before a race. A good night’s sleep can take two or three days to have an effect, so try to get some quality sleep in the nights leading up to the big day so you feel rested on the start line.
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4. Don’t Go Carb Crazy
When I was competing, I’d carb load for about three days so I’d start the race with a full tank. It can be easy to overdo carb loading, though. You don’t need to eat masses – eat a normal amount of food but increase the proportion of carbohydrates. Storing carbohydrate requires water to be stored with it so you can end up feeling heavy and bloated if you eat too much.
On race day, what you eat for breakfast depends on the individual. Ideally you should have tried out what to eat before long training runs. You don’t want to eat something new and discover it gives you a stitch or makes you need the toilet during the race. In general terms, try to eat carbs with protein to keep the GI down, and go for something that’s easy to digest.
5. Do a Light Warm-up on Race Day
My approach to warming up for a marathon is to do the bare minimum. You’re going to be running 26.2 miles so you don’t want to be expending a significant amount of energy. Do enough to get your muscles warm and ready to start, and use the first mile or two as a warm up. If there’s an organised race warm-up and it’s only five minutes long with useful content then fine, join in, but if it’s 20 minutes long with vigorous exercises be mindful of how much energy you’re using.
6. Stick with Tried and Tested Gear
Don’t wear anything brand new on race day. You need to test your kit to make sure you know how it feels and that it’s not going to rub or chafe.
7. Be Ready for the Wall
Hitting the wall happens in a marathon when your body runs out of fuel and, although it doesn’t happen to everyone, it’s a very common problem. Sports drinks and gels have calories in them and will delay the arrival of the wall – again, make sure you use nutrition you’ve tried in training so as not to upset your stomach.
If you find yourself struggling mentally, set yourself small, achievable goals like getting to the next drinks station or concentrate on your breathing as a displacement activity to stop you getting in a negative mindset.
8. Don’t Peak Too Early
There are some specific tips for London’s marathon course. The weather in April is generally excellent for marathon running but it can be unpredictable. Keep your eye on the forecast and be prepared for anything from 25°C to snow, wind or rain.
The London course is fast with good road surfaces, but look out for a big downhill section in the third mile – don’t get carried away here or you’ll feel it later. As you approach the finish you can see the London Eye for an awfully long time. Be mindful that when you’re at mile 22/23, the finish isn’t just around the corner – you’ve still got a way to go.
Most importantly enjoy it, London is one of my favourite marathons, and the support is really incredible so let it carry you along.
9. Start Recovering Straight Away
What you do after a race makes a massive difference to your recovery. You need to eat and drink something within 20 minutes of crossing the line to rehydrate and refuel. Something like a protein and carb recovery drink is ideal.
Obviously you need to get where you’re going afterwards, but try to minimise walking around, put ice on anywhere that’s sore, or use compression tights or socks to stimulate blood flow.
Muscle soreness can be a problem in the days following a marathon but light exercise will really help. Non-impact, low-weight bearing activity flushes out waste products from the muscles and prevents stiffness. In the two or three days after the race try gentle walking, swimming or cycling.
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10. Take it Easy at the Pub
If that’s what you want to do then be sensible. You’ve just put yourself through a massive physical challenge, you’re dehydrated and you’ve got loads of inflammation in your legs – alcohol will just add further stress to your body and prolong your recovery. Keep your drinking to a sensible level and make sure you have a recovery drink or some food first.
Mara Yamauchi is working with the Dame Kelly Holmes Trust, which uses the skills of world-class sportspeople to transform the lives of young people facing disadvantage. Kelly Holmes is running her first marathon in London on 24th April 2016, and we wish her – and everyone running the London marathon – the best of luck!