By DAN LYNE
In my last post, I discussed the need to improve your strength to ensure you build injury resistant muscles, tendons and ligaments. During the final 6 weeks of training, we will improve our endurance by increasing our mileage with some 17-20 mile runs. During the last 3 weeks of the plan (weeks 14-16), we will start to taper and rest for our big race. In this post, I will discuss strategies to aid with your recovery and how to properly fuel your body for long runs and the race.
It’s common for runners to lose some flexibility during their marathon training. This is why it’s essential to keep your range of motion with a regular stretching routine. Doing so is one way to help reduce your risk of injury due to tight/inflexible muscles. The most important thing you can do to aid your recovery is to consume the correct food and drink after your workouts. However, you can see that I’ve included 2, dynamic stretching sessions (each session should last about 15 minutes) each week. Although I recommend some form of stretching after each workout, these longer sessions, which are completed after you exercise and eat/drink, will enhance recovery by increasing blood flow to many of your muscles. Stretches should be held for approximately 20 – 30 seconds and repeated two times. It’s important to breathe (as opposed to holding your breath) while completing the stretch.
A good resource for runner’s stretches is: stretchcoach.com
Other Recovery Strategies
- Make proper hydration and nutrition a habit. Drink plenty of water before and after your workouts, especially your harder and longer runs. Use sports drinks to replace lost electrolytes on workouts longer than 60 minutes. Sports drinks promote faster post run recovery by reducing glycogen depletion, limiting dehydration and muscle damage (1)
- Use a foam roller in the evenings (post run) to help relieve muscle tightness and pain, improve flexibility and mobility and increase circulation.
- Pay attention to how your body feels and adjust your training accordingly. Signs of over training include, frequent injuries, feeling tired/worn down, difficulty sleeping, repeated poor workouts. If you experience any these symptoms for 1+ week, it may be time to slow down and re-evaluate your training. Speak with your coach or simply slow down for a week.
- Ensure you run slowly on easy days. Vary the speed of your workouts. Not only will you make the greatest advances with your conditioning, this is one of the best ways to avoid injury.
- Ensure you get sufficient sleep (target 7-8+ hours per night). Understanding that we all have busy lives. I recommend getting as many of these longer nights of sleep as you can each week.
During the last 6 weeks of a 16 week plan we will continue to gradually increase weekly mileage, complete regular cross-training and conditioning exercises and then taper the last few weeks in preparation for the race. The taper is critical because it ensures you’re optimally rested and the fatigue of training for the marathon is eliminated (2). A typical training schedule for weeks 10-16 would be similar to the following plan.
Please see my previous post for program/workout definitions.
Marathon Training Nutrition
It’s generally accepted that marathon runners can store enough glycogen (the main form of carbohydrate storage that easily converts to glucose for energy) to provide energy for roughly two hours. This is why many who don’t take on sufficient fluids and carbs during a marathon, often “hit the wall” near the two hour point of their race. A proven nutritional plan is an important part of avoiding these energy lows. It’s important to note that other factors, such as pace, pre-race training and race day weather can also contribute to a runner’s ability to avoid the “wall.”
Here’s a strategy to replace sugars during the race to spare your limited glycogen stores (3)
- For easy days (less than 60 minutes of activity) your calorie needs are less. Use the following formula: Daily Calories = body weight (lbs) x 16-20 calories/lb
- For very active days (60+ minutes of activity) your calorie needs are more. Use the following formula: Daily Calories = body weight (lbs) x 21-25 calories/lb
Examples for a 150 lb runner:
- Easy Days: 150 lb x 16 calories/lb = 2,400
- Long/Hard Days: 150 lb x 24 calories/lb = 3,600
There’s a big difference between these two values, so you will need to test how many calories works best for you. Consume more calories on your long run days than on easy days. Don’t be too worried about the numbers. Basically, women tend to be at the lower end of the range and men at the higher end. Also older runners should cut down consumption by 7-10 calories for every year of age past 20 (2). There are numerous references that discuss specific foods and servings by calories that you should consume.
During your race, you want fast burning fuels, such as energy gels and bananas, to keep blood glucose levels high and reduce the need for the body to seek stored muscle and liver glycogen. Experiment during long training runs or a half marathon tune up race to confirm what works best for you. Never try something for the first time during a race (3).
Sip and Carry Your Fluids and Gels
I have had enjoyed success in races where I carried a few bottles of fuel and gels with me on a hydration belt with pouches. The challenge is being able to re-supply along the course. You have to rely on and use the numerous water stops to refill your bottles or have someone along the course hand you additional fluids. Either way, I strongly recommend that you have a plan to stay hydrated and boost low glycogen stores. The minimal inconvenience of slowing to refill a bottle at an aid station or wearing a hydration belt is well worth the gain in time you will ultimately recognize.
You should be nearing race day. Once you’ve completed your race, stay tuned for important marathon recovery tips. In my next post, I’ll share the best ways to recover after you finish the marathon.
- Performance Nutrition for Runners. M. Fitzgerald, 2006
- Advanced Marathon. Pfitzinger, 2009
- Hanson’s Marathon Method. Humphrey, 2016
Dan Lyne is a long distance runner from Camas, WA. With over 36 years of running experience, he specializes in coaching long distance runners and helping them achieve their half and full marathon goals through his website, middleagemarathoner.com.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is based on the author’s personal experience and thorough personal studies. The information provided here is designed to help you make informed decisions about your health. It is not intended as a substitute for any treatment that may have been prescribed by your doctor or physical therapist. All forms of exercise pose some inherent risks. The author advises readers to take full responsibility for their safety and know their limits. There is no guarantee that you will experience the same results & benefits as presented and you accept the risk that the results can differ by individual.