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Marathon: The final countdown

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The days before a marathon are crucial, finds Ben Thornton Harwood

The training for a marathon is as arduous as the big day itself. But after months of long, desolate weekend runs,the bitter end of the preparation requires particular thought. So before the marathon this weekend, here are some top tips from the professionals on how to maximise results in the run up to the big day. Or for the next time you run 26 miles to get the milk on a Saturday morning.

Choose the right fuels

Your body is going need a lot of fuel for the race so fill up early. “Aim to increase carbohydrate intake three or four days before the race by eating energy-dense foods such as pasta, rice, grains,” says James Trevorrow, national fitness manager at Virgin Active. “Protein and fat will help protect and maintain your muscles. And drink plenty of water; your body will lose fluid through sweat on the day.”

Cut back on your running

It can feel counter-intuitive but logging fewer miles is key at this stage. “Your schedule should include seven to 14 days tapering,” says Steve Whittle, senior fitness manager at Virgin Active. “During this time you’ll have reduced your training mileage so you should feel more fresh and bouncy than before. You’ll be itching to put your trainers on and hit the road, but try to think of the bigger picture – the sense of achievement when you cross the line will be far greater than the satisfaction of one day’s unnecessary mileage.”

So how frequently should we run at this point? “You shouldn’t need to run more than two or three times in the week before,” points out Trevorrow.

Get in tune

It’s vital to be in tune with your general wellbeing in the run-up to the race. “Listen to your body and what problems you have because it’s very sensitive two or three days before a race,” says Ethiopian long distance legend Haile Gebrselassie. There are things you can do to keep yourself feeling limber and healthy at this point though. “Focus on short, relaxed runs to encourage blood flow around your body and to keep your muscles in tune without being strained,” advises Whittle.

Work out your energy plan

Think the race is all about your legs? Think again. “Marathon running is not just a physical test but an exercise in restraint,” says Whittle. “You know you can go faster, but you’ll need to save your energy for the miles ahead. Enjoy the day and remember it with pride. Only one per cent of the population has completed a marathon – that’s an elite club.”

The full distance can seem daunting at this point but it’s all in your mind. “If you’ve run a marathon before be confident that you already know you can come out the other side,” says Roger Biggs, running coach and chairman of the 100 Marathon Club. “If you’ve never run one you must stay positive. Think, if a 70-year-old can do it so can I.”

Use the big day

The race is just hours away but there’s still work to be done. “Aim to eat your final pre-race meal at least three hours before the start so your stomach has the maximum time to digest the food and process the energy,” recommends Trevorrow. “If in need of a quick fix pre-race, have a low-sugar, high-carb energy drink – or, try rice pudding.”

And finally you’re at the start line. Any final words of advice? “If it’s your first marathon get steady miles as opposed to being as fast as possible,” says Biggs. “Most people running aren’t athletes, so just enjoy it.”

The Virgin London Marathon takes place 13 April. Gebrselassie spoke to ShortList courtesy of Adidas

(Image: Alamy)

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