British Vogue

How To Train For A Marathon: A Vogue Guide

Last year, as I watched people finishing the London Marathon from my sofa, I had a thought: “I could do that. I like running. It can’t be that hard.” So, I signed up with four other enthusiastic friends, only to find I was the sole applicant of the four to actually get a much-sought-after running place.

Suddenly it was January and I had to get up in the dark and run four miles in the sleet. Then it was Fashion Week and I was supposed to run 24 miles in a week when I didn’t have a day off. By March I was running 10 miles before work, 20 on Saturdays and feeling like my shins were about to snap every time I walked up and down stairs to get on the Tube. How naive I was!

But the hardest thing about the whole marathon experience? I found it difficult to sift through the amount of information flooding the internet to find the advice I needed. So often, running tips seem to be aimed at men and are out of sync with today’s health advice. I decided to collate all my training advice in one bumper manual.

Draw Up A Weekly Training Guide

Look at this very early on. For a novice like myself, you should really start running regularly in mid-December in time for the London Marathon (18 weeks in total). I followed the Hal Higdon plan, and was slightly shocked when I discovered I should have been running four times a week rather than two or maybe three. If you have a busy schedule I would advise putting the runs into your diary as if they are appointments, otherwise they just get forgotten about. And yes, you may have to sacrifice seeing friends and a few parties, but it should be possible not to become a complete hermit. Note: If training for the London Marathon, Dry January and hygge will be your friends.

Undergo A Gait Analysis

This simple test looks at how your feet respond to each step and whether your feet roll inwards, outwards or land neutrally. It is in dispute whether or not this is really needed, especially if running in a city on uneven surfaces, but most will still advise you have your gait analysed. I found the best service at Runner’s Need, where they will film you running in a “neutral shoe” and play the recording back to you. You don’t need to make an appointment, and they have a changing room in store. I watched in dismay as my ankles folded inwards at each step – but that was easily resolved with a trainer built up on the inside. I was also informed by several unhelpful people I would have to ditch my “nice” trainers and wear “big ugly ones”. Thankfully, that’s not the case, with lots of brands offering practical and desirable styles. I went for a pair of Adidas Ultra b=Boost trainers which support my “overpronation”.

Find A Running Coach

A running coach is not an indulgence and can be very useful, particularly in the beginning. It’s one thing watching video guides on YouTube, and another having a specialist talk and show you through it. Much to the dismay of Lee Mullins, founder of The Workshop Gymnasium at The Bulgari Hotel & Spa, I only went to see him four weeks before the big run. Mullins would advise you engage a running coach at least six months before your run date. With the Runner’s Legs programme you will have an in-depth assessment from a specialist who will teach you techniques to establish a good running posture, stride and foot strike, plus advice on maintaining performance during the race. The part I found most helpful was exercises for strength and recovery, your hips and core need to be strong enough to support you for the long runs, ideally try a little strength training each day which is easy to work through at home with a small amount of equipment. For a local running coach ask at your gym if they can recommend someone who specialises. A final piece of advice: do not avoid the foam roller just because it hurts… This spikey and misleadingly solid piece of equipment helps release connective tissue around your muscles, easing stiffness and tightness that result from long distance running. It only gets worse if you ignore it, so you need to grit your teeth and get used to it.

Don’t Overlook The Importance Of Apps 

You need to keep track of your pace and your distances when training for a marathon. This isn’t just pragmatic, it’s also motivational: it’s very encouraging to see your improvement in numbers and to look back and see how many miles you have run in total. I’m currently on 181! I use the Nike+ Run Club app, it’s easy to use and tells you your time, pace and the distance left while running. Another viable option is the Strava app.

Try Running With A Group

A great way to motivate yourself is to involve your friends who are runners in your training. Even if they just join you for part of the long runs, it can make all the difference. I like to have a tag team of different friends join me along the way! Another option is to join a group such as WMN RUN on Facebook, a group of encouraging women of different capabilities to help get those miles in. Nike Town, Sweaty Betty and Adidas also offer free run clubs.

Don’t Knock The Destination Run

Much like the ever-popular destination wedding, I like to liven up my runs by going to a range of locations to keep it interesting. Over the past few months I have completed a country lane run in Hereforshire, an 11-mile run through Suffolk woodland, a run around Epping Forest and back to N1, and am planning a run in Lisbon later in April. Creating a different experience each time stops you getting bored and stops running feeling like it’s taking over your weekend.

Cross Training Is A Necessary Evil 

Along with the strength training, I found cardio cross training extremely helpful; a way to keep up your fitness while giving your legs a break from the same repetitive movements of running. Try swapping out a shorter run mid-week with a swim, and yoga on a Friday or Sunday to ease the muscles.

Embrace Yoga Too

I can’t recommend yoga enough. An hour or so of stretching out your tight and sore limbs is exactly what you need when putting constant strain on your body. It increases muscle strength and tone helping to prepare your body for running long distances and prevents injury. Once or twice I limped to a class and strode out of it. I would particularly recommend looking into having a one-on-one session designed specifically for runners. I had mine with yoga teacher Fern Ross who showed me which moves would stretch out my calves and hamstrings, and improve the ever-important core. She even showed me moves I can do at my desk such a “chair pigeon”, which I’m yet to convince the rest of the Vogue office to try.

Combining the running and yoga is also fruitful: Fat Buddha holds Run & Yoga classes where you run 5k then do runners-focused yoga, stretching out key muscles (calves, hamstrings, quads, hip-flexors and groin muscles), loosening shoulders and strengthening your core, all to a disco-themed soundtrack and then followed by brunch from a chosen restaurant. I’d also encourage you to try warm or hot yoga. Fierce Grace Yoga starts with the classic Fierce Grace class to support balance and realignment, then later in training moves on to S.O.B (Stiff, Old or Broken!) which will help with any injuries or stresses on your joints, knees and ankles. They give a free week of yoga classes to anyone who completes the marathon to give you a little more encouragement. You could also try Another Space for a bit of a workout along with the stretching. I sometimes replaced the shorter runs with a Yoga 60 session, when my shins just couldn’t take it anymore.

Take Up Swimming

I found swimming a great alternative to swap in with of the shorter runs. Running is a weight-bearing sport and swimming is the opposite, so can really help relax tired and tight muscles from pounding the ground, plus the cooler temperature of swimming pools can help with inflammation problems. It builds your strength, works your core and improves your lung function. It’s also very encouraging to see how much your fitness improves with regular swims. Annie Emerson, Speedo’s professional coach advises building up to 40 lengths to equal a 1km swim (in a 25m pool). Best to swim front crawl as this works your cardiovascular system more as you have to control your breathing plus will get more out of it from a fitness point of view. If like me your frontcrawl technique could do with some work then mix in breaststroke to make the distance. You can vary your speed and distance, or work on interval training depending on what you want from the session. See the Speedo site to get some more advice on the type of swimming sessions you can do during your training.

Get Clued Up On Your Nutrition

There is lots of confusing information out there advising you to carb load on things that are not healthy. In desperation, I spoke to nutritionist Eve Kalinik who advised the following:

“Directly before a run, eat something that can be digested quickly and provides a good hit of energy – a medium sized banana is ideal, but make sure you eat one no less than 30 minutes before you start as you don’t want indigestion getting in the way. You should look at having something more slow-release and higher in carbohydrate like a soaked oat bircher an hour before.

During the run you need to take in around 20-60g carbohydrate per hour after the first 90 mins of running. Intake needs to be steady and consistent to ensure a readily available supply of glucose that will keep glycogen (blood sugar store) replenished and support the nervous system. Try to eat in 20-30 minute intervals after the first 90 minutes.

When it comes to running food products, I found lots of the energy sachets and bars have very unhealthy ingredients. TRIBE blaze bars are ideal as they are all natural, without additives and processed ingredients. You can avoid the energy drinks by making your own with a base of one litre coconut water as this is an excellent electrolyte replacement. Add in some fresh lemon, lime, 1/4 teaspoon sea salt and 1 tablespoon raw (unfiltered) honey.

Directly after a run you want a meal that has about a 4:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio. On average that works out to be around two organic free range eggs or 100g wild salmon. Good choices of carbs could include sweet potatoes, quinoa, buckwheat or wild rice. Don’t be tempted by ‘carb loading’ too far in advance. You actually only need to really concentrate on that 2-3 days before the race and this is where 85-95 per cent of your meal ratio’s should be made up of carbs. Don’t panic too much if you see the scales going higher, as for every gram of carbohydrate you will store an extra 3 grams of water – and that just means your body is well hydrated and with plenty of fuel in the tank to complete the race. Look at sources such as sourdough bread, as the fermentation makes it more digestion-friendly for most – remember it doesn’t always have to be grains. Other higher-carb veggies include sweet potatoes, parsnips, butternut squash or beetroot, and fruit is generally high in its carbohydrate content, so add in a variety of this such as bananas, pears and apples. Avoid refined white foods in excess. Most advice includes “carb loading on pasta and bread”, but don’t fall into the trap of thinking you can “run off” lots of the stuff. White carbs impair your recovery and other than providing an initial hit of energy which crashes soon after, they are pretty devoid in nutrition.”

Pick Up A Protein Shake

Protein shakes can be very helpful with recovery if you are time poor. Again, avoid ones with too many ingredients or artificial sugar. I love Neat’s Whey protein, and Body Brilliance recommends using a mix of Body Brilliance & Protein Excellence and Omega Brilliance capsules to enhance to recovery process.

Don’t Drop The Personal Grooming

I learned the hard way you need to keep your toenails neat and short. Hopefully they will recover by sandal season – or backless loafers it is. Consider a Medical Pedicure at Margaret Dabbs, carried out by professional podiatrists who will give your feet a much-needed overhaul and look at all aspects of foot health.

Yes, You Deserve Regular Pampering

Suddenly massages stop being a luxury and become necessity. They also stop being so enjoyable, well, unless you enjoy pain. I’d recommend regular deep tissue sports massages. I had them focus on my calves and it worked wonders.

If you really want to treat yourself – and goodness knows you deserve it – then book into Hotel Café Royal for their Marathon Sanctuary on the weekend of the marathon. There’s an equal focus on mind and body, with meditation classes, spa treatments and nutritionally-balanced meals designed by Zoe Stirling – not to mention a (so-called) de-stress ice bath!

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