The Perfect Marathon Week

So long as you’re well organised, come marathon day you’ll have nothing to worry about except the few miles of Tarmac linking the start to the finish. Here’s the seven-day countdown that no runner should be without – plus the tried-and-tested route to a fast recovery. (Some of the sections are geared towards the London Marathon, but you can carry the principles anywhere.)

Monday

Mind
  • Focus on miles 1-5 of the Marathon. Prepare for taking anywhere from 2-10 minutes to cross the start line, and having a very slow first few miles. Focus on staying calm and resisting the temptation to waste energy by weaving ahead. Picture yourself storing up your energy for the later miles.
Body
  • Decide whether you are really in shape to run the Marathon. The Virgin London Marathon sensibly allows you to defer your entry for a year if you have good reason. If you’ve had an injury severe enough to cut back your running in the last week, take them up on this offer. Similarly, don’t run if you’re taking antibiotics, if you’ve suffered any flu symptoms in the last week, or if you’re pregnant.
Food & Drink
  • Plan out your week’s eating with a variety of high-carbohydrate meals. Don’t undereat, but take care to avoid junk food, especially between now and Wednesday.
  • Do everything you can to avoid catching coughs and colds this week. Pack plenty of immune-boosting vitamin C-rich foods like oranges and broccoli into your diet. If in doubt, take a daily 1000mg vitamin C tablet, and consider a multivitamin supplement.
  • Avoid the practice of preceding a carbo-loading period with a few days of carbohydrate starvation.
Admin
  • If you haven’t done so already, prepare your race-day shopping list and buy everything you need, from blister patches to energy gels.

Tuesday

Mind
  • Visualise miles 6-13 of the marathon. You’ll have settled into a steady pace and will be logging consistent mile splits. You’ll have loosened up and calmed down, and you’ll be drinking regularly. Anticipate slowing for the bottleneck at the Cutty Sark (6.5 miles). By mile 13 you’ll be working a little harder, but still feeling strong and running at an even pace.
Body
  • Resist the temptation to throw in extra cross-training as you tail off your running mileage this week. Tapering means tapering – don’t spend the extra time in the gym or decide to start rebuilding your extension.
Food & Drink
  • If you haven’t yet tried training after your planned race-day breakfast, do it today.
  • Make sure that you’re getting enough protein this week – it’s easily overlooked. You should be aiming for 0.5-0.75g of protein per pound of bodyweight.
Admin
  • If you’re travelling any distance to the Marathon, make a packing list and start gathering the clothes and items you need. Make sure your racing kit is washed and ready!

Wednesday

Mind
  • Focus on miles 14-17. You’re working hard, running steadily and feeling confident. You’re well hydrated and on target. Imagine concentrating purely on the mile ahead, rather than thinking about how far you still have to go.
Body
  • Consider a massage if your legs are feeling tight.
Food & Drink
  • Don’t be tempted to try any ‘miracle’ sports supplements. Stick to normal-dosage multivitamins and a good diet with plenty of fresh food.
Admin
  • Marathon registration usually opens today for the London Marathon. Go early in the week if you can, to avoid the rush. You have to be there before race day to register and collect your number and timing chip. If you have time, look around the huge Marathon Exhibition. Don’t forget to visit the RUNNER’S WORLD stand (stand 148).
  • If friends or family will be coming to watch you race on Sunday, decide where you’ll meet each other at the finish. There are boards from A-Z at the finish for this purpose. Also, (unless you are all carrying mobile phones) arrange an emergency phone contact which you can all use to relay messages.

Thursday

Mind
  • Visualise miles 18-21. Many runners struggle here, but you’ve trained well and are pulling strongly through these miles. You’re consistently passing other runners. You’ve been taking on energy drinks or gels to stave off the wall, and you’re looking forward to reaching Tower Bridge for the second time at 22 miles.
Body
  • Trim your toenails. Don’t leave it any closer to race day in case you cut them too short and leave them temporarily sore.
Food & Drink
  • Your carbohydrate intake should be 65-70 per cent of total calories. You should feel comfortable after each meal, not stuffed.
Admin
  • Calculate your target pace per mile, then figure out your race splits – that is, your target times for the mile markers around the course. You might just calculate your target time for halfway; or if you’re more serious, use our pace-band generator for a quick and easy way to stay on track.
  • Don’t forget to take into account the time it takes to cross the start line – very approximately: two minutes for sub-3:00 runners, four minutes for 3:30, seven minutes for 4:00, 10 minutes for 4:30 and 12 minutes or more for 5:00. Also, remember that it’s 26.2 miles, not a round 26!

Friday

Mind
  • Picture miles 22-26. Even though these are usually the hardest, you’ll be ready because you’ve trained well and raced sensibly. You may slow a little in the final two miles, but visualise yourself keeping a strong, confident running form as you run past the cheering crowds on the Embankment and around the outside of St James’s Park.
  • Get a good night’s sleep tonight. You’ll probably find it easier to drift off than you will tomorrow.
Body
  • Don’t worry if you’re feeling lethargic and heavy-legged – it’s because your body is storing the extra glycogen (and water with it) that you’ll need for the race. You’ll feel fine on race day.
Food & Drink
  • Keep taking in plenty of carbohydrate – vegetable soup and bread, baked potatoes with tuna, pasta with tomato-based sauces, fruit and yoghurt. It’s best to avoid richly spiced meals, unfamiliar dishes and seafood.
  • If you’re travelling to London, take most of your snacks with you.
Admin
  • Reread the organisers’ race-day instructions. Make sure you know which start you have been assigned to (the colour of the digits on your race number tells you this) and which start pen you have been allocated (a small circular sticker on your number, with a numeral from 1-10, indicates this).
  • Check you have your travel arrangements sorted out - you should be at the start area 90 minutes before the gun goes off. For London, at the time of writing, trains leave every 10 minutes from Charing Cross, Waterloo East and London Bridge from around 7am. Their destinations alternate between Maze Hill and Greenwich (for red start); and Blackheath (for blue start). The longest journey time is approximately 25 minutes. Trains are free for anyone with a Marathon number – make sure you get there early.

Saturday

Mind
  • Take today purely for yourself. Relax with friends if you want to; spend a little time alone if you feel the need. As Hal Higdon writes in his book Marathon, “The important point to remember is that if you have prepared properly, nothing much you do on this day – except what you eat and drink – will have much effect on your race.”
  • Take a little time to visualise the finish, the focus of these last months of training. Imagine running elated up The Mall, with your target time on the clock and thousands of spectators cheering you on. Picture walking on air through the finish funnels. You’ve made it!
Body
  • Try to stay off your feet as much as possible today. If you still have to go to the Marathon Exhibition to collect your number, don’t spend too much time looking around.
  • Consider the 20-minute jog in your schedules as being an optional extra. Some runners find it a valuable stress reliever and muscle loosener; others prefer not to.
Food & Drink
  • Sip water all day – if you’re dehydrated by the evening, you’ll be dehydrated when you wake up tomorrow. Try to avoid caffeine and alcohol.
  • Stick to your normal eating habits. Choose a high-carbohydrate evening meal (if you have pasta, don’t smother it in a creamy sauce), but don’t eat so much that you feel bloated.
  • Don’t eat too much fruit or fibre – you don’t want to risk diarrhoea at this stage.
Admin
  • Pin your number to the T-shirt or vest you’ll be racing in, and lay out your race-day kit on a chair.
  • Pack your post-race bag that you’ll load onto the baggage bus before the start. (At London, this is the plastic drawstring bag you got when you registered at the Marathon Exhibition.) Include:
    • Comfortable, roomy trainers
    • Fresh socks
    • A towel
    • Warm trousers and top
    • A jacket
    • Post-race food (though you’ll get free sandwiches and snacks after the race)
    • Emergency money.
    You may want to wear the comfy trainers and some of the clothing before the race, up until you put the bag on the bus.
  • Lay out any disposable clothing you plan to wear before the gun goes off. Cut arm and head holes in a dustbin liner if you plan to use one as a makeshift poncho in the start pen.
  • Lay out anything you want to race with – energy gels and emergency phone money, for example.
  • Write your splits on your number if you haven’t already.
  • Set two alarm clocks, and if you’re a very heavy sleeper ask someone to wake you or phone you as a backup in the morning.

Race Day has a big page of its own!