January 2017

Tips to help you achieve a sub-4 hour marathon

female runner

With most people now starting their training for the upcoming marathon season in spring, this week on The Fit Londoner, I thought I would share with you the techniques I used when training for Verona Marathon, where I achieved my sub-4 hour marathon.  

It’s funny when we achieve something, look back and realise that they were something that we once thought beyond our own reach. Before I started running two years ago, I never thought I would be able to run a marathon. When I began running, each time I completed a distance, I thought, “why not push myself a tiny bit more? Go that extra distance.”   

I still remember my first long run – 18km on a treadmill in a basement gym. Fast forward to April 2016 when I completed my first marathon in Hamburg. I still remember thinking that my watch must have broken when I crossed the finishing line and saw I had completed it in 4 hours. That time couldn’t be true – but it was! Fast forward to Verona Marathon in November, and I achieved a sub-4 hour time of 3:46 (so close to achieving my bucket list goal of getting a Good for Age time!)

When I started training for Verona Marathon, I had a running plan and aimed to follow it to the letter, just as I had done with Hamburg. I quickly became bored of my training programme and in the end, threw it out and found a way to train that I really enjoyed over 11 weeks. 

Before I go ahead, I want to note that I am not a qualified fitness professional, so please discuss anything with someone with the qualifications, especially if you are a marathon newbie.

Join a running club. Training for a marathon can be a lonely time, especially on the Sunday long, slow runs (LSRs). Find a running club that covers a mixture of distances. My run club, Midnight Runners, has a weekly LSR session on Sundays (distance built up over weeks) and a 10km bootcamp session on Tuesdays. Running within a group is a good way to build speed as you want to run faster than Tom, Dick or Sally.

Complete speed sessions and LSRs. Throughout my entire Verona Marathon training, there were 2 run sessions that were constant each week – my LSRs and Tuesday track sessions. The speed sessions were the hardest aspect of my training, but I think they massively helped in helping me with my speed for the marathon.

Strength training at the gym. I love being at the gym, possibly more so than running (controversial?). I decided to incorporate a lot of my training time in the gym, surrounding myself with weights. Twice a week, my gym sessions would begin with 15 minutes HIIT that built up to a speed of 22km.  

Run when I wanted. Going back to the above point, besides the speed sessions and LSRs, I only ever ran when I wanted. This meant that sometimes there were weeks where I ran only twice a week. Sometimes this was three or four times a week. I wanted to enjoy my training so if I didn’t want to run, there was no way I was running that day. Not even on a treadmill.

Double training sessions per day. I trained harder than I have ever done throughout this training. There were weeks where I was training six days a week, of which I would train twice a day on one or two of those days. Extreme I know but again, I loved this. I based this on my mental and physical fatigue levels. If I was on the brink of feeling mentally and physically fatigued, I would take time off training. Being fatigued isn’t going to help you progress, so sleep and recovery time are important.

Run on tired legs. A few people at my running club had mentioned to me that one of their training tactics is to run on tired legs. The theory behind is that it helps you to beat the mental challenges that come with running a marathon and is especially useful for running ultras. Saturday would usually be my killer, heavy leg day session with my PT and I followed this with my Sunday LSR. By Sunday evenings, my legs were more than tired out.

Rest when I needed. I always had at least one rest day. If I needed to rest more then I would take it. Listening to my body was extremely important to me. For other people, you may need two or three rest days – again, listen to your body.

Fuelling well. I particularly focused on eating whole foods, fruit and vegetables throughout training and ensured I was fuelled pre and post workout/running session. There were two weeks where I couldn’t train much due to work commitments, but I ensured I ate well and was as active as much as I could in this period. Being successful with this helped for the aftermath of marathon as well, as I didn’t get any midnight hunger issues that I had in the weeks after Hamburg Marathon.

Being organised. My diary came in even handier during this time. I made sure I was disciplined in my training, diarising everything and using it methodically to balance my social life with training and w.

Complete obstacle course races. Completing obstacle course races put the fun in my training and also helped me in dealing ,with the mental challenges of the marathon. The Bear Grylls’ race was the most mentally challenging obstacle course race as it consisted of 3 10km loops…Put it this way, I am not a fan of multi-loops!

Sports massages and stretching. With the intensity I was training at, I made sure that I had a lot of sports massages and put in a session of floating, which I reviewed during my Hamburg Marathon training. Admittedly, I didn’t stretch as much as I should have, but compared to Hamburg, I was stretching a lot more. This is something I am striving to continue this year.

Some may disagree with my ‘strategy’ (or lack of strategy?) but I strongly feel that they helped me to achieve a sub-4. I consider myself to be relatively fit, I know what my limits and strengths are and where my weaknesses lie; this is what I built on. These techniques not only helped me to run the marathon faster, but they also helped me to beat the infamous wall, reduce my usual race day anxiety and put the love back into running. I can’t wait for my next round of marathon training.  

Good luck to all of you training for spring marathons. What marathons are you running this year? What methods have you used to get a personal best? The Fit Londoner would love to know.  

Mara xxx