If you run marathons or are preparing to run your first marathon, it is vital you avoid these six common mistakes.
Mistake Number 1
Carrying out any runs that exceed a 10 mile distance during the four-week period before race day.
For a runner with average leg strength, it takes at least a month to recover from strenuous marathon training so that the race itself can be completed with rested, healthy leg muscles. Scientific research suggests that during this month before the race no workout should cover more than about 10 miles. Violating this principle will weaken your quads, which means that come race day they will still be reeling from the previous four week’s punishing training schedule.
To promote better recovery while still enhancing the ability to run marathon-type distances carry out a long run every two to three weeks. Gradually increase the duration of this effort to 22 miles but only run 10 to 12 of them at race pace. On alternate weeks, complete shorter-duration quality training.
Complete the last long run at least four weeks prior to race day.
Mistake Number 2
Carrying out just one workout per week at faster than goal marathon pace.
For endurance runners in general, max running speed is a good predictor of marathon potential. Improvements in max running speed almost always lead to upgrades in marathon performance. However, it is difficult to enhance max speed when only one 'speed' session is completed per week, especially when that 'speed' session is more of a tempo run than a higher-intensity effort.
Complete at least two faster-than-marathon-pace workouts per week, mixing interval workouts at 10-K, 5-K, and 3-K pace with neural training (see Mistake no. 3) and placing less emphasis on tempo runs.
Mistake Number 3
Failing to complete any neural training i.e. failing to train at VO2max speed and omitting 'super sets' from the overall programme.
It is certain that VO2max workouts produce more gains in VO2max, lactate threshold, and running economy than any other type of training session; these three physiological variables are great predictors of marathon success. It is likely that super sets have a similarly strong physiological effect.
Carry out a neural workout every 10 to 15 days during the early stages of marathon training - and every week during the last eight weeks before a marathon.
Mistake Number 4
Emphasizing non-running-specific strength training.
Start preparations for a marathon with six weeks of whole-body strengthening, with an emphasis on exercises which involve most of the muscles in the body simultaneously and which avoid seated and reclining postures.
Then move on to hill training and exercises which duplicate key aspects of the gait cycle, including one-leg squats, high-bench step-ups, one-leg hops in place, bicycle leg swings, reverse bicycle leg swings, eccentric reaches with toes, and arrested step-downs, focusing on weight-bearing exercises which require high degrees of coordination and must be carried out with full body weight supported by one leg at a time.
Finally, finish with about eight weeks of explosive work, including hops, bounds, sprints, one-leg squats with lateral hops, in-place accelerations, Indian hops, drop jumps, and high-knee explosions. These moves enhance the ability to run fast, and as max running speed increases, it drags marathon pace along with it.
Mistake Number 5
Using gels during the marathon itself.
This is very tricky business, since exactly the right amount of water must be taken in with each packet of gel. Take in too much water - and you end up with a hypotonic sports drink in your gullet which delivers too few carbs to your leg muscles. Take in too little water - and you concoct a syrupy goo within your intestines which actually drags in water from surrounding tissues and spurs diarrhoea. Pour sports drink down your throat along with the gel, and you might as well begin scouting around for a Portaloo.
It is possible to use gels during the race, but you'd better have a sports-drink expert or exercise physiologist calculate your water intake for you. It's far easier to simply use a sports drink throughout the race (remember never to mix sports drink with water), a practice which will increase your chances of avoiding GI upsets and delivering enough carbohydrate to your muscles.
Mistake Number 6
Employing a training programme which is devoid of variety.
Avoid a too-heavy dependence on tempo and long running, substituting an array of higher-quality workouts, including neural sessions (see Mistake no. 3), lactate-stacker workouts (two-minute intervals at close to max pace, separated by four-minute recoveries), hill climbs, fartlek efforts, speed-strength circuits, 800-metre intervals at 3-K pace, 1200- to 1600-metre intervals at 5-K speed, 2000- to 2400-metre reps at 10-K pace, and competitions ranging in distance from 5K up to the half-marathon.
These kinds of exertions will have a much broader - and larger - impact on the key physiological variables which are important for endurance-running success, including VO2max, lactate-threshold running speed, and running economy. They will also promote the ability to run faster, which is critically important for all types of racing.
A note on Lactic Acid:
It's important to bear in mind that aqua jogging does not remove lactic acid from the leg muscles. In fact, if the aqua jogging is above a fairly minimal intensity, it will actually increase muscle lactic-acid concentrations. In truth, there's no need to fret about lactic-acid levels in the muscles. Most of the stuff is removed or metabolized within minutes after a workout is over, and of course lactic acid does not cause muscle soreness or stiffness.