London Marathon: four mistakes to avoid as the big day approaches

London Marathon: four mistakes to avoid as the big day approaches

It’s crunch time for those training for this year’s London Marathon.

Although most of the training is now complete, there may be more to think about than ever for the nearly 50,000 people in attendance on April 21.

We spoke to a sports therapist, a dietitian and a man who has run every London Marathon to find out the most common pitfalls before and during a race – and how to avoid them.

“This is the time when a lot of people lose their minds,” warns sports therapist and physio Gabriel Segall.

So how much should you run now? Should you change your diet? What to eat before the race – and how to avoid the dreaded wall?

Preparing for a marathon can be divided into three main categories, explains Gabriel:

  • Training load
  • Recovery
  • Diet

The training load, he says, should be largely covered by now, with all your grueling trials completed before the 26.2-mile challenge.

He says participants will hopefully have tried to run 20 to 23 miles on their training runs, as this will have given their bodies “experience of going through that stress” and some muscle memory to cope to a marathon.

But the week before the marathon is crucial and often people make mistakes that will hinder their success.

Mistake #1 – Cramming

Piling in last-minute work, like you’re studying for an exam, just won’t cut it. In fact, it will probably hurt your performance, Gabriel warns.

“If you keep pushing and training too hard, a lot of people get injured or get sick because they don’t give themselves enough time to recover. And that’s where people can struggle.”

A four-time marathoner himself, Gabriel suggests instead accepting where you are in your training and adjusting your goal finish time accordingly.

Chris Finill is one of only seven people to have completed all 43 London Marathons since its inception in 1981. He and his wife – who has also attended every event with her husband, whether supporting him, hanging medals or running herself – have seen a Many runners come and go over the years, and unrealistic goals have led to the downfall of many.

Chris after completing the first London Marathon in 1981

Speaking to Sky News ahead of his 44th birthday, the 64-year-old said: “People tend to choose an unrealistic goal and are overly optimistic about how long they can achieve. And once that they have determined what pace they need to run properly to achieve this unrealistic time, they run even faster than that at first because they feel so fresh.

“So the golden rule is to conserve your energy and hold on, even if you feel excited, exuberant or energetic during those first few miles.”

Mistake #2 – Not calming down before the race

People should cut back on their training and focus on recovery, Gabriel says, in what’s called tapering.

Chris, who hopes to finish in less than three hours, says he will “barely run at all” in the three or four days leading up to the marathon, although he might do a two-mile jog the day before.

“The taper period is a time to let the body relax,” says Gabriel. “You’re not going to experience a massive increase in fitness or performance over the last couple of weeks.”

It highlights the Recovery Pyramid, which describes optimal recovery strategies for athletes, going from low to high in terms of importance.

He also warns against too much influence from social media when it comes to your preparation.

“You see a lot of athlete and runner influencers online talking about the best ways to recover,” he says. “They seem to go out, run really hard and use all these products that they probably influence and give you discounts on, and then they go out for a night at the pub and sleep for two hours.”

This form of training may seem idyllic, Gabriel says, but it is not realistic.

“There is one real way to recover, and that’s sleep,” he says. “Sleep is your best recovery.”

Chris, who is retired, says he does his best to be in bed by 11 p.m. at the latest and doesn’t get up earlier than 7:30 a.m. if he can help it.

Beyond sleep, Gabriel says “active recovery days” are becoming increasingly popular, during which you do some form of very low-intensity exercise like a walk, stretching, or similar activities that relax your body. body.

Mistake #3 – Getting your carbs wrong – and changing your diet at the last minute

A runner’s diet is different from what we typically associate with a healthy diet, and it’s well known that the most important thing is carbs, says nutritional therapist Monica Price.

“It breaks down into glucose, and then we store it in our body as glycogen, and then that’s stored in our liver and our muscles, and our body uses that to give us energy,” she said. told Sky News.

She says that these workouts should have already increased their consumption significantly and that “at least 70% of your diet should be carbohydrates” in the last week.

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So if you’re feeling peckish and reach for an apple, swap it for a slice of toast or a scone, she says.

However, not all carbohydrates are equal and it is possible to overuse them.

Having too many carbs when your body isn’t used to them can make you feel like you’re chasing “Christmas dinner.”

Monica suggests “simple” carbs like bread, pasta with tomato sauce, rice, potatoes, chicken, fish and tofu. While dietitians often recommend brown carbs because of their fiber, for runners, they’re more likely to cause stomach upset, says Monica.

It’s essential that you don’t change your diet too much before the big day, she adds, as changes need to be extensively “tried and tested” beforehand.

Mistake #4 – Incorrect refueling = hitting “the wall”

The wall has long been part of marathon folklore. Also known as “bonking,” it’s “a wall of fatigue,” Gabriel explains.

“Some runners, not all, hit this wall where they can’t do anything. This can happen for many reasons, but it’s often due to incorrect fueling.”

Monica adds: “You’re physically exhausted. Your legs can’t move, you have muscle cramps, you have spasms, you know, you get dizzy and you completely collapse – and your brain is telling you ‘no more.’

“And this happens because your body is lacking glycogen. In other words, you don’t have enough carbohydrates in your diet.

“This is why you see runners collapsing to the ground. It is also essential that during the race you have plenty of fluids, including sports drinks.”

Gabriel says that pacing will reduce your chances of hitting the wall, as Chris attests.

“I wouldn’t say I’ve ever hit him [the wall] in a significative way. I’ve had good and bad runs, but I’ve usually done it by taking gels, drinking an energy drink and not going too fast,” says Chris.

It can also have a mental impact, Gabriel says, because the brain needs glucose, which it doesn’t get if you don’t refuel properly.

While fueling up and pacing yourself is a necessity, he says, mental toughness is just as important.

“Focus on why you want to run and the strategies you learned during your training,” he says. “Trust yourself and the work you’re doing. It’s just the home stretch.”

So how to prepare the day before?

Monica says runners typically eat smaller, easily digestible meals every few hours the day before a race, keeping carbs in mind. Think breads, sandwiches and bagels, as well as things like chicken, rice and noodles.

“And keep drinking water,” she said. “It’s still essential.”

Chris adds: “I always suggest people eat relatively early, so they don’t go to bed on a full stomach, for example around 7pm. But don’t go to bed too early.

“It seems a little counterintuitive, but I think if you go to bed early because you have a big day ahead, you just lay there and toss and turn. If you don’t sleep well the night before, it doesn’t is not so important if you slept well the previous nights.

“If you wake up Sunday morning feeling like you’ve only had a few hours of sleep, I really wouldn’t worry about that. Try to put that to the back of your mind and just focus on the day ahead. “

What to eat on Sunday morning

Monica recommends a bagel with peanut butter and banana, as it has the carbs, protein and potassium you’ll need – although she admits most runners tend to opt for porridge or Weetamix.

However, it is not uncommon for nerves to prevent you from eating anything.

“Most runners will be nervous – whether they are professionals or novices,” she says. “So don’t panic if you haven’t been able to swallow breakfast or tried to eat it again – it happens.”

She says it’s more important that you have stored carbs from the hours and days leading up to Sunday.

Accept that something will probably go wrong

Most runners know that 9/10 races “aren’t great,” Gabriel says.

“You can do all the training you need for months and months and sometimes it just doesn’t work. You don’t have a good day. Your legs might be dirty or your breathing might be difficult,” says- he.

“Don’t panic or stress, no matter what,” Gabriel says.

“Take a minute to sort yourself out if you need to. Have a drink, take a gel and remember why you’re doing it.

“It can really help you, and the beauty of the London Marathon is that there are so many runners around you all on the same journey.”


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