1 - Stick to your plan
During the latter stages of marathon training, it’s tempting to stray from your plan and add in a few extra runs, just to make sure you’re ready. This can lead you into dangerous territory.
You should never increase your total weekly volume by more than 10% each week and it’s not sensible to increase mileage too drastically on a long run from, say, 13 miles one week to 18 miles the next. The scale of this increase is asking for trouble as you’ve not given your joints, ligaments, tendons, and muscles sufficient time to gradually adapt to the extra volume. Even if you have a sensible approach to running training, as the long runs increase so will the risk of injury.
2 - Schedule a sports massage
Running coach George Anderson always recommends “seeing a massage therapist every two weeks, it’s always going to be beneficial”. Specific sports massages are a great way to release any tight spots or knots in the muscles whilst giving you a chance to discuss any concerns with your massage therapist.
3 - Respect your long run
Take it easy after a long run and don't try a hard speed session the next day. At the most, try a gentle recovery run to keep the legs ticking over, or use the cross-trainer or stationary bike on a low resistance.
“Rest after each long run,” says physiotherapist Tim Allardyce from Surrey Physio. “Don’t run two days in a row if you just did a long run, unless your body is used to this kind of training.”
4 - Don't try and make up for lost time
Missed a few long runs? Don't cram them all into the last few weeks of training. "Overtraining in this way is probably the biggest cause of injuries," says Allardyce. "Fitting in extra runs in the lead up to the marathon as a last ditch attempt to get your endurance up will most likely lead to problems.”
Running a marathon is like revising for an exam - be consistent with the work you put in, but if you skip some sessions don’t try and cram everything in at the last minute, because it won’t help.
5 - Take a global perspective
The nearer you get to race day the more vulnerable you are, so you’ll need to think big picture and focus not just on training but on good rest, nutrition, and sleep.
Anderson says: “If you’re training for an April marathon, you need to be thinking: ‘This is my highest volume, my highest intensity, so I’m at my most vulnerable right now’. So you need to pay more attention to other factors that are going to boost your resilience. Your sleep, your nutrition, your body conditioning, your massage.”
6 - Keep a cool head
Checking in with how you are feeling is hugely important, but it’s easy to get paranoid about the occasional minor ache or pain, which may be nothing or may even be unrelated to running, especially if you have a job where you are sitting down for long periods.
“Listen to your body and be aware that a niggle at this stage is not the same as a niggle 10 weeks ago,” says Anderson. “You need to tune into your body a lot more consciously and make that decision about whether it is worth a trip to the physiotherapist sooner rather than just leaving it.”
However, he warns “because you’ve got a big race, then every niggle does seem to feel like runner’s knee,” says Anderson. ‘If in doubt, see someone and put your mind at rest. If you are inclined to be a bit more paranoid about niggles, then a strategy of regular massage or chiropractic treatment is probably going to be something you can really benefit from.”
7 - Don't skip the taper
So long as your longest run is between 18-22 miles, you’ll be ready on race day. Tapering simply means cutting back on mileage in the last three weeks to give your body a chance to reach the start line fresh, not over-trained, and, of course, injury-free.
Doing hard or long sessions in the final few weeks before race day won’t benefit your fitness at this late stage, and could increase injury risk. Have your final long run three weeks before race day and don’t run for more than three hours and 15 minutes. With two weeks to go, reduce your training volume to 50-70% of your normal total, and make sure that your long run is no more than two hours. In the final week, stick to some easy runs lasting no longer than 30 minutes.
8 - Check your shoes
Finally, make sure that your trainers are not worn out and are still offering the support and cushioning you need. The best time to check your running shoes is 4-6 weeks before marathon day to give you enough time to break them in and get used to them.
If you're not sure, bring your trainers into your nearest Runners Need store for all the help and advice you need.