Run at Race Pace
Don't complete every run at race pace, but do include some race-pace runs in your training. About every third week, I have my runners do a race-pace tempo run that builds up to an 8-mile run. In the second half of the training, I also have my runners do portions of their long runs at race pace.
One of the hardest things for marathoners to do is run the long runs at a pace that's 30 to 60 seconds slower than marathon race pace. It's important that long runs be run slow in order to build endurance. But in the second half of your training, it's a perfect time to start running the last couple of miles of the long runs at race pace.
Or, do something called a Kenyan Out-n-Back. For a Kenyan Out-n-Back, run the first half of the long run at your 30 to 60 second slower-than-marathon-race pace. Then for the second half, pull the pace up to marathon race pace. It teaches your body that you're very capable of pulling out some speed later in an endurance run.
Leave Some in the Tank
If you're doing quality runs in your training (intervals, hill repeats, tempo runs, etc.), be sure to leave something in the tank after each run. I call it The 90 Percent Rule. You should always feel like, "Hmmm, I could have gone a little faster, or a little longer." That's a good feeling to have. It's also a safe, injury-preventing feeling to have. If you run every quality run at 100 percent effort, you'll more than likely get injured or peak before race day. Neither is a good thing.
More: 4 Tempo Run Workouts
Do Your Weekly Runs
The weekend warrior approach to marathon training is an injury just waiting to happen. The weekly base mileage is what primes the pump for those weekend long runs. Keeping that steady base mileage helps the body stay fit muscularly and aerobically. Runners new to the marathon distance are particularly prone to injury if they don't enter the training with a strong base (about 20 miles a week for at least a month prior to starting training) and maintain a steady weekly mileage before each long run.
Carbohydrates are a runner's fuel. Be sure to pre-fuel and refuel with carbs before and after each run. Eating a 4:1 carbs to protein ratio within 15 to 30 minutes after your run will help rebuild the glycogen stores in your leg muscles. It will also provide the energy needed for the body to quickly begin repairing and rebuilding muscle tissue so you'll be strong for your next run. Lowfat or skim chocolate milk is the perfect post-run refuel snack. The Paleo diet is all the rage now, but it's not going to thoroughly and completely support and fuel your marathon training.
More: For Distance Workouts, Count Carbs In
Listen to Your Body
Probably the biggest cause of injury is denial. Get in tune with your body. Learn the different nuisances of each run and take note of the effects it has on your body. Learn what's an ache and what's a pain. Normal muscle soreness is OK to run though. Pain is not. When in doubt, check in with your running coach or your doctor.
Learn your resting heart rate. If you're feeling worn down, check your resting heart rate before getting about of bed in the morning. If it's just a few beats higher than normal (and you don't have a cold or an infection), it could mean you're overtraining. Your body is in overdrive trying to repair itself and it just can't keep up. If that's the case, no matter what the training plan says, take a rest day. Better safe than sorry. Resting to allow the body to heal is a lot better than being in a cast for six months and unable to cross the finish line.
More: Playing the Pain Game: Dealing With Injury
The taper is usually a three-week period at the end of your training just before race day. It's kind of like an extended drop-back week. In a typical taper, the first week cuts the overall mileage to 75 percent (most of which is in the long run). The second week cuts the overall mileage to 50 percent (most of which is in the long run), and then the third week is just enough running to keep you limber and from going mentally bonkers before race day.
The taper is important. Sometimes runners feel like they're going stir crazy and they begin to worry that they're losing fitness and/or speed, but never fear...you're not. Tapering ensures that you'll be fully healed and in prime condition for race day.
More: How to Achieve Marathon Race-Day Success
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