Training Tips

2010-02-22 00:00

Next weekend a record field of marathoners will line up in Bulwer Street with hopes and dreams of achieving a marathon time that will secure them a seeding and qualifying time for Two Oceans or Comrades. The training may be completed but what runners do in the final week, and the pacing on the day can make serious impact on whether they will achieve their chosen goal or not.

As we have discussed before the benefit of training comes from the rebuilding and strengthening of muscles during the rest period and not during the training itself. The taper period is simply an extension of this process. Studies have shown that the strength and recovery gained the in final week make a significant difference to the levels of performances: the bottom line is that tapering the training is very important and one that delivers a powerful punch on race morning.

For this reason the majority of running over the next week will be easy sessions where ‘easy pace’ is at least one minute slower per kilometer than your target marathon pace.

One challenge of this easy running is the psychological effect it has. It is not unusual to feel a bit jaded and sluggish when training in the final week before a race. One reason for this is that our normal training has been so active that when we stop or go very slow the body does not simply take a rest it starts to go into hibernation. This is just another case of where there is a pendulum-type action: from very active to overly rested. For this reason we find that running at the slow pace we seem to be going very slow and yet the effort we use seems much higher. This becomes a mental challenge as we question how we are going to run considerably further at a faster pace for the full race distance.

This can be the start of a tormenting and ability-doubting week. “If this is how I feel running 4-5km easy, how on earth am I going to run a marathon almost a minute faster per kilometer?” That’s the typical sort of question that we face and so we doubt our ability to face the race.

For this reason it is useful to put in a couple of quality sessions during the last ten days before a marathon. These will not be too hard but sufficiently fast to get the legs flowing around a 5km to 21km race pace. The second and final quality session for most runners would be in the first half of the week. Very experienced runners have found some benefit in doing a faster session only 24-48 hours before the race start, but this is not recommended for the club athlete.

Novice marathoners or those targeting 4:30 to 5 hours for the event may take two to three days rest in the final week, whereas more experienced runners would tend to have the rest two days before the race, with the penultimate day a time to awaken the body.

The final week is also a time for planning: Planning your logistics, planning your race strategy, and mentally planning and visualizing the race.

Touching briefly on the logistics: If PostNet Weekend Witness is important races in your running then remember this year there are going to be almost 5000 runners plus their supporters all trying to get to the start at the same time. If you live out of town, give consideration to staying overnight in Pietermaritzburg. If you are travelling from Durban I would suggest that you need to leave by 03:15 at the latest so that you have enough time should there be queues on the road – or even for the toilets at the start!

The organizers have provided you with assistance in your pacing with the PMB 42km Predictor and Pacing chart. This is accessed on the left hand side of the web-page ( by clicking the pace tag. Once in the calculator you select the race distance you are interested in (21km or 42km), enter three of your best race performances of the past 6-9 months and then predict your finish time on the PMB 42 – The calculator takes into account the gradients of the climbs an falls of the course.

With this realistic calculation your best performance on this course, now select your target time which might be a few minutes slower so as to take the pressure off you. When you complete the second stage of the form you will then be able to view your pacing on the course map which has photos and information of where you need to be at what time. There is also a profile which will show you where the hills and drops are along the two lap course. Check this out – you will find it a useful tool.

Use some of the extra time you have from the reduced training of the final week to relax in a quiet area and to visualize your run from gun to tape. This is an important dress rehearsal for the race and the more you can complete this, the more focused you become – as they say …….

“If you can see yourself achieving something the chances are you will achieve it!”

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