The main training objective for any race should be to be standing on the start line in the best possible shape for the race.
What do we mean by the best possible shape?
Of course, that depends on your objectives.
If you are looking to shave a few seconds off of your 5k record then starting with a slight niggle might be ok. Your niggle might be the result of an increase in training that has given you the chance of breaking that record. So your ‘in shape’ might mean being highly trained to run fast.
But what about the marathon?
For many runners tackling their first marathon, the priority is to get round and successfully complete the course. This means minimising the risks of physical breakdown during the run. The problem is, marathon schedules include long runs and these are often considered as sessions to do at all costs. The very sessions that are supposed to build you up can break you apart. ‘But I must do the long run’, we often hear. even if there is nagging injury or worse.
Well, here’s a thing: don’t do them. If you think they might be doing you more harm than good. Or, at least, moderate them: cut the distance, or the frequency, or the speed, or all three. Or even, dare I say it, cut them out altogether if there’s a risk of injuring yourself.
This is exactly the strategy one of our athletes had to adopt for the London Marathon. He’s a fit lad, there’s no question of that. But not necessarily running fit — not yet. He had a very limited period to prepare for the marathon and the traditional marathon training was breaking him: Achilles pain, knee pain. If he’d carried on, he would have maybe managed a run of 5 miles on the day if he was lucky — not a great experience for the first marathon.
Under different circumstances he would have been advised to wait, run a marathon later in the year, or postpone until next year. But this wasn’t an option; he was going to do it!
So, his training was drastically modified, and in the end included very little running indeed. His longest run was a half marathon six weeks out and even that got a bit ugly in the latter stages. He went into that marathon very much in the dark and very anxious about his lack of ideal marathon training.
How did he do? We are very proud of him and others who know him will be too. Not surprisingly, it got very, very tough. But he got through it and finished in a not-too-shabby 4.07. Importantly, he finished, and the Achilles and the knee held together; either of those two could have stopped him in his tracks if they’d been further damaged by long runs.
The thing that kept him going aside from his natural determination was, no doubt, the money riding on his back. No, it wasn’t bet, it was the money he’s been raising for a very worthy cause. He’d appreciate some more I know; he certainly deserves it.
As runners, we can learn a lot from this. We know that training doesn’t always go according to plan. But, we must be creative and flexible in adapting it to ensure we stand on that start line in the very best shape we can be and with the best possible chance of hitting our target — whatever that may be.