The London Marathon is just around the corner so we've asked some industry experts to share their tips for pre-marathon preparation and post-race recovery.
Ed Stafford is an explorer and survival expert, renowned for being the first and only person to walk the entire length of the Amazon River, a feat which took 860 days from source to sea. Ed is also a Land Rover Global Ambassador. Ed hasn't just run marathons, but ultra-marathons so if there's anyone who's advice we'll be listening to its his!
1. What advice would you give to someone participating in the London Marathon this year for the first time?
I think the best advice is not to let the event phase you. It’s ultimately just a long(ish) run. Be proud that you’ve got yourself to a good level of fitness (most people fall well below this benchmark) and just enjoy it.
2. We're now roughly 3 weeks out from the Marathon (Apr 23rd), can you give us a blow-by-blow account of how participants should train over the next 3 weeks in the lead up?
Week 1 (this week)
My advice is based off of running four marathons back to back (rather than a single (faster) marathon) and so isn’t a direct comparison, but 3 weeks out I would be personally peaking my hard training. One 18 to 20-mile run plus a “dress rehearsal” run of 26 miles to give you the confidence/security of knowledge that you’re there in terms of endurance and speed. Mix into that: lots of sleep; lots of recovery; and lots of healthy foods (veggies, lean meats, good fats, and enough starchy carbs to refill the tank).
Week 2 (2 weeks before race)
This would be my final week of any real exertion. I’d do just one long-ish run at the end of the week (18 miles), but most runs would be shorter (8-10 mile) and at a moderate pace (not flat out). Again, sleep and recovery are paramount, but this week you should also do things that have nothing to do with the race so that you don’t become blinkered and stressed about the looming ‘dreaded’ day. Go to the cinema, shooting range, golf course, or comedy club - anywhere where you can relax, smile, and not think about running. This will help your muscles relax and your brain retain some of the balance and perspective on life that it needs.
Week 3 (week leading up to race)
In this last week, I would focus on muscle recovery, very slow-paced runs, and lots of stretching and self-massage. Eat the same as you have been eating and there will be no need to artificially “carb load”. The reduced energy expenditure will ensure that you are primed and ready for the marathon on race day. My runs would all be a relaxed pace and no longer than 5 miles this week. I know of many athletes that do more but I think it’s a bit like last minute cramming – it’s panicky and unnecessary if you’ve put in the ground work before. You don’t lose fitness that quickly.
3. Do you have any advice for Nutrition leading up the Marathon?
In the past, nutritionists have mostly started waking up, dumping the excessive nutrition-sparse pasta, and have seen common sense. Whether you are paleo, keto or veggie, no-one now disputes the extraordinary benefits of huge amounts of fresh vegetables in aiding recovery and overall health. Personally, I also see meats as unnecessarily heavy on the digestion in the immediate run up to a race so I would look at more easily digestible protein products in order to fuel muscle repair...
One recent find for me has been NuZest protein powder. It’s made from pea and is vegetarian and digests better than any soy or whey product I’ve used. It was recommended by a leading nutritional scientist that I was working with at Cambridge University and has a far better quality of nutrients than a lot of the commercial cheap brands. A scoop of the chocolate version mixed with frozen strawberries and blueberries with almond milk is a fantastic post training run shake. Pour over toasted coconut flakes and you have a homemade all-natural cereal of the Gods.
4. Recovery - how do we tackle recovery directly after the Marathon and the week after?
The last ultra I did was 104 miles and I only retained one toe nail. The day after I couldn’t sit down, I had to fall into a chair. Squatting was completely out of the question. Whilst a marathon shouldn’t produce such extreme side-effects, your body will have been worked hard and you need to pamper it for a bit. Rest and ice can lead to muscle shortening and are no longer the recommended answer to damaged muscles. I would ensure that you keep moving your muscles through their entire range of motion to keep things from seizing up. Gentle swimming is perfect for this.
From a nutritional perspective just eat like you want to live to 100. Despite the temptation to now fall off the bandwagon (as “its over!”) you have never needed good food more. Thinking that you “deserve a McDonalds” is only going to slow your recovery down but if you must indulge a bit (to give you the reward you think you’ve now earnt) I would suggest eating plentiful nutritious meals and have a few glasses of red wine in the evening. Aside from the relaxation the alcohol brings, red wine has impressive antioxidant benefits and will aid with your recovery.
Listen to your body and don’t hit the road too soon if it still hurts. Age may play a part in this but you’ve damaged all sorts of bits of you (that will recover completely - don’t panic) so you need to respect that - and be patient!