When you’re training for a marathon, it’s tempting to become focused on how much training you can fit into every week, while overlooking the fact you’ll only be able to make the best use of any of this training if you allow your body time to recover between sessions.
The precise amount of rest required during your marathon training depends on your basic fitness level, but a useful rule of thumb is to allow at least two complete rest days each week. On exercise days, try to alternate running with other forms of cardio, to help improve your fitness while allowing the major muscles that you use for running to recover. This could include cycling, swimming or rowing – basically anything that minimises impact on your muscles and joints.
Training for a marathon is a very specific project though, so provided you work up to it gradually, running on consecutive days isn’t a bad thing. In fact, because you’ll spend much of your marathon running on fatigued legs, it’s useful to become accustomed to this feeling by either following up a long run with a short, slow-paced run the next day, or preceding your long run with some interval training the day before. But remember, while this is a great training strategy, it will only have full benefit if you take a couple of days’ rest each week, to fully recover following these combination running days. Other factors that will help you recover efficiently include stretching, hydration, nutrition, good sleep and massage.
For every day you run, you should stretch. On the days you don’t run, you can set aside time for a longer stretching session. This will not only help ease aches and pains, but it will also ensure you avoid any tightness or tension that could compromise your running technique and lead to injury.
Good hydration should become a non-negotiable element of your training routine. It helps you run for longer and will help your body recover effectively. The same goes for good nutrition. Healthy eating shouldn’t be confined to a meal here or a snack there, but should be the basis of a schedule that enables your body to perform and recover as efficiently as possible. A diet of wholemeal carbs, lean protein, good fats and a variety of fruit and veg will put your body in optimum condition to repair any damage incurred by repetitive running.
One often-overlooked element of recovery is also one of the most simple, and that’s getting enough sleep. When you sleep, your body repairs itself effectively, so make sure that you get the sleep you need in the run-up to your event.
For the complete recovery package, aim to include some massage in your regular routine. This needn’t be too often – maybe once a month or every six weeks – but the benefits of elongating muscle fibres and balancing your body could prove invaluable during your marathon training.
If you are following a realistic training schedule and you feel at any point you’re not progressing as quickly as you’d like, or you’re feeling frustrated with your running, always opt for an extra day of rest rather than an extra day of training. Additional training when your head isn’t in the right place is unlikely to contribute much to your programme, but taking a step back to recover physically and mentally will be much more helpful.