With the Edinburgh Marathon Festival fast approaching, the event’s Official Strawberry Supplier, AVA Berries, has teamed up with Edinburgh-based personal trainer and nutrition coach, Michael Ulloa, to share expert advice on what runners need to do a month, a week, and a day before the race.
One month before:
You have spent months preparing for the event so it’s time for the finishing touches. The final weeks leading up to the marathon require a change in mindset. Now you should be switching your attention from increasing your mileage to focussing on your recovery and nutrition.
The final month before the race is where most mistakes are made. Both excitement and nerves can take over but it is important that you stick to your plan.
In the last four weeks you will have your longest training run - most training plans will have your longest run set to around 20 miles three weeks before race day - and then the tapering process begins. This often scares new marathon runners but it is paramount to your success. Tapering is the gradual reduction of training intensity as you get closer to race day.
Skipping a taper will damage your chances of a successful race. It can feel counterintuitive lowering your running distances, but if you skip this process, you’re not giving your body sufficient time to rest and recover.
Many people sign up to marathons to aid with fat loss, yet the final stages of race preparations are no time to diet. Your recovery should be a priority in these last few weeks, so focus on providing your body with all the nutrients that it needs.
Your longest runs will have taken their toll and this is where increasing your protein intake will really help. Meat, seafood, beans and dairy products will all be beneficial here. Protein is required for your muscle tissue to sufficiently repair, so increasing the amount of protein rich foods in your diet should be your first stop.
Just remember that this is the time when sickness tends to strike. Long duration exercise can wreak havoc with your immune system. Ensure you increase your fruit and vegetable intake to provide your body with all the vitamins and minerals it needs to thrive. Eating just nine strawberries can provide your recommended daily vitamin C intake and may boost your immune system.
To ensure a good running performance, you will want to focus on refuelling during your runs. If you are yet to trial your race day supplements, now is the time to do so. If you want to use energy gels or isotonic sports drinks whilst running, ensure that your stomach can handle them. You don’t want any nasty surprises on the big day.
You have a plan. Stick to it.
Now is when you play it safe. The long training runs are complete and you now want to limit any chance of upset. Your final training week should look like this:
Monday – Cross trainer
Tuesday - 3 mile run
Wednesday - 4 mile run
Thursday - Rest
Friday - Rest
Saturday - 2 mile run
Sunday - EMF Marathon
Race week is when your nutrition needs special attention and it is time to increase your carbohydrate intake. Carb loading is important, but not to the extent that most runners aim for.
‘Carb loading’ refers to a strategy used by endurance athletes to load their muscles with glycogen so that they have plenty of energy to compete. Carb-loading is performed by consuming larger portions of carbohydrate like pasta, rice or potatoes. This is where you need to be sensible.
Yes, you want carbohydrate heavier meals leading up to the race; however, there’s no need to go overboard. If you cram down piles of pasta, your digestive system will only fight back.
A few days leading up to the race, simply add in an extra half portion of carbohydrates with every meal. If you usually have one big spoonful of rice, make it one and a half spoonfuls. Do you tend to have a small bowl of pasta at lunchtime? Make it a bowl and a half. A small daily increase leading up to the race will be enough to load up your energy stores, without leaving you nursing a food baby.
The most overlooked aspect of most runners’ training plans is sleep. Your body needs plenty of sleep in order to recover effectively. Ensure you are getting a minimum of seven to nine hours sleep every night leading up to race day.
The day before:
Plan your breakfast the day before and stick with what you know. This is not the time to play around with new recipes, so use the same breakfast you have eaten for your longer training runs. Overnight oats or poached eggs on toast would be perfect.
Get your kit ready the night before and work out the logistics. Race day nerves can be tough to deal with so make sure that you know where the start line is and how you’re getting there, then you’ll have that added peace of mind.
New shoes require breaking in. A month before the race is not the time to change your running trainers.
If you have spectators joining you for the race, work out where they will be standing along the running route to cheer you on. Long distance running is as much a mental game as it is a physical one. When you start to suffer, a loved one cheering you on can really turn things around.
Visualise success. You’ve done the training. You’ve put in the hours of hard work. Visualise yourself crossing that finish line.
Don’t forget to enjoy yourself. This is a big occasion and it should be celebrated. And remember, AVA Berries will be on the finish line with punnets and punnets of delicious and nutrient rich AVA strawberries, helping you refuel after the big race.
This training plan was brought to you by Michael Ulloa, Performance Nutritionist and REPS Certified Personal Trainer, in association with AVA Berries, the Edinburgh Marathon Festival’s Official Strawberry Supplier.