Going the #extramile with Martin Yelling

Back in January I was asked to get involved as an #extramile ambassador.  As a thank you they invited me, and my fellow ambassadors, to a marathon training day led by top coach and Marathon Talk host, Martin Yelling.  It was a great day so I’d like to share the key hints, tips and advice to help with your own marathon training.

A traffic-free M40 and M25 meant I arrived at a sunny St Mary’s University with plenty of time to spare.   That also meant I could enjoy the warmth of the spring sunshine, watching young and old enjoying the use of the track.  I love seeing people enjoying running.  And I couldn’t wait to be on the track myself, but I’d have to.

After linking some faces and names to Twitter handles, the 7 of us pulled up chairs with Martin and a thorough marathon talk ensued.

I’d had the fortune to see a presentation from Martin at the London Marathon #MeetTheExperts day so some of the slides were familiar but the benefit of being a group of 7 instead of several hundred meant this was all about interaction.  As any good coach would, Martin encouraged us to get involved, ask questions and challenge anything we didn’t agree with.

We all had different marathon experience, marathon ambitions and marathon training plans but were all there for the same reason: we want to do the best we can.  Oh, and we love talking, writing and tweeting about running!

Something that struck a chord with all of us early on was Martin’s analogy of the training budget: when setting your marathon goal, you need to consider what your training budget is.

I’d love a Jaguar F-Type but, at £50k+, there’s no way I can afford it.  Likewise, I’d love a sub-3 marathon time but I can’t afford that either.  My training budget of 3 quality runs a week isn’t going to stretch to that.

A visual analogy of my dream marathon time.  But does my budget allow me to afford it?  Of course not!
A visual analogy of my dream marathon time. But does my budget allow me to afford it? Of course not!
TOP TIP: When setting your target marathon time consider what your training budget is.  What can you realistically afford?

Once you have a goal in mind,, it’s time to get a plan.  Training plans are widespread and varied.  Some people, like myself, are fortunate to have had assistance in building a tailored programme others lift one out of a magazine or a website.  The important thing is to find one that suits your training budget and adapt it to suit you.

When it comes to training Martin recommends a minimum of 3 sessions a week, with a fourth “bonus” session if you can.  That way, if you miss a session, you’ve still done the minimum 3!

The key to those sessions is to get variety.  Doing every run at the same pace in the same place will only get you so far so you need to mix it up.  A long slow run is a given for marathon training but you shouldn’t shy away from a bit of speed work – it’s great to help your form and running efficiency.

TOP TIP: Find a plan but allow yourself to adapt it to fit your training budget.  Just remember to keep it varied.

Once you’ve started your plan there is every chance you might pick up a niggle, or even worse a full on injury.  The key here is to listen to your body: if it’s not getting better, or getting worse over 3 days then look to take a week off.  That sounds scary but if you keep pressing on hoping it will go away it’s only going to get worse.

When you’re feeling better, Martin also advised against jumping straight back in to your plan in an attempt to make up for lost time.  Instead, he recommended taking as many days as you’ve lost to build back, so if you had 3 days of niggle plus 7 days rest, take another 10 to ramp up slowly back into your plan.

TOP TIP: Listen to your body to make sure you make it to the startline – 98% of starters will finish the London Marathon.

If any of us weren’t already up for a running session, an hour of running chatter had got us itching to get out on to the sunny track.

After a gentle warm up we were set a challenge: run one lap of the 400m track at our target marathon pace, with no watches.

Easy?  You’d be surprised!

I didn’t use my watch but I was canny in sticking with Josh, the most experienced of the 7 ambassadors, who had said he was also aiming for 3:45.  We crossed the line at a pace that would secure a 3 hour 46 minutes finish time – not bad!

When it came to repeating the feat for a 3 minute spell it was somewhat harder.  Our minds started playing tricks and it seemed to be getting harder to nail the right pace.  And it didn’t get any easier when Martin introduced us to the rest of the session:

  • 3 minutes at marathon pace (anti-clockwise)
  • 1 minute rest
  • 3 minutes at threshold pace (clockwise)
  • Repeat

First time round I got caught not pushing hard enough for threshold pace, which isn’t surprising as I’m always conservative when it comes to my running.  A great tip I’m going to use in my own sessions is the postcode test – if someone can only say the first two letters of their postcode then there’s a good chance they’re at threshold pace.  If however, like me, they can almost reel off the whole thing they’re not trying hard enough!

I made sure I upped my game for the next reps and could feel the difference.  It also allowed Martin to make some observations and provide advice as I ran past him.

The two things I remember being told were to relax and to lengthen my stride.  It’s strange to think that I spend time observing other people and advising them on their technique but have never really spent any time considering my own technique.  Don’t get me wrong – I think I’m applying the model but it’s apparent that I’m not.  I have an fond affection of what Martin described as my “Treacle Trousers” but I’m determined to take them off and never wear them again!

2015-03-07 12.55.29In my runs since the workshop I have already been mindful of running tall, relaxed and without my treacle trousers and must say that I do feel I’m running faster with less effort.  Hopefully I can translate that into my target marathon pace without ending up speeding off too quick.

TOP TIP: Relax from the eyebrows down and leave the treacle trousers at home!

Time flies when you’re running on a track (something of a novelty for me) and it was soon time to cool down, change and gather for lunch which was the ideal time to turn our focus to nutrition.

On the topic of hydration, there wasn’t too much to be said that you won’t have heard before (especially if you read my recent post on hydration) – drink little and often in the run up to race day and drink to thirst during the run so you don’t take on too much.

TOP TIP: make sure you are hydrated for the week leading up to race day.  If you’re dehydrated on race morning, it’s too late!

Talk of pre-race and mid-race fuelling spurred more discussion.

For me, as someone who doesn’t normally eat breakfast before I run I was interested to hear what other people do and stated “I know I’ll need to have breakfast on race day so I’d better get practising” only to be challenged by Martin with “Why?”

He wasn’t recommending that I shouldn’t have breakfast, just more to consciously consider whether I should or not.

Of course, race day is slightly different to getting up out of bed and hitting the road straight off so there is perhaps justification for something different to my norm.  The key is finding what works for you and testing it before race day.

Similarly to keeping hydrated, try to fuel up during the whole week.  Don’t over eat and don’t try to cram in a ton of carbs the night before.  The likely outcome is you’ll just feel sluggish and bloated on the start line.

TOP TIP: Eat your pre-race main meal at lunch not dinner to allow you to relax for the evening before the race

When it comes to mid-race refuelling Martin’s advice was simple:

TOP TIP: Do what suits you in terms of mid-race refuelling, not what the marketing men say

If eating jelly babies works for you then do eat.  If you want to squeeze a gel into yourself every 20 minutes then do it – if it works for you.  And like everything else, don’t be surprised on raceday if you try something new and have a negative reaction to it.

The final topic for discussion was around planning and routines.

Martin challenged us to share our pre-race routines and “superstitions” for want of a better word.  Some of us shared more than others…

Who doesn't have lucky pants?
Who doesn’t have lucky pants?

We were bluntly reassured that it was our weeks of effort in training that would see us through the marathon, not our pre-race rituals or lucky pants.

Again, Martin wasn’t say don’t do those things and not to have a plan but don’t be hamstrung by them.  If something doesn’t go quite right on race morning or you realise you’ve left the lucky pants at home, don’t let it deflate you so much as to ruin your race.

TOP TIP: Have a plan, have a routine, have a ritual but be prepared to adapt and change.  It’s your training that counts!

The last and most important three words that I’ll take with me to the startline and beyond are:

Relax! Believe! Enjoy!

Oh, and I’ll be leaving my treacle trousers at home 🙂


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