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10 tips to help you run a sub-3-hour marathon
Its done. The is in the bag. After 12 weeks of hard training, a new approach to nutrition and trying every go-faster tweak around, I finally clocked in at 2:57:56 at the Virgin Money London Marathon 2014.
Here are the 10 pearls of running wisdom I picked up on the way.
Eat right, get lean, run faster
PBs are made in the kitchen not just on the roads. Its obvious when you think about it: carrying 19lbs of extra weight around 26.2 miles is going to slow you down. Particularly when that weight is fat rather than power-producing muscle. So changing your approach to diet to get light and lean is a fantastic way to shave time off your runs.
No grains, big gains
Banishing gluten and all grain-based foods from my diet yielded big results. In 2012 I ran 2,012 miles. In December 2013 I ran a half marathon every day. But even with all that mileage, I couldnt shift my life-long beer belly. Eight weeks without pasta, rice, bread, gluten and sugar and all that changed. The ale paunch was all gone. Result? I was running lighter and faster with better form and increased energy.
Strength training isnt just for body builders
In all my training for 11 marathons, Id never ventured into the free weights section of the gym. The sub-3-challenge changed that. On the advice of my coach at Fit.as, I started lifting, squatting and weighted lunging. It not only transformed my physique, it gave me power in the right places. Less time on the treadmill and more time doing dumbbell split squats made me quicker. The lesson: being a fast runner isnt just about running fast in training.
Going all in, all the time can be counter productive
Simply heading out and running yourself ragged every time you train isnt going to give you the results you want. A combination of long, slow, low heart rate running, medium and high intensity work is vital for getting you in personal best marathon shape. If all you do is go all out at full tempo youll be training your body to work against you when it comes to the endurance test of 26.2 miles.
Big data = big results
Theres no substitute for getting detailed data on how your body performs at all levels of exertion. Thats where a VO2 and metabolic test comes in. These simple hour-long tests arm you with a picture of what your body is doing at all stages of a run. This information can then be used to build a data-driven training schedule that improves you in the right areas, ensuring youre doing the right workouts at the right time in the build up to your race.
Athletes are as athletes do
My coach at Fit.as gave me one solid piece of advice. "If you want to perform like an athlete you have to behave like one. Remarkable achievements require remarkable efforts. Having that beer is ok but you need to realise every sip will cost you a small part of your desired success. How much you compromise is up to you. I worked this into shorthand: Think like Mo. Drink like Mo. Train like Mo. Go like Mo.
Its always going to hurt
Train. Train some more. And a little bit more. When you hit that start line you can be as prepared as you like, but theres no hiding from the fact that at some point in your race its going to be agony. Giving yourself the mental tools to deal with the pain when it comes is as important as that 22-mile long run on your marathon plan. Paula Radcliffe would count to 100 to get through the tough times. I tried to pick out familiar faces in the London Marathon crowd. Find a distraction that works for you.
Sacrifice is essential
Modern human life isnt designed to help you get a marathon personal best. Long hours at work, fattening convenience food all around and friends who insist on that cheeky pint. These are all things working against you. If you really want to go as fast as you can, you have to accept that sacrifices must be made. Do it and the results will follow. Dont and youre unlikely to hit that high mark youve set yourself.
Everyone will think youre nuts
Not only because youre likely to spend a lot of time eating nuts (a great source of protein and energy), but also because youll be the guy in the restaurant taking his burger out of the bun to avoid gluten and wheat, all in the name of staying lean and light. Potentially sexist fact: women will tend to understand why youre doing this more than men. In fact, once they realise youve shed eight percent body fat in eight weeks, theyll be asking for your recipe book.
Success tastes sweeter than doughnuts
There are things you miss when you adopt a training regime and diet like my sub-3-hour plan. For me, oddly, it was poppadoms. I think I missed the crunch. But the truth is none of those things taste anywhere near as sweet as the moment you cross that line having achieved your goal.
One final word of warning: once youve been on the journey Ive been on theres a good chance you wont want to go back. Believe it or not, after 12 weeks without them, doughnuts dont seem half as appealing as the energy and life you get from steering clear. So if you really, really, really like doughnuts, its probably best to ignore all of my advice.
Kieran Alger ran the Virgin Money London Marathon 2014 with Adidas.
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