Advice on training, mental preparation and nutrition as you work towards your 26.2-mile challenge

With spring marathons including the Virgin Money London Marathon fast approaching, the head of product development at Virgin Active, James Trevorrow, has shared some top tips for the final few weeks.

From training and mental preparation to nutrition and race day itself, here are some answers to some often-asked questions.

What type of training should I be doing with one month to go?

“Your longer runs should have already started to taper but mentally, you still want to be active. Quality over quantity is recommended at this stage, so smaller sharper bursts of energetic exercise do serve great purpose in the last weeks. Other possible strategies to ‘get going’ in the final few weeks could be an alternative workout, like a HIIT swim session such as Hydro at Virgin Active, or a run-through of your pre-race warm-up routine. That way you can keep the heart and lungs going but lessen your chance of sustaining an injury.”

When should I do my final long run?

“Your last long run or marathon ‘rehearsal’ should be about 3-4 weeks before the marathon and you should be aiming for around an 18-22 mile run. Then to ‘get going’ during the last three weeks, you should opt for shorter, more intense 20-35min workouts such as classes like Grid at Virgin Active Health Clubs, or a short track session.”

Any top tips for the last month of training?

“The main thing we recommend in the last month before the marathon is to stay injury free and focus on your race preparation. Avoid trying anything new – by the time of the race, you’ll have a tried and tested training programme, including the preparation to manage a long run, so stick to what works best for you.

“It’s also worth treating yourself to a sports massage at somewhere like Virgin Active’s Beyond Movement – they work as a great injury prevention tool for runners and help to increase circulation and improve performance. Don’t forget hydration – think about your water strategy for the race, don’t start to use energy gels if you haven’t up until this point in your training.

“Above all, rest, recover and look forward to what is going to be a fantastic achievement in your life.”

How do I mentally prepare for a marathon in the final few weeks?

“At this point it’s often an exciting, nervy time and questions like ‘am I doing enough?’, ‘am I doing too much?’, ‘what should I focus on?’, ‘have I prepared enough?’ and ‘am I eating right?’ do pop into your head on a regular basis. So a lot of psychological considerations come in to play at this stage as well as those of a physical nature.

“When it comes to the day of the race, many people can become daunted by the scale of the task ahead of them. Try to focus on what you’ve achieved so far in your training and all the successes you will have had along the way. When it gets tough on the day, give yourself an extra reason to finish the race – if you’re running for a charity, think of all the people who are willing you on to raise money for them or if you’re running it for your own personal challenge, think of someone close to you who will be there to cheer for you at the finish line.”

What should I eat and drink in the final days leading up to a marathon?

“On the day of your race, your body needs to be fully stocked with the fuel required to provide you with maximum energy – glycogen, which comes from carbohydrates. In an ideal world, aim to increase your carbohydrate intake 3-4 days before the race through eating a wide variety of energy dense foods such as pasta, rice, potatoes, vegetables and grains, plus a little protein and fat to help protect and maintain your muscles and soft tissues.

“Try to avoid sugary carbohydrates in the final few days before the race, as these will cause significant rises in blood sugar levels and your body cannot store them like more complex carbs. Importantly, drink plenty of water. Your body will lose stacks of fluid through sweat on the day of the race so drink as much as you can beforehand, sip little and often.”

What’s the perfect pre-marathon dinner and breakfast on the day?

“While it’s important to carb-load the day before, that doesn’t mean you can gulp a huge bowl of pasta the night before. Eat high carb meals throughout the day before the race to give your body the best chance of taking on as much glycogen as possible. A good choice the night before would be a chicken and pasta dish, made with a simple tomato sauce that’s low in fat. Avoid spicy foods and anything that you’re unfamiliar with as this can cause gastric discomfort on the day which won’t be fun at all!

“On race day you can’t beat a good bowl of porridge oats, made with semi-skimmed milk and topped with fresh or dried fruit. Aim to eat your last meal at least three hours before the start so your stomach has the maximum time to digest the food and process the energy. If you’re strapped for time and in need of a quick fix pre-race, a low-sugar, high-carb energy drink can be a lifesaver. Or, try rice pudding as it’s an excellent stop-gap or top-up.”

What is your number one tip for the day of the marathon?

“On the day of the race, I normally have a mantra in my head – marathon running is not just a physical test but an exercise in restraint; you know you can go faster, but you’ll need to reign in it and save your energy for the miles ahead. Above all else, enjoy the day. Keep waving to the crowds cheering you on, high-five all the kids on the streets and smile for every camera – you’ll feel a lot better at the time and you’ll look back on the photos after and remember the day with pride. Only 1% of the population have completed a marathon – that’s a pretty amazing group of people.”