Ballot places for next year’s Virgin Money London Marathon have just been allocated, so if you have not already started your training, it's time to build that base mileage for the gruelling schedule ahead.
One of the most overlooked aspects of adequate preparation for running those 26.2 miles, or even achieving a new personal best, is the importance of staying strong and injury free. This can be achieved through the addition of a specific strength and conditioning routine.
One of the most common mistakes made in marathon training is simply churning out mile after mile, and not focusing on the long term goal. This approach risks leaving you on the physio’s couch nursing your latest injury, rather than progressing smoothly through your schedule.
Whether you are a recreational, club or elite runner, incorporating strength and conditioning into your weekly schedule will pay dividends in many ways. It can help isolate and correct muscle imbalances. You cannot overestimate the value of a strong musculoskeletal system: for injury prevention, joint stability, neuromuscular efficiency, improved power output and running economy. You need that mechanical strength over the all important and incredibly painful last 10k of the race.
Where to start?
Unfortunately not one routine fits all. A thorough assessment of the individual’s mechanics and movement patterns leaves you in a position to provide the correct exercise program prescription.
Don't be taken in by the latest fads in training techniques - tyre flips, battle ropes and kettle bell swings, the latest HIIT routine: they should all be left well behind. It might feel like you are having the workout of your life, but you are probably creating postural dysfunction and potentially causing more injury than prevention. It is really not about thrashing yourself round the gym; you are not in there for increased fitness or endurance, the clue is in the name: strength.
Basic movements which are mastered and executed correctly, with progress over a period of time, allow the kinetic chain to adapt slowly to the increased loads placed upon it – exactly the same as with your increased mileage over your 12-16 week schedule. Master the basics before you start using advanced dynamic training methods: it all starts with a solid foundation. Don't run before you can walk.
You certainly wouldn't expect to go out and run marathon pace two or three times a week. Utilise all components – speed, strength, hills, endurance, tempo work, and – hopefully all of these elements reach maximum levels simultaneously on race day.
Ideally, you should try and coordinate your strength training on the same days as your hard interval work, allowing yourself more time for recovery. Consider it compulsory to dedicate at least one session (40-60 mins) per week. This alone will achieve excellent results, but adding a second session can also pay big dividends.
Forget the myths
- "Strength training will make you bulky”
- "Sports specificity means endurance athletes don't need to lift heavy weights"
- “There is no evidence that strength training makes you faster"
- "No professional endurance athlete lifts heavy weights"
I was fortunate enough to observe Alberto Salazar coach Mo Farah for his debut London Marathon in 2014. In the final week prior to the race - so major taper week - he still completed two strength and conditioning sessions. This just goes to prove the importance and necessity of keeping the system strong.
It may seem counterintuitive at first, but by incorporating just one or two strength sessions consistently every week, you’ll be able to reach the start line fitter, faster and stronger than you ever thought possible, ready for achieving that new PB.
Fingers crossed for good conditions…
Steve Parry is a marathon coach at City Athletic, London’s premier performance gym based in Bank: cityathletic.co.uk