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It's Wet, It's Cold, It's Dark & You've Entered A Spring Marathon - Now What?

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running

So you've done it; you've entered that race, you're scouring the web for training schedules, advice and tips. You've got yourself a new training plan and you've sharpened your pencil; all set for tempo runs, intervals and the gulp inducing long slow runs. You're excited - this time you're going to nail it. This time you're going to run further than you've every run before/faster than you've ever run before. You're going to be awesome!

But. Yes it's a bit harsh putting in a but so early on I hear you cry...this is the year there will be no buts! Didn't you read the awesome bit? Seasoned runners and complete beginners alike, everyone has one thing in common - you have to stay injury free and arrive in peak condition on the day. Your schedule will get you there BUT only if you 1) choose a realistic training plan and 2) stick to it.

I personally have a lot of experience of the first and as I get older I don't seem to get any wiser, always completely misjudging how much time I have available to train and how much my body can handle. If you're an experienced runner think hard about how training went in previous years, where did things go wrong, did you get injured and why or did you commit to an overly ambitious training plan then end up only training just 3 days a week. No matter how experienced you are this plan is only going to work if it fits your lifestyle.  The same can be said for a complete beginner - be realistic and build up your mileage SLOWLY.

Training plans are stressful. There's a lot to be said for running to feel - throw the plan away and listen to your body rhythm. Or be flexible and mix up the sessions to suit the week you're having. Of course if you're the sort of person who's always tempted to sit on the couch this probably isn't going to work but if you run fast on the days you want to run fast and go slow when your body wants to run slow... I think you get my drift. How can this possibly work you ask? It's hard to say but my best marathon time was at the age of 25 when I ran 3:29 after being coaxed into taking part the day before. I'd spent the previous 3-4 months running just when I felt like it whilst working towards my professional exams (Civil Engineering). The type of runner I was at the time (super competitive) if I'd chosen a plan I would probably have unrealistically aimed for sub 3 hours and failed miserably, almost certainly getting injured in the process. Instead I can now look back and think yeah I ran sub 3:30, I'm happy with that. It ticked a box for my road running and I got to go back to the hills I love, injury free. Okay it's not going to work for everyone but for me it certainly stamped on unrealistic expectations.

And now to the second point 2) stick to it. You've got your realistic plan, you've decided how and if you're going to be flexible. No matter what your plans are you have to go out and run. It's a Spring marathon so all you training's going to be in Winter. It's going to be dark after work, probably cold, probably wet (this is Britain) and sometimes it's going to snow. Storms aside (let's be sensible here there's no need to go out in gales)...enjoying running in Winter is down to the gear you wear. Yes in Summer you can argue that all you need to think about are your running shoes (I would of course beg to differ but clothing is my obsession). In Winter it's a different story. You're never going to enjoy that Winter training run with the wrong kit. Heading out and getting wet and cold isn't going to get you to your race in peak condition. Here's a few tips to get it right:
1) It's all about the base - your first layer needs to be breathable and should keep you warm even when you start to sweat. It's impossible to stay completely dry when you're running, especially if you're running fast. A good base layer wicks but also stays warm when damp. Look for synthetics or a merino/synthetic mix; pure merino doesn't wick fast enough for running. Plus don't forget about your sport briefs - cotton pants can feel really cold and wet on a long run. Wicking versions in man made fabrics such as polyester are a joy to run in and will outlast your cotton versions several times over! The same goes for a good running bra - avoid cotton fabrics.
2) If it's cold wear a second layer. It could be another thin base layer or a slightly thicker mid layer. You can always take it off if you get too hot and tie it round your waist but knocking out a long slow run in persistent rain you can get really cold towards the end.
3) Invest in a good running jacket. There's a lot of options here. Mine is to have a fully waterproof jacket for the really bad days and a softshell (breathable/water resistant) jacket for everything else. It's an unavoidable fact that fully waterproof jackets are less breathable than a softshell jacket. You'll get damp from sweat running hard in both styles of jacket but a softshell will breathe a lot better and for most of your runs will keep you at a more comfortable state. Softshell is usually the better choice if your runs are just on the road and you're going to arrange your runs to avoid heavy downpours - these jackets are fine in light rain. However if you're going to be hard core and run in pouring rain get something that's fully waterproof. (Or invest and get both - good jackets will last for years).
4) Don't forget about your legs. In cold weather those thin tights are not going to hack it on long slow runs. You're training not racing. Keeping those muscles warm is key to avoiding injury. Look for warm brushed winter tights and if your runs take you along exposed roads (or you're running off-road in the hills) windproof fabric is brilliant.
5) Accessorise! Yes it can be matching and yes it can look good but keeping your head and hands warm is all important. Choose beanies and gloves that you can scrunch up and stick in a pocket when you warm up.

Last of all good luck! Even the best preparation can go horribly wrong. Don't take it to heart. I once got the training spot on, training with a buddy which certainly helped. The race was in Sheffield known for being cold and wet but unbelievably it turned out to be the hottest day of the year. I completely fell apart. My running friend went on to win; raised in Greece she was able to cope with the heat and managed to keep it together as the temperatures soared. The day I ran my fast marathon it was also exceptionally hot, a heatwave in Hamburg but unlike the Sheffield race I didn't feel any pressure to do well. I physically stopped at every drink station to make sure I took on enough fluid. Remember it's just running! You win some and you lose some but there's always another day...

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