Since my recent cold, I’d been feeling like my training wasn’t really coming together. My long runs in particular were lacking the strength I’d felt in January. One of my last track workouts was a set of 800m intervals, I decided to do these as a Yasso workout, which is a good way to gauge marathon readiness. I just about managed to hit my split targets, and since I’d done plyos before the workout and was only taking 2, rather than 3 min. recoveries, I was happy with that.
I was now confident of my fitness for the marathon. However, throughout the course of the day, I became aware of slight discomfort in my shins. When you’re training hard, you tend to ignore aches and pains unless they’re agonising or unusual. I’d felt it the previous week and thought nothing of it, but now it felt like it might actually be something.
Shin splints are something I’d heard about but never had. I thought of them as a problem that affects beginners, and after some five years running I assumed I was past any risk. I spoke to my girlfiend, a serious dancer in the past, and she confirmed my diagnosis, warning me to take it easy. She’d had them during one show, and spent her time off-stage between scenes icing her shins in tears of agony.
I now faced the dilemma of every runner confronted with an injury worry: do I push through it, or sit it out? I was still two weeks away from my race at this point, already cutting back on mileage, and two weeks is also the recommended lay-off for a minor case of shin splints. It was certainly not an injury yet, just mild discomfort that could potentially develop into excruciating pain. Or not.
I knew that I couldn’t improve my fitness in two weeks – the training in this period is as much psychological as physical. With everything planned and booked (and paid for), I chose to rest. Not training this week might cost me a minute or two, but that’s better than risking not making it to the start line at all. I won’t run until the discomfort is completely gone, even if that means I don’t run between now and the race. I’m doing a little yoga to try and keep my muscles busy and loose.
My diet remains an important element of preparation, and something I can focus my attention on instead of worrying about not training. I’ve been trying to cut down on sugar and junk for the last month, getting stricter the closer I get to the big day. The less sugar I consume beforehand, the more efficiently my body will handle sugar I consume during the race (in drinks and energy gels). Fat, however, is the opposite – the more fat you consume, the better your body burns it, so my diet contains pretty normal amounts.
A week ago, I cut out coffee and tea as well. There’s caffeine in the Gels I use towards the end of the race, they give me more boost this way. It’s important to ease off gradually – you’d be surprised how dependent most people are on caffeine. Even though I cut down slowly, I got headaches and felt cranky for a day or two. Detoxing caffeine does have the added bonus of meaning I have to fall into a natural sleep pattern, which is as important as anything at this stage.
This week, before I start to carb-load, I’ll eat plenty of protein and fewer, slower releasing carbs. The logic behind this is that the high protein phase makes the body take in more carbs during the loading phase. In the 70’s and 80’s, runners like Ron Hill and Mike Gratton would take this to extremes, eating no carbs the first days (known as a bleed-out). Anyone who’s tried this will tell you it leaves you feeling tired and irritable (not a good start to your marathon week), and the same results are now known to be possible just by sticking to slow release carbs instead.
In the final week before a marathon, as training winds-down and you alter your diet, nerves can start to set in. You may feel lethargic, as your body is used to running, and now you’re resting (this is particularly true in my case with forced rest). Doubt can set in about whether you did enough training, or the right training. Obviously, with one week to go, it’s too late to do anything about it either way. It’s important to stay focused and think of all the training you have done (forget about what you haven’t or couldn’t). With this in mind, you will relax, and then you can perform at your best.
Here’s Kiwi star Rod Dixon, talking us through the psychology and tactics of his 1983 New York Marathon victory.