The Theory of Marginal Gains…

Or, to use a less technical title: Marathon training – the non-running parts

I’ve just registered for the Surfcoast Trail Marathon.


Can’t wait to check out these fantastic views again

This will be my 7th marathon (and third crack at Surfcoast!) and I’d like to think I’ve learned a few things along the way.
From how to toughen up my feet and avoid blisters, to where I REALLY need to put the Bodyglide, once you learn some things you never forget them.
But there are plenty of other areas where I am always tweaking my training to find the best mix of the non-running groundwork that is essential for marathon preparation.
Some of these things are obvious, like strength work, or eating well, but a lot of the items on the list below are what can be called Marginal Gains.
Marginal Gains are the little extras that don’t seem all that important when you skip them, but over time make a big difference to your performance if you do do them. The 1%.

Once you’ve done the basic training and worked out how to run a race of any kind, the second and third (and seventh) attempts become all about fine-tuning and putting more effort into the things you know you need to do (in my case – strength work!).

So here are my Top 10 Training Extras to get the most out of your next race:

1. Strength work.
Doooooo iiiiiitttt.
Glutes, core and arms. In that order. I do squats, planks and pushups specifically, and things like barre workouts, situps and weights when I have more time. Without this I get injured and then that’s all she wrote!

2. Foam rolling  (1%)
The older I get the higher up the list this one moves. It is The Best preventative massage you can do bar having your own personal masseuse. I wouldn’t say you can skip stretching if you do this, but I can get away with being lazy about my stretching far more than if I don’t foam roll.

3. Eat well

Beneficial-Bento-Best-Lunch-SaladsI love surfing the net for tempting ideas on how to serve up salads (which can get boring over time) Beneficial Bento’s is a great place to start!

You know that raging, can’t-be-tamed hunger you get when you follow a hill reps run with a long run and a recovery run? Well I’ve discovered that eating things like green smoothies and healthy fats like whole nuts and avocados really regulates my hunger. If I don’t do this then I end up cramming my face with bread, chocolate and chips. Then I put on weight and that is the LAST thing you want when you’re planning on dragging your lard arse over a hilly marathon course!

4. Vitamins  (1%)


I take a multivitamin tonic like this one and a mega B. I know the jury is still hung on whether vitamins make much of a difference to your health but I definitely notice I am more likely to get sick when I don’t take these supplements. I think they probably just round out the edges of a not-quite-perfect diet but seeing as I am never going to HAVE a perfect diet it is a good compromise.

5. Sleep more  (1%)

I have to do this. I literally cannot run if I haven’t had enough sleep. As in, a few nights of 5 hours and I have lead legs. I can’t hit my paces, can’t last on long runs and am more likely to skip runs completely. And why not? Your body needs more rest during marathon training. Asking it to do all this extra work on less sleep is not very fair.
But you know, life quite often does not play fair. Often you are choosing between nights out with friends or a 5am run in the rain. It is haaaard. Which is why number 6 is super important too:

6. Register as early as you can for the race
Once I’ve done this I’m committed. I have my ‘reason’. And god knows I’m going to need a bloody good reason to get up early and run in the dark multiple times between now and the end of June.
Marathons aren’t cheap, although trail marathons are often cheaper than most. The Surfcoast is $135 which is a bargain when you think of the beautiful views, food along the course and – if you get in early enough – free tshirt.
My point is, I find it much easier to talk myself out of 5am runs and hard workouts when I haven’t put my money down yet.

7. Plan a reward
You can’t slack off on your runs but you do deserve a reward for how hard you are working. If you’re having trouble facing that long run this weekend think of a nice incentive.
I will confess that sometimes my ‘reward’ is a Saturday night alone at home with popcorn, lollies and movies. Wild I know, but it recharges me and I will feel ZERO guilt for opting out socially for a day or so. Other good ones are baths, takeaway food (when you’re too tired to cook) or whatever other luxury floats your boat.

8. Read more running blogs for motivation


For a while anyway…

(I.e. become a little bit obsessed) By the time I’m about 8 weeks out from the race it is pretty much all I’m thinking/talking about (sorry in advance to my friends and family!) and that tends to be reflected in my reading material. Blogs, magazines, shopping for a new piece of kit or two, it all keeps the motivation high at a time when it’s really getting hard to keep focussed on race day.

9. Give yourself a break
Not from running, obviously, but sometimes you begin to feel a little bit rushed for time when you’re running for 10 hours a week and sleeping an extra half hour (or more!) a night, and cutting up all your fruit and veg so you can eat well, and foam rolling and stretching and uploading your stats to Runkeeper….well, you get the picture. Something’s gotta give. In my case I might get takeaway a little more often than usual. I might order my groceries online. I cancel anything that is going to tucker me out (yeah, no late Saturday nights for me) and I definitely start to slack off on the housecleaning.
You cannot be amazing in every area of your life at once. No one can. If you forget this you will probably end up either achieving nothing, or achieving mediocrity across the board. Just aim high in ONE part of your life at a time.

10. Reduce stress  (1%)
How? See number 9.
Stress can and will derail your training and race. Yes, sometimes a good run is just what you need to blow off workday worries. But chronic stress, trying to please everyone or dealing with other people’s problems/dramas will just wear you out. If it’s a stress you can’t avoid (such as the separation and moving house stress I just went through) then sometimes it’s best to just cut your losses, withdraw from the race, and live to run another day. If you don’t believe what I am saying then do me a favour – double-check your resting heart rate when you feel under pressure in your life. It will be higher than usual, I guarantee it. And if it is, listen to your body and take some time out. If you can.

And that’s about it.
Sure, I never – EVER – manage to do all of these things consistently, but I am infinitely better off just for trying to do so.

And that’s all you can really do,. Try your best and remember to look back every now and then, at just how far you’ve come.


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