Your Four Week Marathon Countdown

Completing the Virgin Money London Marathon will be one of the most incredible experiences of your life. You may not think so at mile 20 when your legs feel as if your trainers are gluing themselves to the road, but when you complete the 26.2 miles, your sense of achievement and pure pride will override any pain you might be feeling. You’ll know that every sacrifice you’ve made, swapping social dinners for solitary training runs and lazy lie-ins with long, rainy miles, will have been worth it.

Your priority as Marathon Day approaches is to get to the start of the marathon at the peak of your health and fitness, ready to reap the rewards of all the long, hard runs you’ve completed in your months of training.

Running 26.2 miles takes a huge amount of courage and determination, not only to complete it, but also to do the training that is required for running a marathon. So congratulate yourself for embarking on this challenge and getting to this final stage of your marathon preparation.

The following advice will guide you through your last training runs and offer you key tips for fine-tuning the small details that could make a big difference on Marathon Day.

Building up to the big one

Your longest run should be around 20 miles and take place three to four weeks before Marathon Day. This distance will prepare you well for taking on the marathon and is the perfect opportunity to try out your nutrition and hydration strategy once more.

They say that practice makes perfect, so use this run as a dress rehearsal for the real thing and try to emulate Marathon Day as much as possible. Prepare the night before by having a good dinner and going to bed early. Try to eat something similar to what you’ll have the night before the marathon.

Set your alarm so that you have enough time to eat breakfast at least two hours before starting the run. Try to run your last long run at a controlled speed that is between one and two minutes slower per mile than your target race pace. By running slower than race pace your exertion will be reduced so you’ll be able to recover quicker. The purpose of this run is to prepare your legs for running over a long period of time. Once your longest run is ticked off, it’s time to taper down your training; to reduce your runs but keep your legs ticking over.

The taper

It’s important that you spend the next few weeks training conservatively. There are no gains to be made from cramming in tough last-minute training runs when the best thing you can do at this point is begin to taper. Come Marathon Day you want to be feeling strong and energised, not burnt out.

Tapering is not a signal to suddenly stop training altogether and become a couch potato for three weeks, it just means that the intensity will drop and instead of focusing on high mileage, you’ll spend more time stretching, resting well and staying as healthy as you possibly can.

Hit the right pace

Try not to get caught up in the excitement at the start of your marathon and set off too fast – you need to have a realistic target race pace and stick to it. The best marathons are run at a consistent, even pace so a top tip is to work out your target mile splits based on your estimated finish time.

Plan ahead

On the morning of the marathon, you should feel calm and relaxed. To help you to achieve this serene state, it’s a good idea to have a plan of everything you need to do between waking up and starting your run. Write it down if you need to.

Your plan should include the time you need to wake up, when you will have breakfast and what you’ll eat and when you’ll leave your home to start the challenge.

The night before the event, lay out all the kit you need so it’s ready when you wake up. Make sure you have comfortable clothing, socks and trainers – all of which you’ve previously tried out in training. Check the weather forecast but be prepared for a variety of conditions.

If you have practised using energy gels or sweets during your long training runs, make sure you have enough with you for the duration of the marathon. A small nutrition belt is good for carrying supplies but make sure it’s comfortable by testing it on a long run.

At this point you are probably focusing on completing the 26.2 miles and haven't given much thought to what happens after you cross the Finish Line, but it's worth planning ahead and working out where you'll meet friends and family who may have come to support you. The finish area can be quite chaotic when thousands of people are admiring their medals, collecting their bags and trying to find their loved ones, so it's best to arrange to meet people after the race in a quieter location away from the main action.

Mind over matter

Don’t let nervous energy get the better of you. In the run-up to Marathon Day, surround yourself with positive, encouraging people. Some of your friends and colleagues may be staggered that you’re doing the marathon, especially if it’s your first attempt, but don’t let them add to the nerves you may be feeling. Each year when millions of TV viewers watch the Virgin Money London Marathon they feel inspired to enter next year’s race; this year you will be part of that inspiration so try to embrace that and feel good about what you’re doing.

Stay positive

There’s no doubt that running for 26.2 miles is a true test of your stamina and being physically fit is only half of the challenge, the rest is mental, and if you can stay focused you will cruise through it. That isn’t to say that thinking positively will stop you from hurting at all, but it will definitely help you to keep going through those low points.

After the marathon you will feel exhausted and overjoyed. The Virgin Money London Marathon is an incredible journey of dedication, motivation and determination from the moment you get your place to receiving your medal. Have a great day and don’t forget to savour every second of the race. Good luck!

Body work

Training for a marathon is strenuous and completing the training plan may have pushed your body to new limits, particularly if it’s your first time. It’s vital, therefore, to look after yourself before the big day to ensure you reach the start of the challenge free of injury and illness. Although exercising at a moderate level for up to 45 minutes can improve your immune system, the rigours of running longer distances temporarily weaken it. That’s why it’s also really important to keep yourself well after the marathon too.

Follow these top tips to help your body recover and guarantee you start the marathon feeling fit, healthy and ready to give the race your very best shot.

Stretching & core strength

In the run up

Continue with a core-stability training routine. Do the routine twice a week. A strong core will help your running form and when your body naturally tires as the marathon progresses, your core strength will help to support you.

It’s also important to continue with gentle stretches after every run. Being supple will help to prevent your legs from feeling stiff and heavy and also help you to avoid picking up niggles or injuries.


You absolutely must stretch after the marathon. It’s easy to overlook a post-race stretching routine as soon as you finish because the first thing you feel like doing will range from sleeping to eating and drinking anything you can get your hands on.

Your body is going to ache the day after the race whether or not you stretch, but stretching will help to loosen your muscles and make you feel less sore.


In the run up

One of the simplest things you can do to feel energised is to have plenty of sleep, especially in the week leading up to the race. Most athletes recognise that rest and recovery are critical for success. Exercise causes changes in the body such as the depletion of energy stores and muscle-tissue damage; sufficient rest, combined with good nutrition, allows tissue repair to occur and energy stores to be replenished. Without decent rest, the body doesn’t recover efficiently, which is when symptoms of overtraining and an increased risk of injury can materialise.


There’s no formula for calculating the speed at which your body will recover from a marathon, but it’s essential that you take it easy in the fortnight after the marathon by only doing minimal, low-impact exercise, such as an easy 20-minute swim or bike ride. Go for a walk of about 10 to 20 minutes on the evening of the race. This will help to prevent your muscles tightening up.


In the run up

The right nutrition strategy, and appropriate rest, will help your body to recover faster after training. One of the best and most convenient post-workout snacks is a skimmed-milk chocolate milkshake. Chocolate is high in sugar, which is great for replacing glucose, lost through exercise, while skimmed milk is a good source of calcium for boosting bone strength.

Carbohydrate-based meals, like pasta and rice dishes, should be an important staple in the diet of every marathon runner and will provide the energy you need for completing long runs. Make sure you also eat plenty of fruit and vegetables, as this is a great way to obtain the essential vitamins to keep your immune system strong.

Protein from lean meat and fish, or beans and pulses, will help your muscles recover and should be a key part of your diet. Alcohol inhibits the rate of recovery after exercise; it’s also a diuretic so drinking it after training will further dehydrate you. Stick to plain water, diluted fruit juice or even green tea to rehydrate after a workout.


Eating and drinking sufficiently will help you experience less fatigue and muscle soreness after the race. Focus on simple carbohydrates like fruit and bread. If you don’t want to eat, energy gels are a good short-term alternative. The stress of running a marathon can impair your immune system, leaving you vulnerable to colds and other upper respiratory tract infections. Herbal remedies such as echinacea and supplements like vitamin C and zinc can help you to fight illness.