Top tips for preparing for a marathon or mud run: help and advice to give to your gym members

Training and preparing for a marathon, mud run or other endurance race can be tricky for a person to do on their own. This is especially true if they’re running their first race, and will be the case no matter how often they run in their spare time, or how fit they might think they are before they start training!


As a gym owner, you’ll know that preparing for a marathon or endurance race isn’t as easy as throwing on some trainers and running more often. Not only do people need to ensure that they approach their training at an appropriate pace, but they’ll need to be aware of how often to take rest breaks. it’s also vital that they’re using the right running clothing and training equipment.


Because of the care and dedication required to train for such an event, you should encourage any gym members planning to complete an endurance race to enlist the help of a fitness instructor or personal trainer. They’ll be able to provide a proper training programme that incorporates a good mix of cardio and strength training, as well as help them to set realistic goals to keep them motivated.


Here’s our top tips for helping gym members prepare for marathons, mud runs and endurance races…


No injuries!


It’s so important that your gym members know how to pace themselves when training for a marathon. It’s very easy to forget the immense strain an endurance race can put on your body, and if the trainee does too much too quickly, then they’ll run the risk of causing strains, fractures, shin splints, and other unnecessary injuries. These will not only be painful, but they’ll hinder them from reaching their goals.


If someone is preparing for their first race, then they may not know that it typically takes between 12 to 20 weeks to be ready to complete a marathon, mud run, or other endurance race. This is something that your gym members should be made aware of as soon as possible; remember, running a marathon requires the person to be mentally motivated, as well as physically fit!


Schedule rest and recovery days into their marathon training programme, and remember to reiterate the importance of not running every day. If they’re going to be running between 3-4 days a week, then they should have at least 1 rest day and 1 recovery day. You should also clarify the difference between recovery days (where no exercise is completed) and rest days (where they can walk, swim or complete strength or flexibility training). Put simply, the most important message you can give your trainees is that it’s a marathon, not a sprint!


Tim Dettmann from Kieser agrees with the importance of rest days. He says: “What are the myths when it comes to training for a marathon? The biggest myth is that you have to train every day. Most of us don’t complete the recovery required to be able to train every day as they have jobs to work or families to look after.”


Chris Hall, founder of Hall Personal Training, also adds that one of the best ways to motivate gym members is by keeping them focused on the end goal. He says: “I think knowing there’s an end goal is the best motivator as the pain, wet early mornings, late evenings and effort they’re putting in now won’t be reflective of how each day is going be after this. They need to remember; it’s not forever!


“Once you cross that finish line at the 26 mile mark, the euphoria will make that last 6 months or so seem like a walk in the park and all worth it, I can guarantee it. Remember what you’re working for. ”


Provide a varied training programme


One of the first things your trainee will need to be aware of is that training should be approached at a slow and steady pace; this will help them to avoid injury and build a better level of endurance. As an example, in the first few weeks you should aim to achieve your base mileage; this involves running at a relaxed pace, and should be increased by no more than 10% each week. (source)


After they’ve started to establish their base mileage, you should then advise your trainees to build up to a longer run, which could be completed every 7-10 weeks. As their body builds endurance and they can comfortably run a longer difference, you can then help them to move on to increasing their speed.


Throughout the entire process, you’ll also need to ensure that their training programme consists of a mix of stretching, walking, running, and strength training. Swimming and other physical activities can also be incorporated on rest days.

Although running will be the main aspect of their marathon training programme, regular stretching and strength training is essential for reducing muscle strain. As walking breaks will also ease fatigue and build endurance, advise that these are taken every 2-8 minutes during a long run.


Chris Hall, founder of Hall Personal Training, advises: “interval training or ‘fartlek’ training is also a good alternative exercise to running when training, as these have been shown to improve one’s fitness and cardio vascular output to the same degree as steady state running (but in half the time). They are usually best performed on a piece of gym cardio kit, as you can monitor and adjust variables, such as level of resistance, power output (watts), speed, and time splits. However, the bike and the rower would be the best types of cardio kit to use for these types of training IF running wasn’t an option.”


Oli Russell-Cowan from Rad Season adds: “Full body strength building exercises are great for getting your body to the point where you can pull yourself up over the obstacles you’ll face in mud runs/obstacle course races.”


Devise an appropriate eating plan


If your gym members are training for a marathon, then you should be advising them on the best foods to be consuming both before and during the race, as well as after it’s been completed. They’ll probably already know that they need to be consuming foods that provide fuel and aid in muscle repair, though you’ll need to devise a plan to ensure they get the most out of their diet.


Make sure they start introducing low GI carbohydrates to their diet (such as porridge, and wholegrain wheat and pasta) early on; this will build up their carbohydrate tank. However, you need to encourage them to eat the highest amount of carbs in the final week before they complete their marathon, mud run or other endurance race.


It would also be beneficial to inform them of the difference between low GI carbohydrates, and high GI carbs, so that they know when each type should be consumed during each stage of their marathon training. A good example to use is the fact that foods high in GI carbs, moderate in protein, and low in fat should be eaten before long runs, while foods high in GI carbohydrates (such as bananas, oranges, dried fruit, or isotonic drinks) are best consumed during long runs.


As Enduraprep advises in their blog on Ironman race day nutrition: “The GI (Glycemic Index) is a scale which relates to the speed at which the glycogen from carbohydrates enters the bloodstream. 100 being glucose, the simplest sugar which can actually enter the bloodstream through the stomach wall and not have to enter the intestines.” So, remember to explain that high GI carbs release energy quicker than lower GI options!


Remember that everyone is an individual!


Finally, it can be hard enough for people to motivate themselves to go to the gym a few times a week, let alone commit to a full-time marathon training programme that needs to be stuck to for at least 12-20 weeks! Therefore, no matter how much your gym members want to finish the marathon in a good time, it can still be a struggle to ensure they prise themselves out of bed at 6am for a training session.


Sure, you can encourage them to work hard when they’re actually completing a training session, but they’ll still need to be able to motivate themselves to attend them first thing in the morning, or straight after a hard day at work when all they want to go is curl up on the sofa with a glass of wine.


Annie Crawford, Founder and Chair of the Can Too Foundation, says: “The single most important thing for me is to get rid of the negative voices in my head. If you say it sucks, it will suck! Turn those negative voices off, replace with a strong, positive voice. “I am alright now, I am strong, I am lucky. I am fit, I am healthy. This too will pass.” These are things I say to myself.”


As well as offering as much encouragement as possible, one of the best ways to help your trainees stay motivated is by charting their progress from day one. Assess their basis fitness level before training, and set a series of small achievable goals; some of these can have physical rewards, but most people will get more driven the more milestones they reach (and find their training programme gets easier too)!


However, the most important thing to remember is that everyone approaches tasks differently; what might motivate one person to complete a workout each day, might not be enough for another. When taking this account, you’ll need to adjust your coaching style to suit each individual person’s needs, as some may need more encouragement than others. In fact, a number of studies have been completed on the best management styles to suit each learning style.

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