The best way to train for a marathon at the last minute

Snap decision and last-minute entries into running events like Australia's largest marathon, the Melbourne Marathon are common. Being egged-on by mates during a night out, the fear of missing out (FOMO) or the desire for a new physical challenge spurs on many runners to register for an event. Whatever the reason for the late entry, with the right mindset and a commitment to completing a shortened training plan, crossing the finish line is possible. 

Exercise physiologist Campbell Craig is an ambassador for Science in Sport and recently signed up for a race two nights out from the event. 

"Typically I like to set my sights on a goal and work towards it over about 12 weeks as this helps with my motivation and adherence to training," says Craig. "However, a few weeks ago, I volunteered at a local trail marathon event on Victoria's surf coast, which gave me free entry for an upcoming event."

"I wouldn't recommend registering for a race two days out, as I relied on pickle juice to cure my cramping hamstrings, but one benefit of the last-minute entry was that I didn't have time to develop pre-race nerves," adds Craig. 

Set-up for success 

The hardest part about getting to the start line of a race six weeks out is not getting injured. 

"Consistent training over six weeks will get you to the start line and then you can enjoy the buzz of the event carrying you through any tough patches," says Craig. 

Runners should focus on three key sessions each week and should include: 

  • One longer run increasing by two kilometres each week up to 16, most likely on the weekend, at a relaxed pace 
  • One tempo run of three minutes harder running than your normal pace followed by three minutes of jogging recovery, repeated 5 times 
  • One shorter recovery run to keep the legs ticking over for 30-40 minutes followed by five minutes of box jumps (a park bench or step is perfect) and some pretend skipping without the rope. Alternate 10 box jumps with 20 skips for five mins. If your base is a little higher, you could repeat this session

And don't forget the taper. Enjoy the last week to 10 days by reducing the time or distance of each run by about 50 per cent and replacing the strength with some core work or stretching to keep you feeling good. This will help to make sure you are fresh for race day.

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Build your strength 

Craig also says that with six weeks to play runners should focus on exercises that improve your brain-muscle connection. 

"These are tough, but won't leave you feeling tired, so you can focus on your running and will help make every step a little more fluent come race day," adds Craig. 

Set aside10 minutes and repeat the following circuit:

  • Box jumps x 10 (any step height you feel comfortable with is fine)
  • Lunge jumps x 10 (these are a killer but pay dividends)
  • Pogo jumps x 10 (just like jumping on a pogo stick)

The goal with all three exercises is to jump as high as you can each and every jump. If you get tired, rest for 10 minutes.

So, if you've got a reasonable fitness base and fun fairly regularly here's Craig's betting odds and advice for how to approach these running distances with six weeks of training: 

Marathon (42.195km) 

Not recommended, but absolutely possible if you have some pickle juice handy and enjoy being uncomfortable. The challenge will be to pace yourself to your save some energy for the last 10km, which is the fun part!

Half marathon (21.0975km)

This is such a great distance to challenge yourself every year and monitor your improvement over time. You can play with training variables such as strength and speed and see what works best for you. If you have some base fitness and are thinking of a last-minute sign up, this is the distance for you. 

Five or 10 kilometre

Absolutely! Even if there is some walking involved because you started too fast racing your friend and now you feel like your legs won't talk to each other. Get out there, the atmosphere is incredible, you are certainly not alone on the course and will really enjoy the sense of accomplishment.
Up your chances in style  

If you run best with company and enjoy the finer things in life, then check out the Westin Hotels & Resorts' Melbourne Marathon training packages, which include on and offline training programs designed by Sports Chiropractor Tim Robards for five kilometre, half marathon, and marathon runners. Featuring fitness and meal plans, sleep tips, plus twice-weekly RunWestin training runs of 4.8km around the city of Melbourne led by The Westin Melbourne Run Concierge, this package is a great way to train in style and up your chances of success come race day.

The high of crossing the finish line inspires running fanatic Laura Hill to clock up the kilometres each week. Whether you're a newbie to the running scene or a seasoned athlete, Laura brings the latest running trends and gear to readers across Australia. With a day job in the corporate world and a busy toddler, Laura loves nothing more than lacing up her runners and hitting the pavement to sharpen her mind and challenge her body.

Follow Laura Hill on Twitter

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