Body language

In marathon running as in life, there is no substitute for experience.

Learning from past races or training cycles – both from the good and bad experiences – should stand any runner in good stead when it comes to improving.

For those of you still making your way through the early stages of your marathon journey when experience is limited, there is a mountain of advice and information now just a click away.

Accessing it all is the easy part, but deciding what’s right for you and your running goals is a challenge all in itself.

Former General Practitioner and now expert panellist for Women’s Running magazine (UK), plus master coach for 261 Fearless, Dr Juliet McGrattan has two AbbottWMM stars to her name among her considerable marathon medal collection.

Her new book Run Well, distils the most common questions runners of all levels ask, so she was the perfect person to go to for the top signals from your body that runners should not ignore when it comes to stopping small problems from keeping you off your feet.

1. Recurring pain
“Don’t ignore things that go away but come back again. Plus, things that give you discomfort not just when you’re running. Sometimes we get pain just when we run, but if you’re still experiencing pain at night or other times when you’re not running, there could be something else going on as well, so that would be an important signal that you might want to seek professional help.”

2. Hydration and diet
“You can’t hope to meet your own expectations of yourself as a runner if you’re not eating a good diet. You need to pay attention to making sure your iron levels remain healthy, that you get your hydration right and that you’re refuelling properly after long runs. Post-run, runners can experience low appetite, but if you don’t give the body the building blocks it needs to repair itself, including hydrating to function normally and during races, then you’re going to run into problems.”

3. Illness
“Don’t ignore the fact that you’re not on top form. We know that exercise is a boost to our immune system, but we also know that after doing excessive miles or particularly after long, vigorous exercise, the immune system does take a little dip. So if you’re frequently getting infections, it’s always worth looking at what your balance is and asking yourself if you’re overtraining, because the early signs of that can be infections and low energy levels. If you’re feeling tired all the time and, despite your efforts, your performance isn’t improving in the way you think it should do, your body may be trying to tell you something.”

4. Sleep
“Are we paying enough attention to our sleep? That’s when our body rests and recovers and becomes stronger and regenerates. We know that running will help us sleep, but if we’re cranking those miles up for marathon distances, we do need enough adequate – and sometimes more sleep – than we normally would. If we just think we’ll get away with not sleeping enough and keep going, at some point that will backfire on us and we’re more likely to get ill or injured.”

5. Your post-lockdown body
“If you’ve not been running or you’ve been very sedentary during lockdown (for example, you’ve not been getting up to speak to a colleague, not been getting in the car to go to work), your muscles will be quite deconditioned, so you might not have as much stability, which can increase your risk of injury. It’s worth taking time before going back to the really long runs to make sure you are doing some good muscle conditioning to get your glutes firing and small muscles in your ankles and feet strong for stabilising you as you build up miles gradually. It’s frustrating and takes patience, but if you do that you’ll have a much more successful return to running.”

Run Well, by Dr Juliet McGrattan, is out now.