London Marathon is just around the corner, and if you’re already in the midst of training, you’ll know that running 26.2 miles is no easy feat.
Planning and preparation can go a long way when it comes to clinching that elusive PB. So too can learning from runners who’ve been there, done that and pushed through the hardest miles.
Phil Sesemann (@philsesemann) is a British marathon runner, Adidas ambassador and NHS doctor. At the London Marathon 2021, Sesemann was the first British man to cross the finish line in seventh place, running the course in just 2 hours, 12 minutes and 58 seconds.
As he prepares to race in this year’s event, we caught five minutes with the long-distance runner at the launch of Sports Direct Manchester to find out his golden rules for race day success.
Volume is your priority
When it comes to running your best marathon time, Sesemann says it’s not about achieving top speeds on your runs but cumulatively clocking up as many miles as you can on Strava.
“The overall volume of your training runs is your priority,” he advises. “The biggest tip I can give to any runner that wants to increase their volume is to bring the intensity down.”
Instead of running until you hit a wall, Sesemann says that you want to finish most of your training runs feeling like you could comfortably do a few more miles.
“If you push yourself too hard, not only do you increase your risk of a last-minute injury, but you’ll probably feel exhausted for a few days afterwards,” he says. “When you’re taking days to recover, you’re not accumulating large training volumes, which is the key for building your fitness consistently over the weeks and months leading up to the race.”
Pick up some weights
Strength training is a secret cross-training weapon for marathon runners. As Sesemann explains, it can help to strengthen connective tissues and muscles, preventing injuries. Lifting weights between pounding the pavements can improve your neuromuscular coordination too, helping you run faster and more effectively.
“I make sure to strength train a couple of times each week between my runs,” says Sesemann. “When I’ve previously been injured, I’ve also cross-trained with indoor cycling and swimming. That way, I can still reap the benefits of aerobic conditioning without forcing a biomechanical load on my body.”
“Sleep is my number one tip for recovery,” says Sesemann, “so make sure you’re aiming for eight hours each night.” He adds that slow running or even just brisk walking can really help reduce any tightness that you might have, especially during the start of runs or before training sessions.
“Make sure you’re eating plenty too,” he adds. “I’m running around 120 miles per week, so it’s important that I fuel properly and eat enough to sustain myself on my runs.”
Have an old-school breakfast
A big breakfast on race day seems like a good idea, but it could easily cause stomach upset. “On the morning of the marathon, I eat a tin of rice pudding,” says Sesemann. Rice pudding is full of carbohydrates but low in fibre and fat, so it’s an easy-on-the-stomach option for all-day energy.
“I like to eat a low-residue diet for 72 hours before I race,” says Sesemann. A low-residue diet limits dietary fibre to less than 10 to 15g daily and restricts foods that might kickstart your bowels. “I don’t have fruit, nuts, vegetables or wholemeal foods in that period to reduce the risk of GI upset while I’m racing.”
Bank sleep through the week
It’s natural for pre-race nerves to keep you awake the night before the marathon. “Bank sleep in the week leading up to the race,” stresses Sesemann. A 2007 review paper found that one bad night of sleep didn’t negatively affect leg strength, fatigue resistance, and oxygen demand at various speeds.
“Aim to bank 10 hours a night in the week leading in, and then even if you just get five or six hours the night before, you should feel ok,” says Sesemann.
A marathon is as much of a mental challenge as a physical one. “Try experimenting with affirmations,” says Sesemann. Affirmations are phrases that, when repeated regularly, can change negative thoughts.
“I’ll be breaking the race down and attributing a thought for each mile. It could be, ‘I want to go to the World Championships’, or, ‘I want to run to a new personal best.’ Sports psychology can be beneficial for getting you through those harder miles.”
Fall in love with running, not racing
Sesemann’s final tip? “Plan long term! Don’t just throw yourself into a marathon that’s coming up in six or 12 weeks because it’s a big toll on the body,” he says.
“Running a marathon should be a step into making running part of your everyday life and something you enjoy doing.”