The whole of the UK is alive with beating hearts and sweaty palms, as the final countdown to the 2013 London Marathon begins. In just over four weeks’ time, the capital will throb to the sound of thumping feet and cheering crowds, as the world descends for the second time in under 12 months to witness one of the greatest sporting events on the planet.

Runners from the UK, Europe, and every other corner of the globe are busy making their last minute preparations, and running their last few practice miles before they take to London’s famous streets. Some will be running for glory; others for charity; or just for a laugh, but whatever the reason, everybody wants to finish.

Rewind back 12 months to a more ambitious time, when health checks are being taken, goals are being set and training/nutrition schedules are being scribbled down. Training can be an exhausting, testing, and often lonely pursuit. Lots of once excited and determined individuals will have allowed their training to have slowed down, or even lapsed completely.

This is a dangerous time for some, but all may not be lost; there are still some important considerations and last minute preparations that can be made to turn this around and fulfill the dream. Here are the top five tips from CryoClinics on what can be done in the last few weeks, days and even on the day, to make the marathon a great achievement instead of a terrible nightmare.

1. Last-Minute Training

If training has lapsed then there still may be time to save it; however, there are some basic levels of fitness required at this stage. With four weeks to go, if a runner cannot run for 16 miles without stopping, then the London Marathon is too long a race, and it would be dangerous to take part. If this is within their skills, then these final weeks should involve many different strength and fitness building activities, and not just running:

MONDAY – Each week should be started with either a 30 minute, hard swim or interval running.
TUESDAY – Rest and Recovery. Hill running every first and third Tuesday.
WEDNESDAY – Strength building exercises, such as weight or circuit training.
THURSDAY – Rest and Recovery. Steady-speed running every second Thursday. 8-10 miles.
FRIDAY – Distance Running: fourth last week – 20 miles; third last week – 22 miles; second last week – 6 miles; last week – rest.
SATURDAY – Rest and Recovery. At least 24 hours rest after the long run.
SUNDAY – Gentle swim, jog or Yoga/Pilates class to strengthen core.

Having the basic fitness level to run 16 miles and following this plan, then assuming good conditions on the day, everything should be fine. Over-training to force readiness should be avoided. This will not work, and can put the body in extreme danger of temporary or long-term injury, either during training or the actual race.

On the week of the race, mostly rest or light exercise should be done, stretching or yoga classes and visualisation. If in doubt about readiness, a Doctor should be consulted.

2. Rest and Recovery

Rest and recovery does not mean sitting around watching TV or going to the pub: a massage to soothe those aching and recovering muscles; an ice-bath; or a nice, relaxing walk in the sea can help. Cryotherapy is a useful technique for athletes. This is using low temperatures to increase recovery rate and cellular survival and was used by Mo Farah whilst training in the US before the London Olympics.

During a rare rest period, race visualisation can be amazing. Top sportsmen and women actually report that this is one of the most beneficial exercises, especially in the final weeks and moments of preparation. This actually prepares the body and mind for the race, and many actually feel their muscles twitching in response to their imagined exertions. This can also lead to decreased nervousness on the day as well, having already run the race a thousand times. This is one of the secrets to giving world-class performances in sports, presentations and any public performance.

3. Stretching

Stretching should be performed after each exercise which gets rid of lactic acid build up and can help in muscle recovery. Stretching does not prevent injury, but if done incorrectly, can actually cause it, so it’s important to know how to stretch properly. There are four types of stretching: ballistic; static; dynamic; and proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation. It’s vital to know the benefits of, and how to do each.

Please note that it is not as important for long distance runners to stretch before training. In fact, there is modern evidence to suggest it can actually do some harm.

4. Equipment

There is no right or wrong when it comes to marathon gear. In fact, many participants will run as the rear end of a cow…or a Rubik’s cube! Normal people though should try to have a couple of long sleeve and a couple of short sleeve shirts on hand, to account for the weather. ‘Moisture-wicking’ fabric shirts do a pretty good job of extracting sweat.

As far as running shoes are concerned, there are absolutely loads of great ones out there. Participants should wear shoes that they’ve used before and are comfortable running long distances in. Another pair can be bought up to four weeks before the event to break them in, but never on the day!

5. Race Day Preparation and Planning

Gear should be packed the night before; it’s important not to have to worry about packing shoes or train tickets or anything else on the day. The route should be planned and travel reports checked for any delays. It’s a good idea to arrive in plenty of time to meet with other participants; the London Marathon can be a very long race without running mates. Water will be provided along the route but preferred energy bars and drinks should be packed the night before. Nutrition intake should not be changed on the day, as a change (even in brand), can lead to disaster. The most vital considerations are to stay hydrated and avoid glycogen depletion.

It is recommended to have a light but nutritious breakfast. Muesli or porridge and a couple of bananas, or toast and honey should do the trick.

Running a marathon is, for many people, the most satisfying, ambitious and rewarding events of their life and if they train hard, they can relax and enjoy it. Everybody hits ‘the wall’ at some point, but if the time has been put in pounding the road and in the gym, and a healthy and nutritious eating plan has been followed success, and the enormous euphoria that accompanies it, can be enjoyed. Good luck!