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Marathons: An ancient road to glory!

Marathons: An ancient road to glory!

27 September 2022

Legend has it that in 490 BC an Athenian warrior ran from his battlefield all the way to his home city of Athens to declare their victory over an invading Persian army. The battle was fought just over 25 miles outside of Athens in the fields surrounding a small provincial town by the name ofMarathon. Two thousand five hundred years later almost forty thousand people will take to London’s streets next month in a valiant attempt to replicate this legendary Athenian’s feat (with some, no doubt, adorning togas, and sandals to match!)  

The London Marathon has been held annually since the early 1980s and despite two years off due to the COVID pandemic it is now due to return in October with the atmosphere and fanfare we have all become accustomed to.   

Running 26 miles for anyone is an impressive achievement. It demands cardiovascular fitness, resilience, physical and mental strength. It very much puts our bodies through the mill. No surprise to know that not all people that start along this ancient road to running glory go on to complete their race.

The following blog aims to address commonly asked questions around endurance training and injury prevention (specifically regarding endurance running). Despite being a keen endurance mountain hiker the furthest I have run is half marathon distance. However, The Abbey Clinic is lucky to have our very own endurance legend who could put any ancient Athenian warrior to shame. I have put these questions to Rachel to get her expert advice and input.

Racheal, how long have you done endurance sports and what sort events have you completed?

“I was a competitive swimmer as a child and my favoured event was 800m freestyle.  As an adult I changed sports, and my first Marathon was in 1995.  Since then, I have run 13 Marathons, including 10 London and the Boston Marathon.  I have also carried out long distance open water swimming events the longest being the Jubilee River 10km in 2014.  My longest cycling event was 150 miles in the coast to coast in a day across the country west to east on a road bike, a long way but great fish and chips at the end.   I have competed in triathlon in all distances from sprint to ironman, completing Ironman Wales in 2013 and Outlaw full distance in Nottingham this year.”

What has been the most challenging event and why? 

“Ironman is the most challenging event I’ve done, and Ironman Wales is famed for the elevation on both the bike and the run with a sea swim.  The 2.4km swim, 180km bike and marathon run is certainly a challenge but with amazing crowd support and beautiful scenery it is truly an amazing day.  Ironman Wales is my only experience of “hitting the wall”.  With 8 miles to go in the marathon I questioned if I would be crossing that finishing line.  I really had to dig deep that day but with family and supporters not far away I was never going to give up on that one!!”

Have you ever been injured while training or competing?

“Yes.  I have a bit of an ongoing back injury which has forced me to pull out of one marathon and lead to changes in training on many occasions.  I know doing the right exercises is the way to go and I try my best to keep some strength and stretching exercises going.  I don’t always succeed but I always have colleagues around to remind me!”

What are the common problems you see when treating endurance athletes?

“Endurance athletes are vulnerable to overuse injuries as well as injuries caused by their mechanics and overstrain from repetitive movements.” 

What are “training errors” and how can they be avoided?

“Inconsistent training or big increases in load need to be avoided.  In most cases there should be no more than a 10% increase in load in any week.  Load can be increased by distance, speed, or incline and with data available on platforms such as Garmin connect, Strava, and Apple Health there are various ways of measuring and monitoring training load. If an injury occurs or life gets in the way, one of the biggest errors is athletes trying to “make up” for missed sessions.  If training is disrupted care needs to be taken building back up and resuming a training schedule. 


Endurance athletes focus largely on their particular discipline.  It is not to be underestimated how important strength work and stretching/mobility is.  These parts of the training week are often the elements that will assist gains in performance as well as improvements in form and a reduction in injury.  Lastly, recovery.  This is one element of training many endurance athletes ignore!!  Muscles build in the periods of recovery so not only will it prevent overuse injuries and overtraining but it will aid performance.  It is essential to have both sessions that are low intensity within a training week but also days off to recover.”


Can I train in pain?

“No, if you experience a new pain, not a pain you have previously experienced this needs to be investigated.  There are times delayed muscle soreness after training might occur and there are times when known “niggles” raise their heads and can be managed at home.  If in doubt always seek the advice of a physiotherapist or health care professional.”

Is there footwear that will reduce my injury risk?

“It is important to wear the correct shoes for your particular, build and running style as well as the type of terrain, you’re running on.  It is advisable to visit a run specialist shop where the staff know their products as well as understanding running as a sport.” 

Do I need to do “speed work” in my training?

“Variation in training speed or load offers the best chance to obtain gains whilst allowing adequate recovery.  Research shows that running at a leisurely pace for 80% of your runs can reap great rewards in terms of performance.  This allows the 20% to be carried out at a high intensity being fully recovered and an opportunity to gain greater improvements. From an injury perspective variation in pace prevents the repetition of those moderate paced “plodding” runs.  Variation whether it be pace, distance or incline puts the body under different pressures and reduces repetition.”

When should I get my problem looked at by a professional?

“If a problem is new, if it is preventing you run, cycle or swim in your “normal” style or causing you any concern you are always better to seek advice.  An Injury that fails to improve with a few days rest should always raise the alarm bells.  If trauma has occurred e.g., a twisted joint or a trip or fall and there is significant swelling or pain a visit to A&E may be in order.”

How should I train in the final weeks leading to an event?

 “In the final 2-3 weeks of training before a big event continue training but at a slightly reduced load.  Ensure there is adequate recovery built into your routine but don’t stop completely.  Your body has been used to those weeks and months of training and to remain ready to perform continued training is needed.  Enjoy the greater levels of rest and prepare mentally for the “big day”.  If you’ve done the training have confidence, prepare for the day, and enjoy this final run up.  Go Smash it!!!!”

The Abbey Clinic would like to wish all those running in the London marathon and indeed other endurance events around the country all the best. If you have any further questions about your training or indeed you have an injury/niggle you want reviewed. Feel free to book in with the team for an assessment.

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