A few days ago, I blogged on the Huffington Post UK on how to train for a marathon in three months flat. That is just about doable, but quite a stretch. A friend then got in touch - and asked, rather plaintively, how to train for a marathon in three DAYS.
Not at all easy.
Of course it goes without saying that anyone who enters a marathon on just three days' training is a complete lunatic and will have a damn good chance of killing themselves.
But it did get me thinking. Is there any way that you might, in just three days, be able to prepare yourself for a marathon?
Let's suppose that, owing to pressures of work and your love-life, you'd forgotten all about the race; let's also suppose that your favourite charity would be losing out on a ton of money if you didn't complete the wretched thing.
So - I'm not recommending it. I'm certainly not saying it's a good idea. It is in fact an utterly MAD idea. And you'll probably wind up dead.
But if you've set your little heart on running a marathon in three days' time, and you've done precisely no training whatsoever, well... here's your best shot at completing it.
My friend Simon Parry is due to run Hong Kong's China Coast marathon on Sunday 19 January. Simon, this one's for you! [Have you planned your funeral yet?]
There are a few things that you can do before the marathon that might help you on your way. Running is not one of these things. There is no running that you can do now that is even remotely going to get you through a marathon. Should have done it months ago - but you didn't, and now you've only got three days left to train for the thing. Did I mention that you're clinically insane?
Stretching, though, is going to help a lot. This will at least get you nice and supple before you grind your body into the ground during the marathon. You probably don't even know how to stretch. Never even thought of stretching.
In this case, shell out forty quid for a proper sports massage. You will experience a lot of pain. (Though not nearly as much pain as you'll be in at the end of the marathon.) Ideally, a muscle-bound brute will come along and pummel and pound your legs until all your knotty masses of muscle have been turned into nice, stretchy elastic bands.
2. Drink gallons of water
If you're the sort of ballsy go-getter who is aiming to train for a marathon in three days flat, then my hunch is that you're a boozer. Probably one hell of a boozer. If it is at all possible, could you perhaps ease up on the booze - maybe just a little bit? That would be real nice. If this is still too much of an ask, then if you could just lay off the booze the night before the race, that would still make me very happy.
On the race day, you want to be well and truly hydrated. Drink lots and lots of water. Your pee wants to be clear and voluminous. If there is no alcohol in your system, that will be even better. Thank you!
3. Do not plan on running any further than you have actually run
I suppose there's a chance that you might, once upon a time, have done a bit of training for this marathon. Maybe, about a month back, you ran a six-miler. Well if that's all you've run, then that's the distance that you want to be running on the race day.
But save your six miles of running for the moments when it will have the most impact. Run down the hills - not up them. Don't even attempt to run through the crush at the start of the race. Spend the first half-hour walking, and then, when you're warmed up, break into a slow trot.
DO NOT RUN UP HILLS! This is a complete waste of energy - you'll go at exactly the same speed if you walk it.
If you can, get into a rhythm - walk for 10 minutes, then jog for 10 minutes. This is a lovely way of completing a marathon. You have something to look forward to when you're running: that blissful moment when you can stop running and start walking.
Hopefully you will have enough juice in the tank to run the last mile. The last mile is the best bit with all those cheering spectators. (If they haven't already packed up and gone back home.) Much better if you can run it rather than trudge it.
4. Keep hydrated
On the morning before the race, you want to have drunk at least three litres of water. Keep drinking water during the race. Every water-stop, stop and have a drink. Take along some sports beans (they're exactly like jelly-beans, though double the price). Take a couple of these every ten minutes. They'll help perk you up. Gels are also good. When you're only halfway through the marathon, and you realise that you've already hit the wall, gels can give you a real hit. Drink them with water.
It is more than likely that you will be out on the course so long - maybe over six hours - that you will need electrolytes to replace all the salt you're sweating out. Take along a few electrolyte pills to mix with your water.
5. Pain relief
You might be able to complete the race without being in too much discomfort; you might just skip over the finish-line and think to yourself - "Marathons? Schmarathons! That was a complete doddle!"
More than likely though, after about 15 miles you will be in some serious pain as your muscles start to cramp up. Stretching and salt are going to help. But you are also going to need some serious pain-relief. Go for the Ibuprofen-Paracetamol double-hit. As any serious drinker knows, you can take these two drugs together, and with a bit of luck they will put you into this nice, numb fug which will get you through to the end of the race.
6. Lube up
If you've not done a long run before, you probably have no idea what harm friction can do to your skin. It can chafe your thighs and flense your nipples. (In the New York marathon of 1998, I have a spectacularly revolting picture of me crossing the finish-line with my shirt streaked with blood from nipples to waist.) Anyway - you might think about wearing cycling shorts to stop your thighs chafing. Probably best to bandage up your nipples, though if not, try Vaseline.
You will always need to lube up your buttocks and underneath your arm-pits. That way, though your muscles may be causing you a world of pain, at least you'll be smooth and slippery on the outside.
7. Wear comfy shoes
Three days is a little late to be breaking in new footwear for a race like the marathon, but on balance, I think I'd go for a new pair of shoes that are right for you rather than a pair of two-year-old sneakers. Go to a specialist shoe-shop and have them analyse your running style, so that they can fit you with the right shoe for you. You want to break these shoes in. Wear these shoes for the next three days; try going for a five-mile walk. If they're not comfortable, then go back to your original trainers.
8. Take walking poles
Walking poles do seem as incredibly naff and middle-aged - especially on a marathon. But with something like this, you shouldn't be too concerned about your image; you're going to need every bit of help you can get. Walking poles take at least 10 % of the weight off your feet, and they are absolutely brilliant for motoring your way up a hill. Shorten them off and drive away with your arms. They take a little bit of practise to get used to them - just an hour's stroll should be fine. You might want to wear cycling gloves. If you haven't used poles before, your hands will be blistered.
9. Take head-phones
I'm not really a fan of head-phones. They stop you thinking. They stop you engaging with spectators and other runners. They cocoon you in this little aural comfort blanket, just you in your own little world. But when head-phones come into their own is when you are completely spent. When you've got nothing left to give. When you've hit the wall and you can't trudge another step.
This is when you need head-phones - they are your magic bullet for when things get really tough. But don't plug in your head-phones at the start of the race. After an hour or two of listening to music, they lose their magic. You want to save your music for when you are all in and on the very verge of quitting. That's the time to plug them in. You will probably find that the music and the songs are so powerful that they will move you to tears.
10. Book yourself a massage
What happens in the hour immediately after the race will have a huge effect on how you recuperate. If you just go off and have a beer with your friends to celebrate this k-k-k-krazy achievement, then for at least the next week, you will be hobbling around like a little old man.
Not that you shouldn't be having a beer to celebrate. But only after you've taken proper care of yourself in the Golden Hour, which is the hour directly after you've finished the race.
There are two big things you have to do. First of all get some food inside you. Food that's eaten during the Golden Hour is much more effective at mending your mangled muscles. One of those powdered recovery drinks, like Rego, will also work well. Continue to drink a lot of water.
The second thing you need to do is put your legs up - lie on your back and put your feet up onto a chair so that they are about a foot above your head. It helps flush out all those toxins and acids in your legs.
After the Golden Hour, have yourself a massage - an hour-long sports massage, where your throbbing muscles can be hammered into a pulp. Then: hobble along and join your mates in the pub. A few whiskies may even help dull the pain that will be thrilling through your legs.
Lastly: put the undertakers on hold for your next mad-cap adventure. If you're seriously training for a marathon in three days flat, then you've obviously got form. And one day, my friend, will come the Day of Reckoning.