Wheelchair Training for 42k Races
Running a marathon takes a tremendous amount of courage, due diligence, hard work and preparation, and mostly a lot of dedication. These traits are by no means any different for wheelchair marathoners as well. Regardless of how you go about participating in a marathon, you need to train properly and in a timely fashion, both physically and mentally. While there are hundreds of training programs to train for a marathon by foot, there are less so in comparison for marathon training by wheelchair. After doing a bit of research, we have discovered the most important steps to follow for wheelchair training for 42k races.
Training for a marathon in a wheelchair is not so different than running by foot, except for the fact that a majority of the training requires a different use of limbs. For all marathoners, you must take into account your fueling and nutrition, picking out the appropriate kit, and of course the strength, speed, and easy day training regimes,
Nutrition and Fueling
Before beginning a marathon program, it is important to properly begin to fuel your body with lots of healthy foods like fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and increased proteins. Several weeks before race day, an athlete should be consuming more proteins. Proteins are an integral nutrient that helps to not only to build muscle but also aids in quicker recovery to helps to prevent injury.
Additionally, monitoring your water intake is also helpful to maintain proper hydration. Dehydration can lead to fatigue and poor performance. To avoid this, it is essential to stay hydrated throughout training and even during the off-season as the adequate fluids in your body will help to regulate body temperature, clean out toxins from your system, and keep joints lubricated.
Practicing race-day fueling is a must during training to avoid decreased energy levels and upset stomachs. It is recommended while in preparation to test different types of fuel, whether it be gels or real food, with an appropriate combination of glucose and fructose, with or without caffeine. With endurance sessions and even on race-day, a rule of thumb is to consume 60 grams of carbohydrates per hour.
Following long training sessions, recovery nutrition which includes eating a snack with both carbohydrates and protein is recommended within 30-45 minutes. This is an important timeframe for the body to receive nutrients to assist in rebuilding and repairing muscles.
As with any long-distance race the right clothing, gear, and equipment are essential to provide and improve comfort for the athlete. For wheelchair racing, this is no exception, especially when choosing the right racing wheelchair.
It is important to note that wheelchairs used for marathons have a completely different ergonomic design to that of wheelchairs daily. You will find with a racing wheelchair that the frame is long in the front with a front wheel and two rear wheels used for pushing making it a 3-wheel chair compared to a daily use chair or even basketball sports chair which has only two wheels with a standard seat frame.
Racing wheelchairs vary depending on the level and ability of the athlete. Beginners usually start with a chair that has the feet in the front compared to that of a more advanced rider that will have a kneeling stance. Some chairs are “smart chairs” meaning they are built with health and workout monitoring capabilities like measuring heart rate, speed, and distance of the workout, compared to that of a smartwatch. You can get more information on finding the right fit and model with professionals like Top End.
There are also roller trainers, similar to bike trainers, that keep the wheelchair stationary with rollers to let the wheels spin while allowing for push training to improve fitness and stamina. With an option to add resistance, you can also mimic the intensity needed for inclines on a course route. A popular brand is the Invictus Active Trainer.
Additionally, another piece of workout equipment includes the use of an upper-body ergometer during training. Also known as a stationary arm cycle, think a bicycle for your arms, it provides athletes another tool in helping to build up upper body strength and endurance.
Strength, building endurance and practicing push technique are some of the most important factors to focus on for wheelchair marathon training. During the off-season, the focus should be on upper-body strength training which helps to create a solid base for pushing in long-distance events.
Similar to following a marathon training program for running, wheelchair racing workouts should gradually ramp up length over some time to reduce the risk of overuse injury.
Here are some examples of varying workouts that can be completed on the roller trainer or stationary arm cycle:
Sprint Intervals: These workout sessions mimic fartleks or high-intensity interval training sessions, where you work for a burst of a short amount of time with accompanied rests. For example 30 seconds on then 30 seconds relaxed for 5 minutes, repeating for 3-5 rounds. The times can vary and the rests can become shorter over time. The emphasis is to create power and strength by varying heart rates, ultimately improving your anaerobic threshold.
Pace-based Intervals: These workouts are to build stamina and work on the mental aspect of physically grueling training. These long pace-based intervals include a warm-up hen pushing yourself past your lactate threshold by pushing for 10 minutes at 75-90% max effort with 90 seconds to 2 minute rests for 3-5 rounds, followed by a cool-down.
Easy Paced Steady Sessions: This is the equivalent to the long run. These long sessions are built up gradually over the training program. These spin-push sessions range from 60 minutes to 90 minutes. These sessions are also where it is important to focus on stroke efficiency.
Leading up to race day, packing for extraordinary circumstances is a must such as bringing a spare tire and any needed water bottles and fueling. Unlike the advantages of runners being able to easily access aide stations, wheelchair racers tend to carry their nutrition and hydration.
On race day, give yourself plenty of time in the morning to get yourself situated. Check your gloves, application of bib number, and wheelchair mechanical aspects like brakes and tires. Eat breakfast with foods you are used to eating. Put your best wheel forward and enjoy the race.