Top Ten Tips To Running A Marathon
Here is my top ten tips to help you run your first marathon, please leave any other pointers you feel could have made the list in the comments section below.
- TRAINING (PT 1) – Gently does it
The crucial thing about a marathon (unlike, say, a 5k or 10k or even Half-marathon) is that you can’t do it on a whim or without preparation. The 26.2 miles simply doesn’t allow that: you need to build your endurance for The Big Day, and train your body to avoid ‘Hitting the Wall’ (when you run out of fuel mid-run).
Base your training around the weekly Long Slow Run, or LSR (probably Saturday or Sunday morning to allow recovery time): the goal here is to build endurance not speed, and the S is as important as the L. You will probably want to run 18, 20 and 22 miles before The Big Day: so you need to count the weekends back and make sure you build your LSR to achieve that step-by-step over preceding weekends.
In between your LSRs, you will also run during the week and over time gradually increase the number of times you run each week, the overall duration of the runs, the total weekly mileage and the length of your LSR.
Golden Rule: keep it gentle or you WILL get injured. Don’t increase any element (frequency, duration, distance) by more than 10% in a week.
- TRAINING (PT 2) – Mix it up
If your goal is just to get round, these techniques will still help build your endurance as well as maybe improving your pace. And there are psychological benefits as well – it can help you keep engaged and avoid your training becoming a drudge.
- FOOD & DRINK
A sensible mixed balanced diet is critical: you may enjoy losing some weight and becoming leaner but it is vital that you fuel your body for the demands you are placing on it. Carbohydrates (pasta, rice, potatoes, bread) are your fundamental fuel but make sure you get enough protein to build and repair those muscles, vitamins and minerals to keep all your body’s processes in balance, and protect yourself from infections.
Good hydration is also vital and you will need to drink before and after your runs, and carry a bottle or squeeze-pack on your longer training runs and learn to drink-as-you-go. If you get dehydrated it doesn’t matter how much stamina you have built up, you won’t be able to continue. Check your pee: if it is darker than pale-straw colour, you need to drink more.
You can get special electrolyte drinks and energy gels and they can work; but you need to practice and get your body used to them. They can also be expensive so rely more on a good old-fashioned balanced diet with enough calories to fuel you.
You will need good-quality trainers, and more than one pair because otherwise you will wear them out and you will lose any protection/support they gave: if they are too worn they may also affect your stride and cause an injury. Good-quality doesn’t mean they have to be the most elaborate or expensive; look for bargain shops and websites. Tempting though it may be, don’t save a lovely new pair for The Big Day – make sure you have used them for a few long runs so they don’t rub!
Likewise, vest, shorts, socks, underwear: experiment and find what you are most comfortable in (and allow for different weather)… but don’t do anything different or new on the day.
- PRACTICE EVENTS
Run some events before your marathon – 10k or 10-mile or half-marathon to suit your training. Pinning a race-number on your vest makes it a completely different experience than just going for your long run. And you will learn how best to manage travel, changing kit, eating/drinking (and especially peeing!) before the start, and all of that in reverse as you recover. These are all things which can play on your mind on The Big Day, so take away the worry by trying it beforehand. They also give you a taste of the special-occasion and help you visualise the day itself.
Some people find it difficult to keep going, especially if your event is in spring and your training has to be in the cold dark wet lonely winter evenings. Music can help, so consider a small MP3 player or similar with your favourite music (or download radio or even spoken-books to pass the time); so can keeping a diary or a blog. If you find it difficult, enquire about local clubs where the structure of club-sessions and other people’s advice can keep you going. Some people like to run alone so they can pick a run and pace to suit themselves; for others a running-buddy helps them keep going.
Running for a charity can be a great motivation, but there is a practical point too: they often have places for big events even if you have missed the entry ballot or deadline! And once you go public you have to go through with it…
- TAPER TORTURE
This is the end of your training and it means doing much less in the last two weeks: it feels terrible and you will panic that you are losing all your fitness – but be strong, it is critical that you allow yourself some rest and arrive at the start-line fresh. Keep telling yourself: in these last two weeks it is too late to do any more good, but you sure can do a lot of harm!
- THE BIG DAY (and afterwards)
Plan your journey. Have your kit packed and ready and allow for changing weather. Plan to eat and drink as you normally would and don’t do anything different today however tempting those treats and samples seem! Work out how your family and friends are going to see you and have a clear plan for meeting up at the end. And amidst it all, try to take it all in and enjoy your big day.
Oh, and don’t be surprised if you feel ‘down’ just as you celebrate your medal: you have lived with this goal for months maybe years, and now it’s gone!
- BE REALISTIC, STAY FLEXIBLE
You are unique, and human, and subject to all sorts of pressures; everyday life (including family and friends) won’t always fit well with your training and race ideals. Your training plan is a guide not concrete – listen to your body and be prepared to ease off when it tells you to do so, as well as being able to do a little more if you feel you can. And if things don’t go perfectly on The Big Day…. well, there’s always next time…