With many people planning to embark upon a marathon this spring, we’ve put together a guide full of tips and tricks to help you make the most out of your big day. Whether you’re a first-time runner hoping to reach the finish line or an experienced racer looking for a personal best, there’s something for everyone to think about.
One of the first things you’ll look for after deciding on attempting a marathon is a training plan. The most important thing to remember is to select a training plan that works for you and your lifestyle, that you can fit in around work and family. Spend a decent amount of time researching different schedules, considering whether your goals are to finish within a certain time or just to finish the race.
Most training plans will include running three to four times a week including one long run, where you can increase your mileage and get closer to the end goal. This will also reassure you on a mental level, as the closer you get to 26.2 miles in training, the more likely you will believe you can do it on the day, which is part of the reason why you complete the gruelling training schedules in the first place. That being said, most good plans will not have a long run further than around 20 miles. Again, everyone has their preferences and this is by no means a be all or end all, but 20 miles is more than enough to sufficiently prepare you for the upcoming race.
Some of the terms used in training plans can be confusing or misleading, so here is a brief summary of common types of training that occur in most plans:
XT or cross-train
A low-impact exercise to perform on non-running days that will contribute to your overall fitness, help prevent injury and add more of a variety to your work out schedule. Good examples include swimming, cycling, rowing, yoga and pilates.
Ideal for building leg strength and endurance, hills are often used in the early stages of a training plan. As the name suggests, you run in a hilly area or set the treadmill to incline, repeating as necessary.
A speed workout where a set distance is ran at a fast pace, with jogging, walking and rest periods in between; this is usually used to build speed and aerobic capacity.
This refers to running a set distance at the pace you would like to complete the marathon in. For example, if your goal is to run the race in 4 hours, you might try a 6 and a half mile run in an hour.
Translating as ‘speed work’ in Swedish, in basic terms it means informal speed play, such as running as fast as you can until the telegraph pole. It can be great fun for groups who wish to vary their training.
Easy run/recovery run
An easy and steady pace for recovery, enjoyment or testing the waters with a recent injury. Intensity should allow you to comfortably hold a conversation and be no more than 60-70% of your maximum heart rate.
It is vital to listen to your body during training in order to avoid injury. No matter what your schedule says, if your body is telling you no, take that as a sign and try again tomorrow. If you are unlucky enough to develop a running related injury, check out our solutions to healing runners knee and take the necessary precautions to get you straight on the road to recovery.
Whilst training for a marathon, it is vital that you are eating sufficiently and correctly for the amount of energy you are using on exercise. You are likely to find yourself more hungry during times of training, so it is important to listen to your body and give it what it needs to maintain full health. Both protein and carbohydrates are vital groups to your nutrition plan and should be consumed before a run, which will allow you to conserve energy.
It’s a good idea to mimic marathon day routines when it comes to food and working out through a trial and error method, so you can figure out what works for you. Everyone is different, with some craving salty snacks such as peanuts, whilst others opt for sugary sweets like jelly babies. Treat your long runs like the real race and experiment with different carbs for breakfast and snacks to take round with you. You certainly shouldn’t arrive at marathon day armed with new energy foods you haven’t tried in training; everybody reacts differently and no one wants a Paula Radcliffe-esque episode to put a dampener on the big day.
Gels and energy drinks are likely to be provided by your chosen race, so be sure to research which type will be present for your course and have a few practice runs using the same. Perhaps drive your chosen training route before your run and leave energy drinks at certain miles to practice the routine of water and energy stations. Again, some people swear by gels, virtually dedicating their race to them whilst others won’t go near the stuff. It’s important to try different variations, especially if you are prone to gut problems as a result of caffeine or products that are high in energy
On the day
So you’ve done all the training (almost), you’ve arrived at your race destination and the nerves have kicked in. This is completely natural, considering you’ve worked so hard for the last couple of weeks, months or even years to reach this moment. There’s a few simple ways to simplify the process and ensure things go as smoothly as possible. By now, you should have your eating habits down to a T, but if your marathon is away from home, be sure to consider where you will get your food from and whether it will need to be brought from home. Have a ‘dress rehearsal’ of what you will wear on race day and put it straight in a bag and in the car. Forgetting your favourite running socks could have detrimental effects on your time. Think about how you will get to the start line from where you are staying. Navigating an unknown city on race day, as the time ticks ever closer to kick off, probably won’t be the most fun you’ve ever had, or the best way to start your race.
We recommend getting your name printed on your vest. Sometimes unknown strangers can be the best support and give you a boost you didn’t even know you needed. If you are lucky enough to have family and friends cheering you on, give them a balloon or a colour scheme that makes them easy to spot in a crowd. Also discuss where they’ll be standing, whether it will be always on the left or at certain landmarks, you won’t want to run past and miss them!
In terms of the actual race, after completing your training plan your main obstacle will be the mind. Talk to yourself throughout the course, remind yourself why you’re doing a marathon and how hard you’ve worked to get where you are. It’s an emotional time and you will need to break barriers you never even knew existed, but the feeling of euphoria at the end is well worth it. On completion, you’re likely to spend the next few days saying ‘never again’ and telling tales of cramps, blisters and the like, but marathons are addictive, give it a week and you’ll be scouring the internet for your next challenge!