Taking on a marathon is an awesome challenge. Daunting, hard work… worth it at the finish.
It is a big jump up from the next shortest standard distance running race (half marathon) the half being a big giveaway that a marathon is double. Double the distance, at least double the time and well over double the effort.
You can train for a 5 km, 10 km or even a half marathon race without committing too much of your weekly time to running. However, a marathon does take a fair bit more commitment to get to the finish line. You need to understand this when you decide to take on the challenge. At first your runs are shorter and this is quite manageable, but as you get closer to race day you will find you are out for long 30-35 km runs. You will need to plan when you are going to fit your long runs, short runs, have time for stretching and some strength work too. This is all manageable if you plan ahead and stay focused on your goal.
Following a progressive plan can help you get to your race day more prepared and ultimately enjoy the day more. Turn up unprepared and you may be in for more of a struggle. Below are a few tips to enjoying your race.
Get your training done!
You need to be running at least 50-65 km per week for at least 4-6 weeks in order to be marathon ready, building your mileage up steadily will help prevent injury and slowly prepare your body for endurance training. Making the transition to endurance training (generally anything over 90 minutes is considered as endurance) is difficult. The first few weeks your body won’t like it and you will start to feel fatigued. You will adjust to this and the body starts will undergo changes to make this easier; increases in mitochondria will allow more oxygen to be utilised, you will develop more Type 1 muscle fibres, enabling you to maintain a slower pace for a longer period of time and your heart and lungs will become more conditioned.
Anyone that is a veteran endurance runner will tell you they have messed their nutrition up at some point during long training runs or on race day. The problem with nutrition is it is very personal. What works for one person may not work for another. Personally I hate gels, if you get dehydrated they can tend to give you stomach cramps which aren’t fun. After a while the taste is quite sickly and i really don’t like the thought of having to suck another one down every 20 minutes after 3 hours running. I also find my stomach craves some actual food and gels just don’t take away my hunger needs. I like actual food to eat, flapjacks are my go to food, but I have also like to eat jam or chocolate spread sandwiches, bananas and salty crisps.
Pros: Easy to digest, very quick energy, easy to carry.
Cons: Can cause stomach issues later on (especially if dehydrated), can be expensive, sugar spike after ingestion and a crash about 20minutes later.
Pros: Wide variety of things to eat, fulfills satiety needs, longer sustained energy levels.
Cons: Larger to carry (probably need running vest or bag), can be harder to digest dependant on type and quantity of food.
Sweets can be a good alternative to gels, jelly beans are easy to digest and provide quick energy. These are things you will need to try for yourself and see what works for your body. Don’t take on enough energy and you will find your pace slowing and fatigue setting in. Take on too much and you could end up feeling sick and uncomfortable.
More people have died from overhydration during marathons that dehydration. Flooding the system causes the concentration of sodium to drop to abnormal levels, the cells absorb the excess water and can cause swelling to vital organs. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t drink anything! Just don’t guzzle down water the whole way round. Sipping liquids as you go round is the best way, regularly take on small amounts of liquids to keep your hydration levels balanced. Including salts into your liquids can balance your sodium concentration and improve performance. I tend to use High5 Zero tablets. Drop one in a bottle, let it dissolve and you are away.
Quality time on the feet
Without a doubt, you need to spend lots of time on the feet running to get ready for a marathon. However, pounding the streets aimlessly for miles and miles can be a good way to overtrain and get bored. Mixing your runs up with distance and intensity will make you stronger, faster, reduce the risk of injury and make it more exciting! During interval and hill training you will be working above your anaerobic threshold, this is where you will start to get that burning sensation in your legs. You can run below this threshold (the aerobic zone) for long periods of time once you have built your base fitness up and will be where you will run your marathon. Training above this threshold will start to move the threshold higher therefore making the speed of your aerobic zone faster and improving your marathon time!
Some runs also need to be at an easy pace, this will give you time on the feet but as you aren’t pushing yourself it you will reduce the risk of injury. These are more enjoyable runs as you don’t need to focus on pace, your legs aren’t burning and the lungs won’t be gasping. Just cruise along and enjoy your running!
Look after your feet
I can’t stress this enough. You can deal with your legs being tired during a marathon, you can deal with being hungry, you can deal with the mental battle… but if you start getting blisters and your toetails start coming off, that will hurt more than anything. Pounding the rest of your run on wrecked feet is not fun. Get a good fitting pair of shoes, tie them snug but not tight, find socks that don’t slip too much. Soak your feet after long runs, they will thank you for it. If you do suffer from blisters, cover them before you go out with blister plasters, take some spares with you, if anything starts to rub, stop and sort it out.
This also applies for any other delicate areas you may get rubbing. Get some vaseline or chaff stick and rub that stuff all over your nipples, arm pits, privates and anywhere else you may be prone to some unpleasant rubbing.