Preparing for running a marathon race is not a simple case of putting on your running shoes, pinning a number to your shirt and then turning up at the start. Unlike the shorter distances of 5K, 10K and even half marathon, there are more things to consider and more time for things to go wrong, if you are unprepared.
Before running a marathon race
The first challenge is to ensure that you are adequately prepared. You will have heard the mad claims of the marathon first-timer that s/he has never run further than a half marathon before but that is a dangerous route to follow. You need to have covered at least 18-20 miles a few times, both to ensure you are ready for the event and also to give you important psychological belief in your ability to finish. Arriving at the start line without having run close to the full distance will fill you with trepidation.
In the days prior to running a marathon race stay off spicy food or food that you are not used to. Eating fresh fruit and vegetables, plus a steady consumption of carbohydrates in the week leading up to your event will make sure your body does not play tricks with you on the day. However, don’t eat carb-heavy food to an extreme during the days before the race: you do not want to start the event feeling bloated.
Keep moving in the week prior to running a marathon race. While you will have tapered your running distances, there is no point in stopping activity altogether. Your body is used to running long distances so a sudden cessation of activity will only serve to make you feel stiff and lethargic. Gentle runs, stretching, walking or other gentle aerobic activity will keep everything ticking over.
In the weeks leading up to the race, experiment with eating and drinking on the move. Trial energy bars, gels and cereal bars to see what you can digest and what you can carry on your person easily. This is also the time to practice eating a breakfast before running so you know when and what to eat so that you do not need a toilet break during the event.
Drinking on the move is a whole separate issue. You will want to consume a combination of water and sports drinks so practice and see what suits you. Some people can run for a number of miles without taking a drink but you will need to drink at some point, so practicing before the event will help you understand your needs.
Planning for running a marathon race
Here are some top tips to consider when planning your marathon race:
- Get your running gear ready the night before – you do not want the stress of finding your favourite running socks on the morning of the race.
- Write your name on your vest in big, bright letters – hearing the crowds calling your name out is a priceless piece of motivation.
- Take a toilet roll in your kit bag – most people suffer pre-race nerves, which can put a strain on the provision of toilet rolls!
- Put lubricant on anything you think might rub – armpits, thighs, nipples are prime spots for some painful chafing.
- Pack some blister plasters, and carry them on you as you run.
- On a sunny or windy day put plenty of sun screen on, particularly on lips and nose.
- Keep sipping a drink before the race – you want to start the race well-hydrated.
- Wear a long-sleeved t-shirt that you don’t mind losing. This is for the period of time between lining up for the race and the actual start, which can sometimes be quite a few minutes. The t-shirt will act as a protection against rain, cold or sun.
During the race
When running a marathon race the most common mistake is to set off too fast. The crowds and the excitement can pull runners along at a pace they are not comfortable with. This will only mean a lot of pain later on in the race. Start at a pace that you are comfortable with.
Have strategy to deal with the difficult times. You will find some parts of the race harder than others: at this point employ a strategy to help you through this. Examples of real-life coping strategies include: running alongside someone who is moving at your pace; forcing yourself to remember things such as key dates or counting in French; setting your sights on a landmark and focusing on that, then refocusing on another landmark once you have reached the first one; or counting your steps – anything that makes the distance flow past that little smoother.
After the race
Arrange to meet a friend/family at the end of the race: you want to share that special moment with someone. It also helps to have someone there to carry your running gear, bring you dry clothes and accompany you home.
Do a really slow but very thorough cool down and stretch. Do this again a few hours later after you have showered/bathed.
And finally, wear that medal with pride: at home; at work; and when you go for your celebratory meal afterwards.