Tips for Preparing to Run a Marathon
We’ve all thought about it in our lifetimes. Hearing about a charity run for a cause you deeply care about is one such trigger. Browsing through the upcoming town events and seeing a marathon listing is another. Or your work is encouraging volunteers for the office outing or a collective corporate charity run.
Whatever the reason, the idea enters your head and you start to wonder…should I do it? And more importantly, can I do it?
In my case, it was a good friend who triggered this idea in the first place. We were doing our usual morning run when she shared she’d just signed up to run a half marathon. That caught me off guard for two reasons.
Firstly, I had no idea marathons had divisions. What the heck is a half marathon? When she clarified it meant a rough distance of about 20km or 13 miles, I was confused. That seemed like way too much of a distance to be run by a regular human sapiens, you know, like my friend. Sure, there were the Olympic runners and some other folks who just enjoy running long distances. But was this us, regular folks?
Cue my second reason for confusion…why? Why would my friend, who I considered sane and logical most of the time, choose to not slightly increase her running routine distance but increase it by tenfold?
She said she would love to do it because it was a run to gather research funds for breast cancer and for the personal reasons of challenging herself as a runner. And then she turned around and with an innocent smile on her face asked, ‘Hey, why don’t you do it with me?’.
This innocent question asked with an innocent smile made me stop dead in my tracks (no pun intended). I pondered on how to answer without hurting her feelings. Running half a marathon seemed like mission impossible to me. As I was getting ready to give her my usual excuse, I heard myself utter the words: ‘I’ll think about it’.
And I thought about it alright. In fact, this thought couldn’t leave my head that whole day and for some days after.
Until I decided to challenge myself too. I’ve been running for some time now, why not just sign up for a marathon and test my limits?
And like the proper copycat, I did just that. I succumbed to peer pressure and signed up for my first marathon. Not the half marathon she was doing. One I found myself with an appropriate distance of 5k. Don’t laugh now. Completing 5k without any break at the time seemed like climbing Mt. Everest.
I made a lot of mistakes while preparing for that very first marathon. Many could have been avoided had I asked more experienced pals for advice on how to do this the right way. Running any marathon is not as simple as it seems.
Not wanting to see anyone else suffer, I’ve compiled some general advice hoping to help you have a more pleasant first-time marathon experience. A general how-to tips and tricks to better prepare for your first time so you’d want to sign up again and again.
Run to your doctor first.
Before taking on any workout that’s more intense than your usual one, consult with your doctor first. Or a GP as they’re known around here. Although it’s sheer surprise to me as to why my GP still agrees to see me (I consult with her on every small ache or a variation in my workout), we do share a common belief that running a marathon is a big deal to your system. So definitely don’t skip a check-up and a consultation.
It’s all in the mind
Once your doctor has given you the all-clear and proclaimed you sane despite them hearing your marathon intentions, turn your attention to your inner state. As with anything else in life, you need to convince yourself first that you can do this. Your mind is where all your future great achievements are, and running is no different. Put little reassuring quotes everywhere around your household that you can indeed run whatever marathon distance you’ve signed up for. Get your favourite inspirational tunes on. Get the mind blocks off and stop sabotaging your intentions. For me a bit of all worked best.
Pick your distance wisely
Research confirms I was wise to know my own limits and sign up for the 5k initially and not jump the gun and go for the half marathon. You need to be physically and mentally prepared to run longer-than-usual distances. In my case, my friend suggested that specific marathon which was coming up in less than two months. Considering I could only muster about 2-3km on any given day, the time was not enough time for me to feel ready to go for a much longer distance. So don’t be a hero and pick your distance wisely. Rest assured the time will come, whether in the near or distant future, when you could sign up for any distance you like.
Choose your cause
This helped me feel motivated in different ways. I felt had I not shown up for my scheduled run, I’d have let others down apart from myself. Browse through local charitable runs and pick your cause. It really helps get you in the right state of determination.
Sign up in advance
If you have the option to sign up for a marathon way in advance, just do it. Where I live, marathons don’t cost much to register. Signing up in advance marks the event in your calendar (and mind) and makes you look forward to the event. It’s a bit like RSVP-ing for a wedding that’s happening in a few months. You believe you can make it and put your best effort to show up on the day. It’s mostly due to you knowing you’ll have a great time but also out of duty of not letting your family/friends down. Of course, much like a planned wedding, life does get in the way sometimes and you cannot attend. But the likelihood of it happening is you’d make a better effort to show up and be present.
Check the running path
This is of utter importance. Is the run going to happen a straight paved road or a stony road? Are there obstacles on the way such as going uphill? If you’re a first time marathoner, it’s best to stick with a regular run or a stadium. And it would prevent any future injuries.
Check the weather in advance
If possible, check what the weather forecast would be like on that day. If you’ve had sunny days in a row and then marathon day comes with a thunder, it could catch you unprepared mentally and cause you to lose your spirit a bit.
Increase your distance gradually
If you’ve been running 2k daily, don’t immediately jump to 5k practically overnight. Give your body time to adjust to new lengths. When deciding to run longer distances, listen to your body and stop and walk when you need to. You can also do that during a marathon if you ever feel exhausted. Stick to the popular increase in mileage of up to 10% per week.
Try new terrains
Don’t just stick to the same old neighbourhood path. Explore nearby hills, park alleys, beaches or off roads to get used to running on new paths. Every marathon is not the same: some also include running uphill so you need to be as prepared as possible.
Work your upper body
To build endurance during a long run, you need to work your upper body. That piece of valuable information came from a friend in the military. Lifting weights helps bring balance to your body and especially so for a runner. Now I would never run with weights in both hands but try to do some yoga on the days when you’re not running or lift weights when possible.
Go for a long run once a week
Once you’ve reached a level of comfort with increasing your mileage, push yourself and go for a long-distance run. I was doing double the distance as the marathon I was training for in the month before the actual event. That made me feel very confident when the day approached.
Vary your pace
It’s recommended you always run at a pace where you can hold a conversation but variety is the spice of life, right? Aim to do faster runs and slower runs. It builds your endurance even more and what a great effect on your metabolism if you can manage to vary your speed.
Plan for rest days
Your body also needs to rest. Give yourself a day or two per week when you don’t run or do other heavy workouts. You can stretch or do some restorative yoga If that’s your thing.
Don’t train on a treadmill
Treadmills are not useful when training for a marathon. Period. They actually alter your outdoors running style. If you plan to train for a marathon, get outside.
What to Eat When Training for a Marathon
Carbs is your new best friend
Now you were probably thinking it’s logical to want to focus on the protein when training. While that’s also correct, it’s the carbohydrates providing fuel for your long run or any type of endurance exercise. And before you reach for that piece of cake, I’m referring to complex carbs like oats and wholegrain bread, pasta and rice. These help you replenish and maintain your glycogen stores. Carbs are always best when they’re unprocessed. As a general recommendation, you need 7-10grams or carbohydrates per kilogram when training for a marathon.
You need a balanced diet when training for a marathon. This is not the time to try any diet but rather to focus on healthy and balanced meal plans.
Proteins and fats
Protein is well-known for muscle growth and repair. A person who is training for a marathon would need an average of 1.2. grams of protein per kilogram. Fat is of importance as well. Consuming good fats would make your body burn the fat first during a run and then the carbohydrate fuel. If you’re a meat-eater, including lean meat, chicken and fish in your diet is a no-brainer. For vegetarians and vegans, it’s all about the legumes, nuts and seeds mostly. Combine protein and carbs to make that perfect protein, like wholegrain toast with peanut butter. We’ve all heard how eating peanuts the week before a race makes us faster? While I’m not sure if it’s scientifically proven, it could be true because peanuts are high in protein and fats together.
What to Wear When Running a Marathon
Train in your marathon attire
Begin your training in the attire you plan to run your marathon. Don’t save that new outfit you bought for the day. And the same for your shoes. Start using it for your everyday runs so it really grows on you. If you feel anything is uncomfortable, experiment and buy new joggers or new shoes you can continue training in before the big day. It’s of utter importance you feel at your best and one way to make sure of that is to have your tried and tested running attire. As a rule of thumb: your outfit should fit your body perfectly. Not too tight and not too loose.
Hydration packs and belts
While most marathons have hydration stations, you can also carry your own supply of water. That’s probably easier to practice running with rather than gulping a large water cup while running from any of those station services on the day. You need to begin using it when training to decide if you want to use it on the big day or if you’re better without it.
Your ultimate goal when training is to feel as prepared as you can. The more you prepare for the marathon day the more confident you’d feel. The one thing you should always remember is that you can do it.
You can indeed run a marathon and feel great while doing it and afterwards too! Wishing you the best of luck.
P.S. I welcome your tips of what helped you when training for a marathon.