For many runners, completing a marathon is a natural progression from having run shorter races. Often, upon completion of a half marathon, a runner may set his or her sights on the Holy Grail of running, the 26.2-mile marathon distance.
But getting ready for your first marathon isn’t just a case of doubling what you did for the half! A marathon is unlike any other foot race. It is two races. A runner who has completed training for a half marathon generally has put in the work to complete the first race, which is the initial 20 miles of the marathon. However, the second race, the final 6.2-miles (10K), is quite another animal, and requires a level of training and dedication needs to be completed if one intends to avoid the dreaded marathon “Wall.”
Around the 20-mile mark of the marathon, the body’s glycogen stores begin to deplete Glycogen is the sugar stored in your liver and muscles. If it runs out, your body begins to burn muscle. You fatigue more easily, running hurts a lot more, making the last 6.2-miles of the marathon painful at best, or impossible to complete.
Whats Involved in Getting Ready for your First Marathon.
- Proper training
are all the tools you need to prevent you hitting the wall and completing the marathon with a minimal amount of suffering.
Let us say you have run a half marathon and you feel you are ready to take on the marathon distance. First, select your marathon carefully. You may pick a large, big-city marathon with thousands of runners, or a small marathon with hundreds of participants. Some runners enjoy the company of many other competitors, while others enjoy the solitude of a rural race with smaller crowds. Another consideration for selecting your marathon is the assessment of the weather conditions. Heat is the mortal enemy of a marathon runner, so try to select a race that generally favors cooler temperatures. Also, if you decide to select a marathon close to a beach, keep in mind that windy conditions may prevail.
Upon completion of your half marathon, or any race distance prior to your upcoming marathon, give yourself a minimum of 12 weeks in order to put in the miles necessary to complete the marathon. Plan on running a minimum of four days a week. You may even increase to five days a week. Set aside a day for stretching or light upper body weightlifting. You may even cross train with some cycling, and always take one day off each week in order to rest tired muscles. If you are over 40 years of age plan to have at least 2 x rest days per week and it is really important to have at least 1 dedicated stretching and weights session per week.
Cornerstone of Marathon Training
The cornerstone of any marathon training plan is the weekly long run. I suggest a quality long run to be completed six out of the twelve weeks of training. A quality long run means that you try to run the training run at 30 seconds to one minute slower than your projected marathon goal pace. By doing so, you are simulating race conditions, becoming stronger, both physically and mentally. Try to complete at least three of these training runs in the 18 to 20-mile range. Never go above 22 miles in a training session.
Stretching is an important component of your training regimen. Stretch for at least 15-minutes before your training run, and always stretch after the completion of your run. Stretch the important muscles you will use during your workout: lower back, hips, quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves. For those of you who practice yoga, yoga stretches are excellent for runners. If you are concerned about stretching, follow this rule. You can never stretch too often (if you feel pain though, ease back). Stretch until your muscles feel loose and supple.
Nutrition & Hydration
Marathon training can be intense, and a marathon runner burns an enormous number of calories. Therefore, it is necessary to “Fuel the fire.” Try to eat a balanced diet. Moderation is the key. A steak occasionally is fine. A steak 5 times a week is not. If it is colorful, it is good. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Marathon training produces a great deal of body heat, so one loses a lot of water through sweat. Drink plenty of fluids, throughout the day before you run, and after your training session. Being a bit graphic here, always keep an eye on your urine. The clearer the better. If your urine is dark, you are not drinking enough. Water is still the best hydration fluid. Electrolyte drinks are excellent, especially after long runs. Soda is poison, so avoid it. Caffeine in coffee is good, and a beer can also settle an unsettled stomach. Keep in mind, however, that both caffeine and alcohol will dehydrate the body.
Remember that glycogen burn? Storing carbohydrates can prevent the loss of glycogen. Beginning a couple of nights before your long runs or the marathon itself, load up on pasta and other foods rich in carbs.
Use your long runs to simulate your race conditions. All marathons have water stations, so plot out your hydration plan before your race. Place a bottle of water at strategic spots during your long runs. Experiment with the amount and the frequency of your water intake. Try an electrolyte drink on your long run, ensuring that it does not bother your stomach. There are several bite-sized energy supplements on the market. Never take these on race day unless you have tried them in practice. A general rule of thumb is to sip water consistently, rather than gulping down a cup at every third water station. If you get to a point where you are consciously thirst, you are already in a hydration deficit.
As we have said in other articles, sleep and rest are possibly two of the most under appreciated elements of training. On your official ‘rest days’, going for a walk is fine, but don’t push your body. Also aim to get 7 – 8 hours sleep and getting to bed earlier is better than sleeping in late!
A week before your marathon, begin the ‘Tapering’ process. Reduce your miles, stay loose, increase your stretching routine, and try to get plenty of rest. Two days before the race, try to sleep well, as anxiety may prevent you from sleeping well the night before the race.
On race day, eat something about two hours before the start. A bagel, banana, and coffee can be a good breakfast. Avoid milk, and drink enough, but not too much water. A bathroom stop during the race will slow you down dramatically. Practise your race morning breakfast routine on the days of your long training runs so that you know what works.
Do not overdress. You should be cool on the starting line. You will warm up shortly after you start the race.
If you have trained properly, you will feel fresh and strong as the race begins. However, do not, “Let the genie out of the bottle.” If you start the race too fast, you will pay dearly in the later miles of the race. Start the race a few seconds slower than your projected mile pace. You will then feel stronger as the race progresses.
During the race, attempt to relax. Take in the scenery, enjoy the crowds. Be sure to hydrate. Sip water at each water station. Pour some over your head to cool off. Use some water to wipe sweat from your face. Find a partner who is running your pace. Chat with the partner. Look at the runners ahead of you. Visualize that you will eventually pass the runner in the green shirt. Physical preparation prior to the marathon is important. Mental distractions during the marathon are often essential.
There is a unique sense of accomplishment that comes with completing a marathon. Crossing that finish line admits you to an exclusive club of runners in an event that few humans can conquer.
Prepare well, race smart, and you will earn the title of Marathon Finisher.