When making the decision to take on a marathon, people do so understanding the effort that’ll be needed to get in shape for the big day. Sadly, for a good number of these brave souls, the ‘peak condition’ they achieve will be undermined by a failure to do the right things when the race itself is upon them.
Months of training. Flawless discipline. Endless sacrifice. And it can all go belly up because your new trainers decide they’re at war with your little toes. There’s a lot more to the marathon than just running; some of its finer points tend to get overlooked – and in this most testing of challenges, it’s the small things that can make a big difference.
Luckily, Virgin Active’s got some last-minute tips that should help keep the road ahead a smooth one (and by smooth, we mean less soul-destroying).
A marathon is as much about your mental focus as your physical endurance.
Go for a drive
Before you run the course, it’s always a good idea to make yourself familiar with it. If it’s possible, have a drive around the route, so you know exactly where the hills and flats are. If you’ve spent the last two miles tearing around like Paula Radcliffe, the last thing you need is to turn a corner and be confronted with Kilimanjaro.
The night before
Eat a bowl of pasta the night before – it’s full of carbohydrate that the body will turn into energy. Complex carbs like wholemeal pasta and potatoes are particularly good, as they release it slowly.
An obvious one, but one worth mentioning anyway, is the ‘no boozing’ rule. Chances are you wouldn’t even think about a pre-run pint, but if you do, don’t - it’ll come back to haunt you in the morning. In fact, while we’re on the topic of behaving, it’s shrewd to just grab an early night. Your body will thank you for the rest – and if you’re asleep, you won’t be doing anything bad.
The morning after the night before
A good brekkie is vital on marathon morn. Keep it simple though – toast or cereal a couple of hours before starting is a wise option. Eat any closer to kick-off than this and you won’t have finished digesting it. A fry-up may tick the taste boxes, but filling yourself up with stodge is never a great plan. Forget the tea or coffee as well – they’re definitely not helpful. Go for good-old-fashioned water.
Water, water everywhere
The wet stuff is absolutely key - both before and during the day of your run. Remember, thirst is the enemy. Drink plenty of water in the couple of days leading up to the race. (The body takes this long to fully stock its H2O stores.) Get some down you before you start on the day, too.
Before the race begins, make sure you’ve had a wee. Have as many as you can, in fact; you don’t want more fluid than you need swishing about in you. As your marathon progresses, only stop for a jimmy riddle when you really need to.
Take on fluid at every available opportunity. Don’t think that because you’re not feeling parched your body doesn’t need a drink. Thirst is a sign of dehydration, meaning that damage has already been done. Once you become thirsty, it’s almost impossible to recover from. So drink whenever you can, even if it’s only a mouthful at a time.
We’ve all had it drummed into us how effective these can be at rehydrating us – isotonics, electrolytes and the like. What the ads don’t tell us is that if you have too much, you can get stomach cramps. These drinks are scientifically proven to work; just err on the side of caution.
Say no to drugs
Don’t take Aspirin or Ibuprofen on the day of the race. Surprisingly, one of the main injuries and ailments sustained during a marathon is kidney failure. These seemingly harmless little pills, when combined with a prolonged and strenuous effort, can make you more susceptible.
At the start
Get to the starting line in good time, so you’re not fretting about missing the race. You can also have a good think about the task at hand if you’re not rushing. By getting your head into gear, your body’ll be more likely to follow suit.
When the gun sounds, don’t fly out of the traps. Plenty of people around you will do just this - let’s see how spritely they are after 10k. A good tip is to treat the first few miles as a warm up; you’ve got plenty of them left to show the world how amazing you are.
Get your timings right
Figure out what your minute-mile time should roughly be and try to base your race around these breakdowns. Wearing a watch will make this a lot easier.
As well as helping you achieve your goal time, focusing on the individual miles of your run will help stop you from feeling overawed. The ‘tackle, complete’ routine you adopt will mean your race becomes punctuated with a series of mini-highs.
Aim for a negative split, where you run the second half faster than the first. This will help prevent you burning yourself out early on in the marathon, and help motivate you throughout the second.
If you do find yourself struggling with timings, try to latch on to a person or group running at the pace you’re looking for – they’ll help to drag your weary limbs along.
If you’ve bought lovely new kit for the big day, make sure you’ve worn it in beforehand. That way, you’ll start your race knowing it won’t rub your nipples to within an inch of their lives, and you’re sure it won’t whittle your thighs down to the bone. The last thing you need is 26 miles of agony. As a general rule, a marathon is not the place to wear anything or try anything new.
Another handy little titbit is sock-related. If you turn these inside out, the seams won’t rub on your feet. Sounds silly. Isn’t. Your feet are the ones at the coal seam, so look after them!
On the morning of the race, have a look at the weather and adjust your goals accordingly. If it’s baking hot, for example, accept that your time’s going to be slower. High or low temperatures, wind or humidity will all take their toll over the duration of a 26-mile run. If you try to mess with Mother Nature, she’ll have you.
A marathon is as much about your mental focus as your physical endurance. Running is more than just putting one leg in front the other. Stay aware of your circumstances and surroundings. Are you too close to other runners? Are you in the right position to grab a drink? Are you running at a pace you won’t be able to sustain? Are your shoelaces still fastened? Are you breathing properly? Keep your focus. It’s your best defence against the onslaught of a marathon.
26.2 miles is a long way. Accept that at some stage, you’re going to hit the wall. Get yourself in a frame of mind that’ll help you deal with this. Bad patches don’t last. Stay positive and sit it out; you’ll soon be over the worst of it.
Keep focused on finishing the race no matter what. Even in the bad times, remind yourself that you CAN do it – and you will. You’ve plenty of time to be tired afterwards; you’ve trained and trained for this. Don’t let yourself be beaten.
So that’s about it. By taking the pearls of wisdom you’ve just read onboard, you’ll give yourself the best chance of achieving your goal (unless you’ve not bothered training, of course). Don’t let months of hard graft go down the pan; you’ve been through the pain – it’s time for a bit of pleasure. Happy running!