Marathons are a truly impressive feat of human endurance. Whether you’re in the back of the pack dressed as a banana or tearing through that ribbon in record time, the level of stamina and fitness required for a full marathon is truly impressive.
September and October are the main months for these major events with nearly 50 marathon-type events happening across the UK, including some of the most iconic. This includes the Great North Run, the Yorkshire Marathon and the all-important London Marathon! The London Marathon attracts over 50,000 runners each year with many trying their hand at long distance running for the very first time.
With that being said, we wanted to offer some advice on how to best prepare and manage yourself over those 26.2 miles. You’ve done the hard work on the 5Ks and you’ve bought all the colourful gear you can muster. Now it’s time to buckle down on the intricacies of a long distance attempt that will help power you through that dreaded ‘wall’ and prepare you for a successful race. This guide isn’t going to get you beating Mo Farah but it should help you achieve your very best and avoid you dropping into some, ultimately painful, bad habits.
- Get those big goals out of your head
With everything, practice makes perfect and as harsh as this may be, you aren’t going to be anywhere near perfect your first time out. For a first timer, the biggest obstacle you may have to overcome is your own expectations, that belief that you can and should achieve a certain time. This is a particularly easy trap to fall into with marathons as it takes so much preparation, so much hard work and for many, it’ll either be a one and done or the only event they tackle that year. There’s little opportunity to ‘win by attrition’ when the enemy is the one grinding you down!
With your first marathon, you need to be realistic about your performance and you need to drop that time from your head. You’ll obviously want to do well and you’ll have a time in your head but don’t let that affect you and try your best to ignore it. Your first goal should be to finish, not to smash a PB you haven’t even set yet.
- Prepare mentally, not just physically
As mentioned, a marathon is a big deal and is often the culmination of a lot of long hours of preparation and practice. When setting out for the first time, those all too familiar mental demons will no doubt be playing on your mind. “What if I let people down?” “What if all this preparation was for nothing?” “What if I make a fool of myself?” “I haven’t prepared as much as that person” Remember to believe in yourself and remember that you CAN do this. You CAN achieve this and you will finish. Focus on yourself and your own success, run your race and focus on the joy of finishing the race and achieving something massive.
- Maintain Good Form While Running
Keeping good form while running is key to avoid injuries and ensuring that fatigue and discomfort is kept to a minimum while in the race. As a beginner, you will likely experience more discomfort than typical during your first run so ensuring you keep the right form will allow you to perform to the best of your ability and improve your chances of success. Practising your form should be a key part of your training but if you need some pointers :
- While jogging, maintain good posture, engage your core, and gaze forward.
- Avoid tilting your head down and slumping your shoulders.
- Broaden your chest, and keep it lifted as you draw your shoulders down and back.
- Keep your hands loose, and use a relaxed arm swing. Avoid crossing your arms in front of your body.
- Use a midfoot strike, and avoid hitting the ground with your heel. This allows your foot to land directly under your hip as you drive your body forward.
- Learn the value of tapering
One thing that often confuses and catches out most beginners is the art of tapering, reducing training in advance of the marathon (usually 3 weeks in advance). This is often highly recommended and included in most training plans but for a newcomer, it can seem counterintuitive and many worry about the loss of fitness and general preparation. However, the opposite is true. Think of it like cramming for an exam. In theory, this should help you learn more as you are consuming more knowledge but actually you aren’t making any connection with the knowledge so you’ll just forget it and tire yourself out in the process.
Similar thought process here. Tapering is essential to your performance and general fitness as it allows you to prepare properly for the endurance test. Your muscles are going to be rested and important vitamins and hormones will be replenished. All cramming in runs will do is tire you out and get you more stressed about the upcoming test. Focus on relaxing and move towards a more protein rich diet (perfect for restoring muscle). This doesn’t mean completely stop training but by the final week, you shouldn’t be running much more than 4 miles a day, preferably 2 miles. This lets your body relax but ensures you don’t feel too sluggish or your muscles don’t get ‘cold’ as it were.
- Stick To Your Marathon Plan – Don’t Chase
The biggest change from your marathon prep to the actual race is that now you are running alongside others with a crowd in attendance. That adrenaline and excitement is going to be a big factor as well as seeing other people running. The desire to chase and keep up with other runners is huge and something that separates beginners from experienced runners. Experience teaches you to ignore your surroundings and just run your race at your pace.
This has to be your aim as well. It’s far easier said than done but stick to the game plan and block out the noise as best you can. If anything, try and go a little under your plan for the first mile or so just to let you settle and properly relax. This can be difficult though as it means you’ll want to make up that time later so if you can, just run your race at the pace you set for yourself. Even if you finish last, it’s better than not finishing at all.
- Picking The Right Running Shoes
Picking the right gear is essential to providing comfort during a run and ensuring that you don’t hurt or injure yourself. You’ll learn more about your gear and whether it is right for you during training but here are some key things to consider before picking out your running shoes :
- Consider where you’re planning to run. For most marathons, you’ll be running on paved roads so you’ll need road running shoes.
- Decide if you want more or less cushioning underfoot. It’s often recommended for beginners to run with less cushioning so you can get a general feel for the level of comfort you need.
- Get your gait properly analysed and understand whether you need a specific type of support. Most runners will be able to choose a neutral shoe, but if your foot tends to roll to the far outside or inside, there are shoes that can help you. This is why getting your gait analysed by professionals is incredibly beneficial to your performance. Running shoe stores as well as local hobbyists may also be able to help you understand your running better.
- Make sure the shoe fits. Your shoe should fit well from the start with no breaking-in period.
- Fuel and hydrate your body correctly
An obvious key to long distance running is to keep your body fuelled and hydrated correctly and that means before, during and after the marathon. Nutrition is essential to make sure you have the right amount of energy and nutrients available to allow you to complete the run and burst through the ‘wall’ of fatigue. This is why we champion our Luchos as they are easy to digest and fast acting, allowing you to replenish your energy and get vital nutrients into your body quickly.
We have discussed how to fuel your body for long runs before and we highly recommend you check that article out as well but for a short breakdown of our recommendations for fuelling yourself for a marathon, check below :
Prior to event:
- Consume 1 gram of carbohydrate per kilogram body weight 2 hours prior
- Consume 20 ounces of water 2 hours prior to the start of endurance training
- Carbohydrate loading should only occur leading up to an endurance event
- Consume 10 ounces of fluid that has electrolytes and a 5% concentration of carbohydrate every 20 minutes
- Consume 1.5 grams of carbohydrate per kg body weight within the first 30 minutes post- exercise
- Consume 15 to 25 grams of protein within the first 30 minutes post-exercise
- Consume 24 ounces of water for every pound of body weight lost
Marathons are a huge undertaking but when you cross that finish line, the effort will be more than worth it. Bear in mind our tips here and remember to enjoy yourself and take part in the atmosphere and comradery that marathons provide. You are not alone and no matter the event, there are sure to be beginners there as well. Also, take a chance to lean on the wisdom of the veterans. The running community can be incredibly welcoming and you are sure to get a lot of useful tips and guidance.