Have you ever considered running a marathon? Have you already endured your way through one 26.2 mile trek and now you want to improve your time? Running a marathon is one of the hardest physical activities a person can do. Every year we marvel at the determination it takes others to finish the Boston Marathon or the London Marathon. Making the choice to step into the fold and pin a number to your shirt, however, is another adventure altogether. Here are some tips and tricks to get into the best shape of your life and run the best marathon you can!
Take Care Of Your Feet
One of, if not the most, important aspect of running a marathon is selecting the right footwear. Lightweight socks and shoes are considered the best, although you want to give whatever you're going to wear a test run first to be sure it's right for you.
Once you've picked out your shoes and socks, run on them for a few miles -- at least ten, if you can. At that point you should know how they fit your feet and whether they'll give you blisters or not halfway through the race. If the shoes don't feel right, get another pair.
Test Your Endurance With A Half Marathon First
Bill Rodgers has won the Boston and New York Marathons four times. When he's getting ready, he always runs a half marathon one month before the big race. He says it gives him the best idea of where his body is physically.
Rodgers also suggests running at a faster pace than you plan to at the marathon. "A good race can provide a powerful mental lift, and it will give you a little rest period in the few days before and after as you taper and recover from it," he advises.
Save Your Energy For Later In The Race
A marathon is long, and if you exert too much energy early, there is no chance you'll be able to finish. That's why Keith Dowling advises on quickening your pace slowly with eight miles to go. The best way to do this is during training.
When you hit the 18-mile mark, increase your pace. Continue this every two miles, until your running faster than the pace you plan to run the marathon. If you can successfully do this, then you'll be training your body how to increase effort while it's exhausted.
Stay Hydrated Throughout
One of the biggest marathon mistakes you can make is to not drink while running. A marathon will last more than four hours, and dehydration can set in long before that. Luckily, each race has multiple hydration stations set up so you don't forget.
If you can, you should also drink sports drinks instead of water. While water will keep you afloat, drinks like Gatorade or Powerade will replenish your body with the carbohydrates and electrolytes it desperately needs.
Stick To Your Training Regimen
While it should be obvious that you don't want to do less training than planned, it is also important not to overexert yourself. Your body gets used to the level of training you're putting it through, and doing more could be dangerous.
Believe it or not, running more miles than planned the closer you get to race day will do more harm than good. "This is the time when many runners have been at it for two months or more and are becoming used to a certain level of training... Have confidence in what you've been doing. From here on out, you’re just maintaining your fitness," says pro marathoner Bill Rodgers.
A Dress Rehearsal Is Highly Recommended
The final preparation for your marathon should be a dress rehearsal. About five days before the race, put on your shorts, shirt, and shoes, and run three miles at your marathon pace. It helps to envision yourself running the event at the same speed.
Stay relaxed. Doing this should help raise your confidence on the final stretch of your training. If will also give your body the last boost it needs to be fully ready for the 26.2 miles ahead.
Sync Up Your Body's Needs To Your Running Needs
If you know what time your marathon starts, then that's when you should start your training runs every day. You would be surprised how important it is to get your daily routine in sync with your bodily routine. Especially your bathroom routine!
The more days you take to sync your routines the better, although most experts say to start three days before your marathon, minimum. After all, why take that chance that six miles into your race?
Plan For The Elements
Just because a meteorologist says it's going to be sunny and 70 degrees on race day doesn't mean it actually will be. You need to plan for the elements just in case. What happens if it's windier or hotter than you expected?
Bill Rodgers recommends having two goals for yourself during the race. One for if everything goes according to plan, and another just in case the elements get in the way, "So many things can go wrong in a marathon that you need that secondary goal to stay motivated if things aren't perfect, which they seldom are."
Don't Stress Before The Big Day
With your marathon about a week away, it becomes time to tune out the rest of the world. Adding stress to your daily routine is the last thing you need. Try and make sure any work projects are already taken care of and avoid late nights out with friends.
Most importantly, stay off your feet. Aside from your dress rehearsal, avoid putting pressure on your pads as much as possible. If there's a museum tour you've been dying to check out, hold off. It will still be there waiting after you're done.
Say Yes To Carbs
While you're on your coach vegging out and mentally preparing yourself for your marathon, feel free to load up on carbs. Dietitian Suzanne Eberle says focus on eating "pasta, potatoes, bread, fruit and fruit juice, and sports drinks."
Make sure you're avoiding fatty foods, as well. Make smart alternative choices, and remember to watch your calorie intake. "Make sure your food choices are carbohydrate-rich—for example, spaghetti with red sauce, instead of Alfredo sauce, or a bagel versus a croissant," says Eberle.
Trust Your Instincts
The week before your marathon, your gut might be telling you something different than your instincts. This is one time you don't want to trust your gut. If it's begging you to go on a last-minute run, follow your instincts and say no.
Any extra workout and last minute "diet hacks" could be detrimental in your ability to compete on race day. Instead, remind yourself that it's more important to conserve energy at this point in your training. Your body will thank you when it really matters.
Breakfast Is Truly The Most Important Meal Of The Day
Eat breakfast before your marathon. If you can think of any reason not to eat the most important meal of the day, then you might want to reconsider running. Enjoy a carb-rich feast a few hours before the race.
Eating before running will help restore the carbohydrates that you lose during sleep. This means that during the marathon, your chances of failing increase if you refuse breakfast. You'll be running on too large a carbohydrate deficit to compete.
Warm Up, Get Your Muscles Loose
Once you've eaten breakfast and you're feeling good about yourself, go on a short jog. Do this just before the marathon and keep it no longer than 15 minutes. You're not trying to get in a quick workout, you're just trying to loosen your muscles.
Once the jog is finished, make sure you stretch. If you stop moving, your muscles will cool down and tighten back up. If you don't want to jog before the race, then get to the starting point early and walk around for 30 minutes instead.
Focus Your Stretching To Certain Muscles
You're lined up now and ready to start, but there are still fifteen minutes before the race begins. Take this time to stretch, focusing on very specific muscle groups: your hamstrings, lower back, glutes, and calves.
When you get moved to the starting area, don't stop stretching. Jog in place if that's all you have room for. If you want to stay as loose as possible, then you need to keep your heart rate slightly elevated.
Slow And Steady Wins The Race
Start slow. Remember, you'll never finish the marathon if you use all your stored carbs early. For the first few miles, run at a slower pace you intend to keep as many carbs stored as possible.
Being slow will help you win the race in the end, if that's your goal. When Catherine Ndereba won the 2001 Chicago Marathon, she ran the first three miles 20 seconds slower than the rest of the race. She ended up setting the world record for time when she crossed the finish line.
Think In Laps
If you start your marathon and begin counting down the miles, it could start to feel like a chore. Twenty-six miles isn't easy, and it will only feel longer if you're watching your odometer like a boiling pot of water.
Instead, break down the race into lap-like segments. More experienced runners say they count every three miles as a lap, making the whole experience more manageable. You can, of course, choose however many miles as you want to count as a lap.
Have A Karaoke Party In Your Head
A marathon will take several hours to finish and can seem repetitive. If you get lost in the pace of the race, it might seem even longer. Runner Jean Arthur says she sings to help pass the time.
More specifically, "I pick a song and try to sing it from start to finish," she says. "Usually I don't know all the words, so I sing it and I try to figure out what the artist is saying." Keeping your mind occupied on anything other than the race could help speed things up for you.
Drink At Every Hydration Station
Even if you don't think you're thirsty, we recommend taking a drink at every hydration station, especially the early ones. The more fluid and carbohydrates you can take in early, the less chances you have of getting tight muscles or serious dehydration later.
As our friend Suzanne Eberle points out, "During prolonged exercise, our thirst mechanism doesn't keep up with our actual needs. Then, as you become dehydrated, less oxygen and fuel is delivered to working muscles, and you run slower."
Unleash The Beast Late
Everything has gone to plan so far. You're more than halfway through the race and you've kept the exact pace you planned. At the 18 mile mark, if you're feeling good, you can start picking up the pace
Start focusing on runners to pass instead of mile markers. Turning the end of the race into a competition can help you fight some of your physical exhaustion. As one former runner says, "It's an incredible boost to pass people in the last six miles. Sure, you’re hurting, but think how bad they feel!"
Pain Is Temporary But Pride Is Forever
Now you're at 23 miles with three left to go. You're body is ready to quit on you, and your mind isn't far behind. What do you to motivate yourself to keep going? If you're Jean Arthur, you talk to yourself.
When Arthur sees there are only a few miles left, the talk begins. "My head grasps the fact that I am actually going to finish. Yes, I'm really tired, but I tell myself, ’I will finish somehow, some way.’ I say this to myself over and over and it helps me recognize that the pain is just temporary."