The loneliness of the long-distance runner no longer holds true. There’s strength in numbers, especially when training for a marathon. Aside from pushing you to run farther and faster than you would have if you were training alone, a running buddy can keep you motivated and accountable. Plus, if you’re running the same race, having your training partner next to you at the starting line can help you remain calm and confident amid all that nervous energy.
Establish a regular schedule that you follow as consistently as possible. Plan for workouts, strength-training sessions, meals and even sleep as you would a meeting and do your best not to break those appointments. It will be a lot easier to stick to the training—and get the most out of it—if you know exactly what you’re doing and when you’re doing it. Your body will fall into a natural rhythm.
A regular strength-training routine will help you become a more well-rounded, injury-resistant athlete who is better equipped to handle the demands of increased mileage. Hit the weights twice a week or—no need to get fancy—a simple 20-minute, total-body program three times a week can consist of pushups, planks, hamstring curls, burpees, single-leg deadlifts, box jumps and squats.
It’s important to incorporate some faster running into your training schedule, even if you’re a beginner. One to two faster workouts a week—such as a tempo run or a fartlek workout—will not only break up the monotony of logging long, slow miles, it will help you become more efficient at your goal race pace.
The final few miles of a marathon are essentially an exercise in maintaining your goal pace on tired legs. Fortunately, this is something you can prepare for in training. Aim to finish the last couple of miles of three weekly runs at this speed. Gradually extend the distance at goal race pace on tired legs in your workouts. Though running at your goal marathon pace all the time isn’t advisable.
Just as important as training is how well you’re recovering from the physical and mental demands. When you’re at rest, your body repairs itself from all the stresses, allowing you to come back stronger and make fitness gains. The same thing goes for your mind. When you’re not training, shut your brain off from overanalyzing every minute detail so that you’re excited to tackle the next long run or tough workout instead of dreading it!
Would you embark on a long trip with an empty tank of gas? Of course not! When you’re training consistently, it’s important that you’re also eating consistently to sustain energy levels. Eat and drink at regular intervals during your long runs, as well as the race itself, and be sure to start the process of refueling within 30 to 60 minutes of completing a challenging workout. A 3 to 1 blend of carbohydrates to replenish glycogen stores and protein to begin repairing damaged muscle tissue will do the trick.
Feel the energy. Early in your training program, you might feel sore and fatigued. But a few weeks later, you’ll feel your mind, body and spirit begin to transform and give you an almost-magical spring in your step. Embrace that buzz and use it as motivation for your immediate goal race and beyond.
When you’re in training, staying hydrated is super important, but you also need to keep your sodium levels in check. In her book, “Sports Nutrition for Endurance Athletes,” nutritionist Monique Ryan recommends increasing salt intake in the days before a race to ensure that blood sodium levels are at the high end of normal at race time. During the race, drink small amounts of fluid regularly and aim to ingest 100 milligrams of sodium or more per hour by taking salt tablets or drinking sports drinks.
Have dress rehearsals. Approach your long runs the same way you plan to prepare for the race: Wake up close to the same time. Eat the same breakfast. Run at the same hour the race will start. Test out your race-day shoes and apparel to make sure they feel comfortable and aren’t chafing your skin. Eat and drink at the intervals you plan to during the race. Make mistakes in training, and nothing will catch you by surprise on race day.
While it’s important to be physically fit at the starting line, you want to be sure that you’re mentally ready. The marathon, and the training that precedes it, will play a mind game with you. Practice visualization exercises when you’re training: See yourself executing your race strategy and don’t lose focus when fatigue inevitably sets in. Employ positive self-talk if you begin to doubt yourself. By training your mind to work through rough patches in training, you’ll automatically do the same on race day.
A training partner spoke these words at the end of a particularly tough long run before my first marathon and they’ve stuck with me. The reality of the marathon is you’re going to have as many lows as you do highs, both in the race itself and during training. Some days you’ll feel as if you can run forever; on others you’ll want to stop immediately. The suck is a temporary state of being. When the suck settles in, embrace it. Don’t avoid it. You’ll learn and improve—and appreciate those days when everything goes according to plan.
Don’t let your first marathon double as your first race. For newer runners, race day can be an overwhelming experience as the start line is often a chaotic scene and nerves are at an all-time high. Running a tune-up 10K or half-marathon helps you dial in your race-day routine as well as acclimate to running with hundreds of others.
One of the biggest mistakes both new and experienced runners make is dialing back training too much in the 3 to 4 weeks prior to the race and taking extra days off to “rest.” Often this leaves runners feeling sluggish and out of sorts. Begin your taper 2 weeks out with your last long run. Reduce your overall training volume by 20 percent two weeks before your race and by another 10 percent during race week. If you ordinarily take days off from running, that’s fine, but taking additional days isn’t necessary. When tapering, maintain the rhythm and intensity of your key workouts while scaling back the volume and you’ll feel sharp and ready to go.
Make a list. Check it twice. Keep race-day essentials (shoes, shorts, singlet, bra, socks, hydration belt, gels) close to you, especially when traveling to the race. Plan for weather if necessary. If you are traveling from out of town, pack the important stuff in your carry-on in case your checked bag gets lost. You’ll be OK if you lose your favorite slippers or misplace your shaving kit, but you’re not going to get very far without your kicks.
Spending too much time on your feet the day before a marathon isn’t the most sound strategy for race-day success. Go two days before if possible, or simply grab your race packet, scope out the expo for a short time, and then get off your feet and relax for the rest of the day.
A light 20- to 30-minute jog the day before your race won’t hurt you. If you’re going to take a day off from running, rest two days before the race, which for out-of-towners is usually a travel day. A short, easy run on race day eve will help get your legs moving, release bottled-up energy, and calm your last-minute nerves.
The thought of running a step further than the 26.2 miles you’ve set out to tackle may not appeal to you, but a few minutes of easy jogging before the race will make sure you’re ready to go when you step on the starting line. Remember that less is more before the race but a brief 10-minute warm-up can go a long way in prepping your legs and mind to go the distance.
I don’t need to tell you that 26.2 miles is a long way, but I will tell you it will seem a lot longer if you go out way faster than your planned pace. Starting too fast in the opening few miles will cause you to quickly burn through precious glycogen stores and leave you depleted for a late-race push. Go out no faster than the pace you hope to maintain from beginning to end, or even 10 to 15 seconds per mile slower than goal pace as your legs warm up.
The best advice I ever received in regard to racing the marathon was to divide the race into uneven halves: the first 20 miles and the last 6.2. Run the first half with your head and the second half with your heart. The “race” really starts with 10K to go, when doubt starts to creep in and your legs often feel like lead. Now is the time to refocus and find that one final gear!
Numerous studies have shown that smiling can help put you in a better mood. It might also help you work through a rough patch during the marathon. Relax your face and crack a smile to start the process of getting yourself back on a good track. And, of course, smiling also makes for better race photos!
Putting on a marathon, regardless of its size, wouldn’t be possible without the dozens, or in some cases hundreds or thousands, of volunteers who help distribute race bibs and T-shirts at the expo, hand out water along the course or drape a medal around your neck in the secure zone after you cross the finish line. They help make your marathon experience a memorable one.
Running the race is a culmination of months of hard work, dedication and sacrifice. Reward yourself afterward with a good meal and a night out with your family and friends who supported you. For many, running the race is a solo pursuit, but getting to the finish line is a team effort!