Your first marathon is much more than a fun challenge to tick off your bucket list. It requires incredible levels of physical and mental endurance, an exceptional amount of training and dedication and will take over your life for at least four months. That’s why it’s important to get everything in place for an enjoyable, injury-free and rewarding first marathon experience, so that all of the hard work you’ve put in is worth it come race day. Here’s our top ten tips for ensuring your first marathon is everything it cracks up to be!
First time marathon runners have a tendency to do too much training in the last three weeks before race day. In the last three weeks leading up to your marathon, ensure you taper your runs, doing 75% of your normal mileage, then 50% and then 25% in the last week, so that your body is fully recovered and ready to go.
Come marathon day, it’s easy to panic, go crazy, lose your head and start doing a load of things you wouldn’t normally do. So many first timers make the mistake of eating a huge breakfast they wouldn’t normally eat before going for a run on the morning of their marathon. If you always eat toast and peanut butter before your long runs – eat toast and peanut butter on race day! As long as it’s a breakfast high in carbs and something you’re used to, there’s no need to change it. Likewise, if you don’t usually eat bread or pasta, don’t go filling yourself up on the stuff the night before the race. Stick to what you know – your stomach will thank you for it.
The day before your marathon, don’t go wearing yourself out! If you really must buy yourself a new piece of kit, go and buy it the weekend before; a day on your feet trudging around a shopping centre is not what your body (or your feet) need pre-26.2 miles! Neither is a day at a marathon expo. If you can get your race number two days ahead of the race – do it! If you’re running London, instead of wading your way through endless stalls of freebies, surrounded by overly anxious runners at the expo the day before the race, do it the day before. Spend the day at home. Go out for a light 20-minute jog, put your feet up and enjoy a nice meal.
Ensuring you stay injury-free is key to an enjoyable and pain-free marathon experience. Make sure you stretch after every training run, integrate regular core stability, strengthening and conditioning work into your weekly schedule and pay your physio regular visits to work on any areas causing you pain.
If you have a bad run, don’t beat yourself up about it! It’s common to have a ‘bad’ run a month or two before your marathon. We’ve all had that confidence shattering run, where we’ve struggled so much we’re left contemplating whether the race we’re training for is even in our reach. Struggling is natural. If your body is telling you that 12 miles is too much on that day, listen to it – there is always tomorrow.
In our marathon hysteria (discussed at point 2), whereby us crazy first timers start eating things like bread the day before race day, despite our gluten intolerance, it’s also common to do irrational things like wear a new pair of trainers for the first time on race day. Don’t do it. The blisters will burn. If you really must have a new pair of trainers for your marathon, buy them three weeks before, wear them in and get used to them.
The night before your marathon enjoy a meal high in carbohydrates to fuel your energy levels for the following day. During a marathon, your body will burn high amounts of glycogen. Carbohydrates are stored as glycogen in your muscles and liver as an accessible form of energy. So that you don’t ‘hit the wall’, choose a meal containing pasta, rice or bread. But don’t fill yourself up so you feel heavy come race day. Remember: quality over quantity.
Sleep is critical to your body’s recovery during your marathon training. While training hard for your marathon, your body’s immunity levels will also be lower than usual and so adequate sleep is essential to ensuring strong immunity protection. However, if you don’t get a good night’s sleep the night before your marathon, don’t panic (no one will). Studies have proven that the sleep a runner gets two nights prior to their race will have a bigger impact on performance than the sleep they’ve had the night before their race.
As much as a good breakfast is critical to fueling your energy levels before a marathon, it won’t keep you going the whole way around. Muscles use up carbohydrate, which will quickly deplete during your marathon. By consuming gels as you run, your muscles will take less fuel from your carbohydrate store to keep you going for longer. Raphael Deinhart, Technical and Marketing Coordinator of High5 Nutrition, recommends consuming 2 to 3 gels every hour to ensure a large store of carbohydrate for a strong finish.
The day before the race it’s important to get all of those little preparations sorted, which could potentially become big problems on the morning of the race. Make sure you look up (or even drive) the route needed to get to your race location so that you don’t get lost and turn up late. Have your race number pinned on your top ready to go in the morning and get your kit laid out.