I have seen so many posts over the years giving advice to people for running a marathon. Some of it good, some of it wouldn’t be the advice I would give.
So I’ve decided to put some of my thoughts together, in the hope that it will help someone out there when considering a marathon. What qualifies me to give advice? Absolutely nothing.
So please don’t take this as an exact science, this is just the views of someone who runs a lot of events. There are many out there more qualified than I am, but alas the web is full of advice from people who are not. The thing I don’t like about all the advice is that I’m a strong believer that there is no right way of doing it. I have made my share of mistakes, I still do, so I know what works for me. But there is no right way. So don’t let anyone tell you that you are doing it wrong.
First thing you should know when thinking about whether you can run a marathon, the answer is yes. YES, you CAN run a marathon. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, and please don’t doubt yourself. I’m not saying it will be easy, but you can do it.
Remember, whether you think you can, or think you can’t, you are probably right !
So the first thing you have to work on is that positive mental attitude, know you can and you have passed the first hurdle.
Set yourself a goal, make it realistic and don’t worry as you can change it throughout training. I hear some say they don’t have a goal. I consider this a mistake as your training should be based around your goal. Even if you just want to finish, that’s a sound goal, but what time? Even if you genuinely don’t care about time it’s good to have an idea of your capabilities, an idea of how fast you will start and finish…
proper preparation prevents piss poor performance
Keep training fun. There are many programmes out there that you can use, and these will work wonderfully for most of you. But it will become harder if you aren’t enjoying yourself, if training becomes a chore. So make sure you mix up your training, keep it fun, and don’t worry if you don’t stick rigidly to the plan.
There are many opinions out there about the long run, how hard and how fast you should run. All training is good training, and there are many ways to do it, so don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Whether it’s through long runs or events you should try and get some miles in your legs. I do far less than I should owing to experience, but if you haven’t done a marathon or aren’t doing lots of events, you should certainly be trying to get to 16-22 miles as a goal long run (opinion of how much you should do is varied). What I will say is build up the mileage gradually. If you aren’t used to the miles then a rapid increase is a good way to get injured. Build up by 10% or 2 miles a long run. You will feel like you can do more, you will want to push it, but believe me this will likely lead to injury.
Your long run should also be less intense. Early on you will also feel like you can go faster. But leave the speed work for other days. Your long run is about gradually building the miles. Some advocate running at around marathon pace. Personally I mostly run my long runs slower, I don’t tend to run at intensity, you really don’t need to. I would say pick a day to run some or all of your run at your desired marathon pace so that you get comfortable with the pace.
Vary the mid week runs. Again I don’t practice what I preach. At the moment I fit in about 3 4.5 mile runs and do it at a casual pace I could maintain for marathon. I’m doing this because I’m a little lazy and I have lots of events, I’m not going for a pb and I’m just maintaining and doing training for fun. If I was training for my first or to break a pb I would run the midweek runs at a higher intensity.
You could pick a 5k distance and run it as hard as you can; do intervals (you pick the distance) where you run at the highest intensity you can for the distance and recover. I’m not going to tell you how fast this should be, but log your runs and always look to make improvements. Hill sessions are also good, especially if you know the course will have hills.
It is great to have a plan, and many find comfort from sticking to it. You can track progress and this is a great way to reach your goal. But it’s ok if you don’t stick to it, don’t worry, it’s not the end of the world. It’s ok to have an easier session, and this may be a few miles at marathon pace. Get comfortable with this pace, get to know it, but you don t have to be training at it all the time.
Remember to enjoy your training and have fun.
Know the course, is it going to be hilly, where will the water be, will it be in cups or bottles? The better prepared you are the better it will be on race day. Take away any anxiety before the day.
Don’t worry if you miss a training session, if you miss a few, just re-evaluate your target times etc accordingly. No matter what, you can do it, so start with a premise of you can finish, then have your target time, this should be a sliding scale. Be realistic about how your training has been and what you will achieve… by doing this your are less likely to be disappointed and less likely to get injured.
Your nutrition is important not just on the day but in training as well. I’ve heard so many people talk about the right amount to take, and I’m sure there is an optimum amount, but I don’t think it matters.Do what is right for you. Please don’t try new things on the day. Trying new things on race day can have a detrimental effect.
If you practice in training you can work out what works best for you and when to take it. I find if you feel like you need a gel or something then it is probably too late. But you can work this out in training. I’m not going to go through when to take a gel or which one. Experiment yourself… but remember not on race day.
Rest is a crucial part of training. You may be tempted to run every day, and at high intensity, but your body will appreciate some rest.
Support is a key ingredient to running a marathon. You will be training for this and talking about it a lot, so it will be much better if your family and friends are part of the experience. Just remember that they may not be as in to it as you, so keep them on side.
During race day you will experience such support from the crowds. Don’t underestimate this support, it has kept me going on many occasions. I always love having my family at the race to see me finish, and it’s great to get encouragement on route. The support makes running a marathon feel so much more bearable.
Pace – getting your pace right is crucial. Start too fast and you will tire and hit that dreaded wall. Go too slow and you won’t reach full potential. It is hard running a marathon, and running an even pace throughout is the best way to finish feeling good (as far as possible). You should determine your pace based on training, but always have a target pace in mind. Back to the planning section. One of the things I enjoy most about running is being a pacer. On race day you can stick with a pace group to help you keep a consistent pace.
Practice race conditions – if you are thinking about running a marathon there is a good chance you have done other races. If you haven’t don’t worry, but I would strongly suggest entering a half. This is not only good training but gets your body used to race day. The event, atmosphere and all the details you won’t necessarily think of. You can practice your pace, nutrition, test out your kit… it’s the little things you will forget or not realise if you haven’t done it before.
The taper – prepare to be grumpy. By this time, a few weeks before race day, you will want to be reducing your miles and intensity to ensure you are fresh for race day. Now I’m not the best example of this as between races I don’t run enough to notice a taper. But if you have been training hard you will find the sudden drop in training hard. Don’t worry about it, it’s normal and part of the plan.
There are lots of things you need to know about race day, here are some of my top tips:
Expo – these are great and depending on the size you could get some great deals. Go and enjoy the experience. If there is one get there early, the closer to race day it is the busier it will get. Avoid the crowds and remember you should be resting.
Be prepared – lay out your kit the night before. Don’t leave anything to chance, make sure you have everything you need.
Get up early – eat, drink and pooo yes that’s right. If you aren’t used to events there is one thing you need to be used to, race day nerves. This effects people differently but it’s common to, well you know, need the toilet more than normal. So it’s wise to give yourself time at home before leaving to get the first one out of the way. I would also suggest practicing what you will have and timings, another reason why I suggest a practice race.
Get to the event village early –Again as above many runners will experience runners trots, the queues can get big so get it out of the way early. But also, look around. At many events I see huge queues for toilets and you turn the corner and there are empty toilets. Drop your bag and think about how you will keep warm, some take a bin bag to wrap around them or space blanket, others use old jumpers they discard. Enjoy the village and by being there early you can try to overcome any anxiety you have by being prepared. You don’t want to be rushing. Think about your kit and lubricant as you will regret it if you don’t.
Don’t set off to fast – The key to a good race is keeping a steady pace you are comfortable with. For a first marathon I would suggest being more cautious. Once you have done one the general rule for pace is asking a question: can I sustain this pace until the end, if no slow down, if yes then can you speed up, if maybe then it sounds about right. You need to be able to sustain until the end but often you are capable of than you think.
At the start of a race it is easy to get carried away, the excitement, everyone around you, before you know it you have a 5k pb with another 32k to go. This will end in disaster and a slow painful final stage. I’m talking from experience, starting too fast will result in a much harder race and one you probably won’t enjoy as much.
At the start of a marathon you will feel like you can go faster, you will feel like you are going slow, but remember this is not a sprint it’s a marathon. If you get the pace right you will find all those people running away will slow and you will overtake most of them and more in the final stages. This is why you have practiced your pace, you know what you can do.
Be prepared to adapt. How you are feeling, the weather everything about race day can affect your performance. It doesn’t matter if your training has been perfect, sometimes it will just be harder on the day.
I often have people ask how fast they should go, and they answer is always “how fast have you trained for” you must have a target time in mind. An achievable target. I get some saying they will start slower and speed up, or they will run faster and know they will slow later. If you get the pace right you should be able to sustain until the end with a possible strong finish. If you have trained for x time why start slower or faster? It just doesn’t make sense.
Is it ok to walk? Of course it is. For me now if I walk it means something has gone seriously wrong (but it still happens). If you are newer to running then it’s even more likely you will walk. For some it’s part of the strategy, walking for a minute every 5-10 mins. Whatever you do try doing what you practice in training. Walking because its strategy is good, if you are walking at end because you are tired means you will be slowing right down. That is fine, but it will be hard.
Running a marathon isn’t easy. You will feel pain, you might get cramps. Be prepared to say never again, your first is likely to hurt. But then you will recover. Rest, recovery and time make everything feel better and before long you will be looking for your next.
Running a marathon can get emotional but it’s worth it, you will have no regrets. Go do it, have fun and look forward to that wonderful medal and feeling you get as you cross the finish.
These are just a few of my thoughts, but I’m interested in hearing yours. Please add comments to let me know if you agree, or help others out by adding further tips about training for and running a marathon. UPDATE I’ve been nominated for The Running Awards for best blog, if you like my blog help me out by voting for Pick up the pace Paul here.