Preparation is key for any marathon runner. Whether it’s the nervous novice lacing up for their very first or the seasoned pro trying to shave some time off their PB, preparation is everything. With good preparation, runners can be sure they’ve done everything within their power to make a gruelling, life-changing run much more possible to complete.
Rather than recounting practical preparation methods that have been discussed at length before, here are some real world tips for preparing for a marathon that will hopefully prove useful.
Prepare your mind
Marathon preparation isn’t just about making sure your legs can carry you around the 26.2 mile course, it’s also a test of willpower and strength of conviction. Few runners will make the finish line if they write off training runs because it’s cold or wet. Much of the hard work involved in running a marathon is done during the build-up that begins long before the big day.
For this reason, mental resilience is as important as leg strength. Try to enjoy the training runs; pushing harder when needed but also rewarding solid performances. Set aside a lot of time for training, as sessions will soon start running into multiple hours. For some, keeping a diary can steel their emotions, showing not only how hard it can be but also how the distances which had previously brought about exhaustion are now little more than warm ups.
It’s important to feel that you’re as well prepared as you can be as the day of your marathon draws closer. One way to reassure yourself here is to choose the gear that you’re planning to wear on the day as early as possible in the training camp. That way, you’ll know if it’s suitable long before the marathon and will have time to change accordingly if need be and still have time to get used to your new gear.
Prepare the night before
A popular option for marathon runners is to spend the evening before a race carb-loading, in order to give them energy reserves that can be called upon mid-race when sitting down for another meal isn’t really an option. So-called ‘pasta parties’ allow runners to pack in as many carbohydrates as possible to keep energy levels up throughout the following day.
Then, on the morning of a race, it’s wise to eat a little more, even if nerves (and all of last night’s pasta) are quelling any feelings of hunger. Small but sugary and carb-loaded foodstuffs – such as flapjacks or energy bars – should help provide the sustenance needed without also causing you to feel bloated or sluggish.
Prepare for ‘The Wall’
For many, a marathon will get exponentially difficult as the miles wear on. As such, the last three or four miles alone often feel harder than the 22 or so which preceded them. Many will also be unfortunate enough to encounter the much-vaunted ‘wall’, which hits runners like the ton of bricks from which it got its name.
It occurs because the body has depleted glycogen reserves in the liver and muscles, which results in quick-onset exhaustion. One way around this is to eat food with a high glycemic index during the race. These foods then allow the body to break down carbohydrates into blood glucose very quickly. Another is the carb-loading as mentioned earlier, which delays the onset of ‘the wall’ and can – for some – put it off for the entire 26.2 miles.
As an aside, if you get to 25 miles and feel like you cannot go a step further, then it’s Queen Alexandra who should be expecting the brunt of your ire. After all, it was she who extended the original marathon from 25 miles to its now standard 26.2, in a bid to get the London route of 1908 to pass by Buckingham Palace’s East Lawn, so that her children could watch the race from their nursery.
All of the above should give some indication as to the level of preparation needed to run a marathon. Not only that, it should also go some way to illustrate that simply racking up the miles isn’t enough to head into a race fully prepared. In fact, it’s a much more intensive process that shows running a marathon amounts to so much more than the four or so hours spent on the circuit.