26.2 Miles. 42.195 kilometres. 138435 feet. 1,660,032 inches
However you look at it, a marathon is a long bloody way! And what was once seen as the pinnacle of running, that only the best of the best would take on, is now being completed by hundreds of thousands of ‘normal people’ on a regular basis, people exactly like you and I!
But the big question is… How do you get your body ready to tackle those miles? Here are some of my top tips for getting you marathon ready!
1. It’s all about the long game…
99% of us couldn’t just wake up one day & decide we are going to run a marathon (I say 99% as there are always the exceptions!) or at least not without injuring ourselves or putting us off running for life! So to put it simply, practice makes perfect!
There is a reason that most marathon plans out there are between 12-18 weeks long, its because our bodies need time to adapt to the mileage & the training, and not over loading too much too soon! During this years training cycle, for the first couple of weeks I didn’t hit over 10 miles during any of my runs, but rather than freaking out about having to run another 16.2 at some point I knew that I was just preparing my body for what was to come.
So my first piece of advice is, DO NOT RUSH or try to cram in high mileage quickly. Have patience & build up gradually.
2. Practice Makes Perfect.
Not every training run is going to go perfectly, at one point or another something will go wrong, but it’s about accepting this & being able to move on which will make you a stronger runner in the long term.
Here are some things that have gone wrong for me during training runs in the past;
- Getting horrendously lost
- Not taking any water/fuel with me
In fact, lets throw it back to 2016. My first 20 mile training run. And it quite possibly could not have gone any worse! I had recently moved to a new area and I knew some shorter routes but had never ventured out that far on my own before. Did I check out a route before hand or have any sort of plan? Nope! That was my first mistake. Did I take my hydration pack or any gels with me? Of course I didn’t! That was my second and possibly biggest mistake. And did it happen to fall on a very wet & windy Sunday afternoon? Of course! (obviously this was out of my control, but it all adds up!) So off I went and started chipping away at the miles, the first half of the run went well but then slowly but surely it all started to fall apart. I got majorly lost, and ended up running through endless farmers fields which were wet, muddy & extremely windy. NOT FUN! This completely zapped any energy that I had left but without any water/gels/food there wasn’t much I could do about it. I was starting to get seriously fed up, and my love of running was disappearing by the second. Anyway… I finally made it back to the village I was living in, and still had 3 miles left to do. Did I do it? Nope, I basically crawled to my front door and collapsed on the stairs, feeling very deflated & disappointed!
I was determined to get my 20 mile run in though, I felt like I needed to hit that milestone as a confidence boost for the marathon. So what did I do? I got over my bad run, and planned it for the following weekend. I headed back to an area that I knew like the back of my hand, I took my hydration pack & gels with me and had a brilliant run!
So, do not worry if you have a bad run. It doesn’t mean you have failed, dust yourself off, give yourself a couple of days break and then get back out there!
3. Adding Fuel to the Fire
As I mentioned briefly in the last point, fuelling & hydration can be the difference between a successful & unsuccessful run. Sometimes I get this absolutely spot on, other times… not so much!
Everybody knows that running (and exercise in general) burns calories. But what about when you are running further? What happens to your body then? Don’t worry, I am not going to go into full on science mode but to put it simply, during prolonged exercise, your body will burn calories (what you have put into your body) but then it will start tapping into your glycogen stores, and before it gets to this point its important to put some calories back into your body, as depleting muscle glycogen stores can have a seriously negative effect on performance!
The easiest way to put calories back into your body during a run is using energy gels, as they can be stored easily (I keep mine in my Spibelt) and can be taken easily on the move – don’t panic if they don’t work for you, there are other alternatives out there.
Everybody will work slightly different, but as a general rule, you should be looking to start replacing calories lost after around 60 minutes of steady, continuous exercise, and then continue to do so every 45-60 minutes. Again, this can be different for everyone, which is why point number 2 on this list is so important – practice practice practice!
As well as fuelling during a long run, refuelling after is just as important, and you should start the process as quickly as possible (ideally 30-60 minutes after exercise) So, remember that glycogen store I mentioned? That is what is going to be screaming out for some attention, and the quickest way to give it what it wants… CARBS! Good old starchy carbohydrates that are packed full of glucose & sucrose (sugar!) as this will also aid muscle recovery too, which is very important after you have just ran 20 miles! The general rule of thumb is that your body will need 0.5g of carbohydrate per lb of body weight. And also, don’t forget about protein! You have probably heard that protein aids muscle recovery so this should also play a part in your post run snack/meal too. But to be honest, if you have ever run long distances, you will know that RUNGER is real, so if you want to smash a large Dominos pizza to reward yourself – GO FOR IT!
Recently I have started using SiS REGO Rapid Recovery for a quick fix after a long run, which contains the perfect blend of carbohydrates & protein that your body needs to start the recovery process. It works well for me as after a long run I can sometimes struggle to eat proper food, so this allows me to give my body what it needs without making myself feel sick in the process!
5. Mixing it Up
I love running & I love long distance running, but even I will admit that sometimes the thought of going out for ANOTHER 2 1/2 hour run can seem a little monotonous, but, I know I need to do them so the best thing to do if you are stuck in a bit of a rut is mixing it up!
Over the course of this training block my long runs have really varied, which I think has really helped! These have included races, running with friends, or simply a new running playlist – sometimes a few new good songs can be all you need to give you that extra splurge of motivation!
I also vary the paces of my runs, so sometimes it can include a few Marathon pace (the pace you are aiming for on race day) miles, which gives you something to aim for and focus on, rather than just pounding the pavements for miles & miles!
If you do really struggle to motivate yourself to get out of the front door, I would highly recommend trying to find a running buddy – I have a couple of friends that I know I can call on if I need someone to run with, and vica versa!
6. Tricks of the Trade
As well as being a demanding physical challenge, running a marathon is almost as much (if not sometimes more) of a mental battle too. When your legs are hurting & your lungs are burning, sometimes you just need to dig deep, have a word with yourself and get on with it (tough love there – sorry!)
Similar to point Number 2, not every run is going to go well. And there will be days when sometimes your brain just says ‘Nope’ and thats fine, but its how you get around that, and how to make sure it doesn’t happen on race day.
It is completely normal to feel overwhelmed when you first look at your training plan and see that you have to run 20 miles. That’s a bloody long way, and normally a distance people would only tackle in a car. So what can you do? Break it down! Don’t think of it as a 20 mile run. It’s simply a 5 mile run, thats repeated 4 times! If you read my post ‘10 Reasons Why You Should Run A Marathon then you will know that I like to think myself of some sort of mathematical genius on my long runs, and this is definitely one way I combat getting over the mental battle of running a really long way. It may seem silly, but if you haven’t tried it before, give it a go on your next run, and I promise you it will make the distance seem less daunting!
7. Dress for the Occasion
Like I have mentioned many times in this post already, practice makes perfect! Marathon training should be seen as one big experiment – and your kit & trainers are an important part of that!
Similar to nutrition & fuelling, there isn’t a ‘one rule fits all’ so even if your friend SWEARS by their new trainers, they might not be the ones for you. But I get it, it can be easy to get sucked in, and social media plays a massive part in this now too. If you are on Instagram then your news feed will probably be full of fellow runners posting about how great their new kit/trainers/sports bra is, and whilst it is useful for recommendations, make sure you get what is right for you.
For example, last year for a very short period of time I switched trainer brands (basically I was being tight and they were on sale) They were a very popular running shoe from a very popular sports brand so I thought they would be absolutely fine! Now I know I can never say for definite, but shortly after switching I developed a very painful calf issue which put a halt to my running & training for a good few weeks. I tried everything to try and resolve it, but it only appeared to get better once I switched back to my usual shoe. Lesson learnt there!
It doesn’t just stop at trainers though. Most of us at one point or another will have experienced chafing, and if you havent, just imagine the inside of your legs being set on fire & you will sort of understand how it feels! Again, people react differently to different materials, different short lengths/cuts etc so it is important to find out what suits you. Whenever I get new kit, I always test it out either at the gym or on a shorter run to see how it feels before attempting to run lots and lots of miles, as the last thing you need when you are 10 miles into a long run is to discover that your shorts ride up & theres a small chance you might set fire to the local park if you carry on!
I was lucky enough recently to be contacted by Ronhill UK who very kindly sent me some of their kit for me to test out during my marathon training. If you follow me on Instagram, you will know that I am honest, and I would not endorse a product I didn’t either use or believe in it, but I have to say I was really impressed, especially with the shorts!
As per my own advice, I first tested them out on a shorter run as I wanted to make sure #chafegate wasn’t going to be an issue, and luckily it wasn’t! The base layer shorts fitted perfectly and barely even budged during my run, and there is also a seriously impressive pocket in the back of the shorts, which would be perfect for you phone, keys & a gel! Also, you can’t beat a colour coordinated running outfit, so that gave them a few extra bonus points too!
My final point is quite simple… RELAX! If you have an upcoming marathon (or any race!) it can seem very overwhelming when you start to think about the training – whether it’s because you are running further than before, faster than before, or maybe just starting running all together! But at the end of the day, the majority of us run because we love it, we don’t get paid for it, we aren’t going to be breaking any world records or winning gold medals, so just try to enjoy the journey that it takes you on, and I promise you, it will be worth it when you finally cross that finish line!
I hope you have found some of these tips & tricks useful! Let me know what you think in the comments below.