It seems like everyone is running marathons these days. That’s not true of course as only about 1% of the population ever runs a marathon but when you’re surrounded by runners in real life and in the online world, it seems like everyone is doing it.
A marathon is a great achievement, no matter what time you finish it in. However, I see too much of this lately: people who seem to run a marathon just to say they’ve run it – they don’t train properly for it and they hate the whole experience. They walk/limp/hobble/cry and are completely broken when they finally cross the finish line. They can’t walk for weeks afterwards and don’t run for a long time, if ever again, once the marathon is over.
It’s totally not my business how other people run marathons but I feel really bad for the marathon.
Marathon needs to be respected. Seriously, it’s a LONG way to run, but it IS possible to run/walk the whole distance (note: there’s nothing wrong with alternating running with walking) without injuring your body and hating the whole experience. There is no joy or pride in finishing a marathon if all you’ve done is make yourself hate running.
But how exactly does one respect the marathon?
Don’t wing a marathon
Overconfident CrossFitters are most likely to do that – run a marathon without any long distance training. That is crazy. Yes, you will finish it, but no, you will not enjoy it and you will not like running afterwards. You NEED to run some decent miles before a marathon so that not only your body will not be in shock, but also that your mind will not be in shock. Marathon distance is mental as much as it’s physical. And the only way to prepare your mind for it, is to run some long miles beforehand.
Don’t run the WHOLE marathon distance in training
I don’t know why anyone would want to run a whole marathon while training for a marathon but people do that. The reason seems to be fear. They want to run the distance so they know that they can run it come race day. The thing is that you really don’t have to and you risk overtraining your body.
You WILL finish a marathon if your longest training run is 33 or 36 km. You will! If your weekly mileage is at least 50km for 3-4 months (and you’ve worked up to that weekly mileage SLOWLY prior to that), you will be fine!
Tapering means gradually cutting back your running distance AND intensity for about 2 weeks before the marathon. For example, for my last marathon I tapered like this: having run 48-58km a week for 16 weeks, 2 weeks before the marathon I ran 42km, 1 week before I ran 35km and the week of the marathon I ran 18km.
Tapering scares people though. Especially people who are preparing for their first long race. They are afraid that cutting back their running will make them lose fitness.
That is not true. Tapering does not make you lose fitness, tapering means you’ll be ready for the race.
I have actually argued about this with someone. They didn’t believe me, they didn’t taper, they finished the marathon injured.
By the time you get to the taper, you have trained enough! Your fitness is not going to go anywhere if you run a bit less for 2 weeks. Trust your body, ignore the maranoia and let your legs recover before marathon day.
Test your nutrition and hydration
By the time you cross the start line, you need to know how much and how often you need to drink. You also need to know how much and when you need to take energy gels/goo/paste/blobs. These things can all be figured out during your long training runs so do it. Don’t wing it on race day.
I always carry my own water in a Camelbak because I prefer to sip my water slowly instead of gulping it down at drink stations. Not many runners run with their own water though and are ok with the water provided. Like I said – work out what works for you. You can test it during training runs or during half marathons.
I don’t use electrolyte/energy gels for other distances, but for marathons, and sometimes half marathons, they are a must. You will sweat a lot, you will burn through a lot of energy – work out what product works for you and how much you need to take. I go through 4 Torq gels during a marathon. You could have more but my digestion is sensitive and these things can make me into the running fairy I mention in the title.
Whatever you do, do not grab a bottle of Lycozade from the first drink station if you haven’t trained with drinking Lycozade (there’s a good chance you’ll be an unfortunate running fairy too).
Foam roll all.the.time and/or get regular sports massages
Even if you have gradually worked up to your marathon training mileage, you will still probably be running more than you normally do during the rest of the year. Your body will therefore get tight and will need to be loosened up on a regular basis to avoid injury.
If sports massages are not within your budget, get a foam roller and roll your quads, calves, ITBs (some say rolling ITBs doesn’t make sense as it’s not a muscle but I like the feeling, painful as it is, so I do it). For glutes you can use a tennis or cricket ball. Find the painful spots and just lean into them, breathe through the pain and let the ball do its magic.
Start slower than you want to
Once race day arrives and you’re finally on your way, not matter how great you feel, start slow! If you have a target time in mind then you probably know what your starting pace should be. If you are running your first one, resist the urge to charge off with the crowd and run at a VERY comfortable pace. Even if you feel GREAT at 21km, if you started too fast, you will suffer. A marathon truly starts after 30km.
And that’s my list. Give the marathon the respect it deserves and you will be rewarded – you’ll have a great race experience (as painful as running a marathon at times is), you will still like running afterwards and you will feel PROUD and strong and happy, no matter your time.