Friday, 23 August 2013

Tips for your first marathon!

If you've decided to take the challenge and run a marathon here are a few pointers that will help just about anybody complete the distance.

Set your goals!

I always have 3 possible goals set out at the start line of every marathon.

Goal 1; is the realistic time I hope to achieve for that race. If you are running your first marathon you should be quite conservative but very realistic when deciding what this goal time is. I should point out that this goal can vary as your training progresses. If you hit all your sessions and you have progressed well, you might realistically plan to run a little faster than first intended. 
Alternatively if you missed some session particularly the long runs then you might want to adjust your original goal time to something more realistic. The important point is that you must be realistic and the goal should be set at least 2 months in advance to race day.

Goal 2; is the optimistic goal. If everything goes to plan on race day (it often doesn't) and you feel good, stay with the realistic goal. If when you enter the last 5km of the race and you are still feeling well then you might be able to push on and run slightly faster than you had planned. 
This goal for me is usually 2-3min quicker than my realistic goal time. And I only consider it in the final 8-5km of a marathon.

Goal 3; is the back up plan for an unpredictable race day. This goal is a great idea for the first timers at the marathon distance. It's a good idea to tell people that this is your goal time. 
If all goes well on the day and you achieve your 'realistic goal' people will think you are great, if you have a bad day and struggle to go under your realistic goal time but still achieve this 'pessimistic goal' people will still think you are great for achieving your goal. It's a win win situation.

I recently managed the physical effects of distance running on a woman (age 54) running her first marathon. Although she had a personal trainer who set her training program, she sought my advice on her first marathon. I was treating her in my osteopathy clinic to maximise her performance and to prevent injury. I explained these goals. She told all her family, friends and colleagues that her goal was sub 5hrs. Her realistic goal was 4hrs40mins but during training she realised she could actually aim for sub 4hrs30. Her optimistic goal was 4hrs28mins. On the day the weather was perfect and she felt great. She ran a 4hr29min marathon and was ecstatic. All her family and friends think she is Wonder Woman after smashing her goal by so much! 
The point being if you are realistic with yourself and your training you can achieve great things. And the marathon experience for he first timer should be completely positive. A lot of first timers aim for a sub 4hr marathon and then don't enjoy the experience due to the stress of trying to achieve a difficult goal or the embarrassment of facing people after they've failed miserably to beat the time. 
Unless you are a well experienced runner of 10ks and half marathons and have comitted to the long runs in training then you won't be prepared for the final 10k of a marathon. If that is the case this final 10k can take anywhere from 50mins to 2hrs depending on how bad you feel. 

Do the training!

If you are committed to running a marathon that has to mean committed to doing the training. If you don't commit to the training, you'll either fail on the day or you'll do yourself an injury. Either scenario is no fun. A marathon is quite a distance and it should be respected for the feat it is. Regardless of our back ground or fitness if you don't do some long run sessions in training you will pay the price on the day. If you want to enjoy the day for the great experience that it is make sure you perform well and arrive prepared for the event. 
The only people I know who DNF (did not finish or start) the marathon were people who hadn't trained for the distance. 

Refuel along the way!

You must refuel at every opportunity, whether you are going for sub 3hrs or sub 5hrs, refuel along the way. Once you get about 1 hour into the race you should be consuming about 300 calories per hour. If you are not consuming this much fuel, then your performance will deteriorate in the latter stages of the race. Muscle break down due to inadequate calorie consumption is the clinically proven reason why athletes slow down in the latter stages of a race. 

So get the carbs in and keep them coming. I recommend some sort of slow releasing complex carbohydrate (sweet potatoes, baked potatoes or bananas) and for quicker release calories I chose raisins or apricots. You can use a multitude of energy gels or energy bars, cereal bars or sports drinks but beware of the dreaded refined sugar and its awful affects on human physiology. 

Rehydrate at every opportunity!

It's such a cliche but its so true, if you feel thirsty it's almost too late. When I run marathons I take water at every fuel station. Usually there is water within the first 5km and at this point I'm usually looking at my watch making sure my heart rate and pace are in range, I'm never thirsty at this early stage so I grab a bottle or a cup and take at least 5 sips. I do this at every water station and as the race unfolds I take more and more water at each station.
I don't drink fizzy drinks or sports drinks at any stage unless its a hot day and I'm feeling a bonk coming on in the very late stages, I'd need to be within the final 5km before I'd drink anything other than water. 
It's important to note that during the days leading up to the race I drink a lot of water. I get a bit obsessed sometimes and end up spending half the day looking for a toilet. As annoying as this is on the days leading up to the race it always pays off on race day, I never get cramps and I never need to pee during a race because I don't need to drink a whole lot on the morning before the race. On the days leading up to the race while I am hydrating with lots of water I also snack on pretzels to ensure high salt concentration at a cellular level. If you don't do this you'll pee away all that excess water because the osmolarity at a cellular level must be balanced. If you just pour in lots of water your kidneys will spill it all out. Don't go crazy on the salty snaks but do get some. 

Test your gear!

Make sure you do at least one long run in your race day attire before the race. Don't turn up to race day with new shoes, socks, shorts, or tshirts. One item might rub or chaff your skin, which may cause blisters that might end your race early or cause enough discomfort to slow you down significantly. 
Be sure to charge up you watch if you use a Garmin or another brand that requires wall charging. If you listen to music (I don't) on race day make sure your mp3 is charged and that all you favourite tunes are on a run mix!

Make use of the aid stations!
If you have a problem with your gear; race number falling off, snapped lace, torn shorts or tshirts or bleeding nipples (for the men) to name the most popular, try to seek help at the aid stations. The people who man these stations are usually super friendly and will do their best to get you to the finish if possible. Stopping on the lonely road without anybody to help with even a minor task can sometimes be overwhelming and can cause people to quit, only to find deep regret later that day. 

Meet your supporters

If you have family, friends, lovers or significant others coming to cheer you on and support you, make sure you arrange a place that you'll see them. Lets suppose that after consulting with the route map they are going to be at the 30km point, be sure to decide which side of the road they'll be on too. Some marathons are very big, with 40,000 plus competitors the field might be still quite deep around the 3hr45 time. If you don't arrange adequately to meet supporters it might be easy to miss them, which is no fun for them or for you! It gives a great boost to see familiar faces in the latter stages so don't miss them because of bad planning.
The last marathon I ran was Paris 2013. Both my friend and his wife were in Paris and I planned to meet them at the 30km which was right at the Eiffel tower. I tuned out of the race and began looking out for them at about the 29km point. We arranged that they would be on the right hand side of the road and it all went to plan, I saw them we exchanged the usual greeting with me mid stride. I continued on to the finish where I was disappointment not to have seen the Eiffel tower up close. The route map said we'd pass right by it but I hadn't seen it. Later at lunch with my friends I expressed my disappointment, they both laughed! They were standing right beneath the iconic landmark and I had ran right passed without noticing it!

Enjoy the day!

Neil
@RunSensible