By now, thousands of runners across the country have started training in preparation for marathon season.
Those early morning runs, strict diets and nights on the rollers instead of the sofa, have returned. It’s time to push ourselves and work towards beating that personal best. Tom Fairbrother, a seven-time marathon runner with a PB of 2 hours 34 minutes, gives his top tips for surviving a marathon:
1. Have A Plan
For first time marathoners, or race veterans, it is a good idea to have a plan to follow each week. Most training programmes will be somewhere between 12-16 weeks, having a loose structure to guide you certainly helps. However, within your plan it is also important to be flexible. You have entered the marathon by choice (hopefully!) and so you should enjoy the challenge of training. The alarm goes off and you need an extra hour in bed - no problem! The Kenyan runners have a saying, which is “listen to your body” - the body is great at telling us when it needs a rest, listen to it! If you feel exhausted, physically or mentally, then don’t run. If you are running 3-4 times per week, it is no problem to move your runs around. It is better to run when you are ready, rather than force yourself out the door - never feel like you are a slave to your training plan.
2. Find A Training Partner
For the most parts, running is an individual sport so it is good to get used to running on your own. However, it really does help if you can find someone to run with once or twice per week, especially on your long runs. Don’t know anyone else into running? Join a local club! Training partners give you someone to chat to about your training, break-up the monotony of running alone and provide the motivation to push you when the going gets tough.
3. The Long Run
For first time marathoners, the long run is your most important run and should be the focus of your week. It may sound obvious, but the marathon will lasts between 2-5 hours, so you need to get your body used to running for long periods of time. There are different theories on how long the longest run should be in training - personally I think it is great for your confidence if you can recreate your race time. Whilst it is great if you can add in some miles at or near marathon goal pace, it is all about time on your feet.
Nutrition is vitally important - make sure you eat well the day before and drink plenty of water. You can pre-hydrate the night before by drinking some isotonic drinks. Have the route you plan to run mapped out in your head and workout when you will take on your fluids and energy gels, so you can relax during the run. Make sure you have cleared your diary - most people long run on a Sunday, but I would highly recommend a Saturday morning if you can. That way it is done and dusted by lunchtime and you can enjoy the rest of the weekend basking in the post-long run glow!
4. Practice Makes Perfect
You really do not want to have any unknowns on race day, so your last long run is a great opportunity for a dummy run. Most people will do this 2-3 weeks prior to the marathon, immediately prior to the start of the taper. Wear the same shoes, shorts, vest (weather permitting!), gel belt and everything else that you plan to have with you on race day. Take your energy drinks and gels when you plan to take them during the race.
5. Taper Well
By this point you have completed your last long run and have made it to the last few weeks of your training - hurray! However, the last 2-3 weeks present very different challenges. As you are gradually eating and drinking more, and running less, you will begin to feel sluggish and worry that you are going to lose the fitness you have worked so hard to build. It is only natural to doubt yourself and look at what others are doing - Have I done enough training? Have I done too much? Don’t do anything silly - you have nothing to gain from sneaking out for a few extra miles, other than an injury! Stick to your plan and trust your training. The goal of the taper is to give your body and mind the chance to rest and prepare for the big day. You want to stand on the start line feeling like a coiled spring, not a tired slug, so less is definitely more!