How to Run a Marathon

Thousands of people decide to run marathons each year. Everyone has a different reason for wanting to run: some people want to set a personal challenge, others want to raise money for charity. Whatever your reason for wanting to run a marathon is, you need to be physically and mentally prepared for the challenge ahead.

You cannot wake up one day and decide to run a marathon. Well, you could but you could risk causing serious injury to yourself and not even complete the run! You need to take steps to prepare yourself, this includes before the race, during the race and once the race is complete. To find out more about how to run a marathon, read below.

Choosing your first marathon

There is an extensive range of marathons from local races to giant courses through major city’s with thousands of people. To get used to running you should always start small. Run a few shorter races to prepare yourself physically and mentally. Everyone is different and the pressure of the race and the exercise may affect you differently than someone else. Find out what style of running suits you best and be aware of your body’s limits.

Training physically and mentally

There are a few basic principles of running, these are things that you need to take into consideration and focus on when training to run a marathon. You need to clock your mileage. You won’t be able to straight out run 26 miles, and instead improve your mileage slowly over time. Start off small and then over a few weeks run further and further. Find yourself a good marathon training plan online and stick to it.

You can start off doing short runs but eventually, you will need to practice doing long runs to prepare your body to run the full distance. You should also try running at different speeds, this will help you to improve your cardio capacity. One of the most important elements that people forget about and neglect is rest and recovery. Resting your body will help to prevent injuries and will help stop a mental burnout. Running marathons isn’t just physical as many people believe, it affects you mentally. You need to take the time to rest, relax and prepare.

Before you start to train, do some warm-ups. Warming up is vital in preventing injuries. Once you have finished your run, do some stretches. Stretches will help loosen your muscles and help you to cool down and recover.

If you do injure yourself while training, tend to it right away. Make sure you get adequate rest before you start training again. If you hurt your feet, legs or muscles rest them, ice them and elevate them. This will help with any pulled muscles, sprains and strains. If you have swelling, ice it and elevate the limb to help stop any fluid buildup.

Most people feel that they should be in running overdrive before a marathon, but this will not help. In fact, in the two or three weeks before the marathon, you should scale back the running and mileage and let your body rest before the race. You don’t want to be out of energy the day of the race.

Choosing the perfect running shoes

Choosing the perfect running shoe isn’t as easy as it sounds. When you try them on in the shop they might feel comfortable but it’s a different story once you start to run. The perfect running shoe is personal to you, your running style and the shape of your foot.

There is a different type of running shoes for different categories of runners. They have road-running shoes, trail running shoes, and cross-training shoes. Of course every terrain is different, so they require a different type of shoe. Running on pavement would require light and flexible shoes compared to running in a forest, then you would require a shoe that offered support and underfoot protection.

Every shoe is different, just because you’re a size 5 in one shoe doesn’t mean you will be a size 5 in all shoes. Make sure you try on the running shoes before you purchase them and have your feet measured. During the day your feet will swell slightly so your feet are bigger. Try the shoes on in the morning or the end of the day to get your feet’s true size. When trying your shoes on, don’t pick a shoe that is too tight, they should be snug but make sure you can fit a thumb down the back of the shoe.

You should also study the way you run. Which part of your foot hits the floor first and take the most impact, is it the ball of your foot or your heel. There are running shoes specifically made to help absorb the impact of running for your style of running, speak to an expert in a shoe shop and they will be able to help guide you to the show that is best for you.

Staying hydrated

One of the most important parts of running a marathon is staying hydrated. Most marathons have water aid stations along the way, but if you want to be prepared then bring your own water. You can purchase a water hydration pack or bring a handheld bottle. Try and plot your route so you can pass water fountains or stations along the way or stash water along the route for you to collect during your run.
Similar to staying hydrated, you need to make sure your body is fueled. It’s very common for running to “hit the wall” during their run. This is when your body is low on glycogen your primary source of energy and you begin to feel weak and tired. Make sure you bring some fruit, energy bars or energy chewing gun with you during the run. This will help keep your energy levels up and help you push through the “wall”.

Race day

When it comes to race day, stick to what you know. Everything you’ve done in training, use it now. Wear the same trainers, run using the same technique, even something as small as a different type of t-shirt can cause you pain during a race. Therefore, extensive training is very important, you need to understand what works best for you and your body.

Before the race

Here are some important tips to follow before your marathon:

  • The days leading up to the marathon drink a big glass of water before you go to bed and another one first thing in the morning. This will help to keep you hydrated. Bring some form of water bottle with you to drink during the race, it helps to be prepared.
  • Eat a simple meal several hours before the race, but make sure it is high in carbohydrates. Also, bring some fruits or energy bars with you for while you are running.
  • During your practice runs you will soon realize areas that are vulnerable to chafing. Cover these in Vaseline to help control the pain.
  • Do your shopping! Buy running trainers that fit you correctly and are comfortable. This also goes for t-shirts and shorts/leggings. You need comfortable clothes, made specifically for running. The last thing you want it to be uncomfortable during the marathon.
  • Pre-lay your clothes out ready and pack a bad. Don’t forget your race number and extra safety pins to attach it to your t-shirt.
  • If you want to listen to music while you run, double check that headphones are allowed on the cause as sometimes they are not. Make sure you have a full battery and something like an arm strip to hold your phone. If your phone is loose in your pocket it might fall out.
  • Check the weather forecast the night before the race to see what the predicted temperature is due to be. Just because it is cold in the morning doesn’t mean it will stay cold. Dress accordingly and don’t bring too many layers, you will heat up when running.
  • Set your alarm early as most race start early in the morning. If you’re a fast-competitive running then arrive very early you get a good spot at the front of the race. If you’re a slow runner, stay towards the back.
  • Make sure you discuss your thoughts and emotions with your friends and family. There is a documented syndrome that happens about to weeks before a marathon to many runners called “taper madness”. This is when in the weeks before a race when you lower your training mileage you become erratic, irrational and paranoid. You could find yourself saying sentences like “I’m never going to be ready for the race”. If you feel like you are displaying this behaviour then don’t be afraid to speak out, the people closest will want to help and ease your mind.

During the race

  • Remember to stay hydrated. Drink water along the way, pick up a drink from a water station along the way if you do not have a drink with you. If you do not stay hydrated, then you could collapse during the race and hurt yourself.
  • If you feel yourself getting dizzy or weak then eat a snack bar to fuel your energy, this will help you to complete the race.
  • Keep your own pace during the race. Don’t be intimidated by people who are sprinting, everyone has different sporting abilities and you get many professional athletes who compete in the big marathons. Remember that you’ll need to save energy to make it to the end of the run, be the turtle, not the hare!
  • Try not to focus too much on the time. Everyone wants to set a good time but it’s more important to finish the race in one piece than to push yourself too much.
  • As you pass the finish line don’t forget to celebrate! You have achieved your goal and your training has paid off.

Recovery

  • Once the race is finished drink from four to eight ounces of fluid within the first half an hour. Have yourself a snack that is roughly 80% carbohydrate and 20% protein.
  • Do some gentle stretches after the race, this will help your muscles to cool down and help to stop aches and pains.
  • Soak your feet in cool water for around 10 to 20 minutes as soon after the race as possible. This helps to keep the blood moving and reduces any swelling.
  • For the first few weeks after the race, rest your body. Give yourself time to recover. If you want to start running again after the marathon, wait a week. In the second week after the race, start to run small distances and then build up again from there.
  • If you do have any injury’s or your body is hurting, take care of them. Rest and see a doctor if you feel like you need to.

Running a marathon is a fantastic achieve no matter the reason you are doing it. It can be physically and mentally draining so make sure you look after your body and mind. Nourish your body and stay hydrated, if you have injury remember to rest. Resting doesn’t mean you’ve failed, it means your taking care of yourself. During the race keep a steady pace, and don’t push yourself too much. Once the race has finished it’s your time to celebrate! You have achieved your goal and ran a marathon, now you can relax before you start training for your next one.