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Preparing For Your First Marathon

By James Drakeford

Posted: 28th August 2014 12:51

In the modern era of sports science there is a tendency of being mollycoddled and bombarded with recommendations of best practice.  This is why the iGap Travel Guide Editor-in-Chief, James Drakeford, decided to wing-it during his very first marathon attempt.  Accepting the challenge just six weeks prior to the big day, we knew this was going to be the ultimate challenge for a man who had never once set foot in a gym during his entire life.  Emerging victorious with a time of 4:03:26; if he can do it, so can you.

While we would advise seeking professional advice regarding your training schedule, here are a few basic points that are well worth considering.

Don’t listen to scaremongers.  There’s nothing worse than picking up a runner’s magazine or listening to the advice of other runners on the eve of the race and finding out that, in their eyes, all of your hard work and preparation has been wrong.  Stick to what you know and don’t make any last minute changes which you may later regret.

Our Editor Says… “The day before the race I panic-bought some gel that is meant to help stop your knee from seizing up.  There wasn’t enough time to test it out beforehand so there I was at the starting line desperately seeking water so I could wash this burning sensation off my leg.”

Pick a fun marathon, in a fun city.  Where’s the enjoyment in running your local marathon? You already know the roads and sights, so there’s nothing engaging about the route.  Double your marathon up with a weekend away and you can go sightseeing on the Saturday before discovering its beauty whilst running through the city on the Sunday.  With Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon you will also be treated to live music performances from bands all across the world on specially created stages at various checkpoints.

Our Editor Says… “Enjoy yourself.  Have a quiet night in before the big day – rubbish.  Why would I do that when I can go to the Bernebeu and watch Cristiano Ronaldo terrorise Spanish defenders? Cut out the alcohol? I can confirm that a big night out in La Latina on the Friday night caused no detriment whatsoever.”

Don’t overdo it.  For a first time marathon runner your target should be the finishing line and not a specific time goal.  Don’t worry; you will get ‘the bug’ so you can focus on setting a personal best next time round.

Our Editor Says…“When I got to the finish line I still had plenty left in the tank.  Rather than feeling disappointed, it filled me with encouragement that I have one under the belt and can do better next time.  Besides if you push yourself too much you run the risk of falling short.  Imagine, all that hard work for nothing!”

Drink for thirst, not for hydration.  Known as Exercise-Associated Hyponatremia (EAH); over-drinking can be deadlier than dehydration.  During exertion your body will suffer inordinate sodium loss through bodily sweat.  This is exacerbated by drinking too much water which will cause you to sweat more whilst further diluting the body’s balance of important salts and sugars.

Our Editor Says…“Guzzling too much water will give you mild discomfort as the water swishes around inside you as you run.  Also, the more you drink; the more you need to urinate.  If nothing else, stopping at the side of the road every five minutes will take its toll on your overall time!”

Carb up. Carbohydrates are a great source of energy, and you need a lot of energy to cover 26.2 miles.  Eat a hearty portion of pasta, rice, potatoes or other high-carb food the night before whilst making sure you wake up at least a few hours before your run to top up.

Our Editor Says…“For an additional energy boost along the way pack a banana into your race bag.  Many fruits are high in carbs but are also high in fibre – and too much can cause stomach trouble mid-race.  Bananas on the other hand are low-fibre, easy to get into and digest.”

Good footwear is essential To figure out what type of running shoes are best for you, you first need to know what kind of feet you have.  This all depends on the shape of your feet and which part of the foot you land on, i.e.  where the impact falls.  There are three different types of feet (the normal foot, the flat foot, the high-arched foot) with running shoes falling into four main categories – stability, performance, neutral and minimalist.

Our Editor Says…“I wore barefoot (minimalist) running shoes for the majority of my training until I realised that the lack of cushioned-support exacerbated a niggling ligament injury.  Swapping to the Brooks Ghost 6 running shoes provided the familiarity of a light and bouncy shoe, with the addition of increased stability and cushion.”

Print & laminate time-splits.  In order to complete a marathon in 4 hours you will need to run at an average pace of 5 min 40 sec per km (10.5km/h).  Including gradients in your time-splitter will also pre-warn you when there is a tough climb or a steady path ahead.

Our Editor Says…“Official pacemakers hold a coloured balloon and a goal time sign high above their head.  This is great if you are a runner who likes to stay at a consistent pace throughout but others prefer to speed up or slow down as the race goes on.  By using laminated time-splits you can factor in your own targets without having to calculate the maths along the way.”

Pick a pacemaker.  Along with having printed time-splits it can drive you on if you pick a pacemaker in the field and try to stick with them.  If you are running at a steady pace why not strike up a conversation with your fellow runners.  The time will fly. 

Our Editor Says… “I had hit the wall around 35km in, but Bob, the retired PE teacher from Dorridge who I had been running with for the past five miles, pushed me to keep going.  After a conversation marvelling over how good Cristiano Ronaldo was in the game the night before, suddenly the heavy legs soon felt a lot lighter.”

Switching lane etiquette.  When there are 35,000 of you all running on the same stretch of road there is guaranteed to be some level of congestion.  If you want to overtake, indicate left or right using your arm in the same way you would cycling prior to moving across into somebody else’s path.

Our Editor Says…“Runners are not mind-readers.  We cannot pre-empt your next movement so if you cut us up you run the risk of getting your ankles clipped, potentially sending you crashing down onto the hard concrete below.”

Tackling stairs.  A marathon is almost the distance between Manchester and Liverpool.  Our legs are not naturally made for running this kind of distance.  Inevitably you will begin to feel the aftermath.  Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), also called muscle fever, is the pain and stiffness felt in muscles several hours to days after.  This is often felt most when walking up and down stairs, but can be alleviated by taking the stairs backwards.

Our Editor Says…“Don’t rush yourself back to the gym.  Wait until the soreness in your muscles subsides.  Getting impatient? Speed up the process by getting a massage and taking muscle recovery protein powders.”

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