Our physio Dan is about to undertake his first marathon next month. Here we have a chat with Dan about how his training is going and what his recommendations are for anybody taking on this mammoth challenge!
Q. How to get organised for your training?
Setting yourself a timeframe is very important. Once you know the date of your race, you want to start your training around three months before. For an April Marathon, the turn of the year is a great time to start! Have a target in mind – this may be a time you are aiming for, or may simply be that you want to finish – and possibly even a loose timetable for when you will train and how long for. Finally, make sure you have the appropriate gear. It is worth spending money on some well-fitting, durable running shoes and some lycra undergarments/leggings for the colder weather, they will really come in handy.
Q. How to pace yourself?
If you aren’t an experienced runner, it may be difficult to pace yourself for the first few training runs. My advice would be to start out nice and slowly (around 50% effort) and you can gently build on this depending on how you feel. After a few runs, you will start to get used to the pace that works for you. If you are aiming for a particular time, it is helpful to work out what this time would be per mile/km. For example if you want to run a marathon in 4 hours, you need to be running at an average pace of 9 minutes per mile or 5.5 minutes per km.
Q. What do you find drives you?
It can be difficult to stay motivated, especially on some of the longer training runs. Some people find running with a training partner can be helpful, others like to listen to music or podcasts. I personally find that recording my runs on an app such as Strava is a really useful way of tracking my progress and gauging the improvements in my speed and distance. You can also share your runs with friends for a bit of healthy competition.
Q. Tips for Diet and Nutrition
Like any other time, when training for a marathon it is important to maintain a healthy, balanced diet. As your runs start to get longer, you will start to burn an awful lot of calories, so you need to make sure you are eating enough to replace them. A meal containing plenty of carbohydrates and protein, eaten shortly after a run will help your body recover faster. Also, during this time, things like cakes and chocolate are not all bad – they are very rich in calories and there are a lot of good energy bars/snacks on the market as well. Hydration is vital, and you should try to increase the amount of water you drink per day, as well as making sure you are well hydrated whilst running.
I find that once I start running over 7/8 miles (11/13km) it is helpful to take energy gels on the run. These are rich in sugars and quick release energy for a much needed boost. Finally I would strongly suggest cutting right down on alcohol. Unfortunately alcohol is empty calories and even just a few drinks can make you feel sluggish and lethargic. I always try and completely cut alcohol out 3-4 weeks before race day. Congratulate yourself with a few pints afterwards instead!
Q. What are the mental vs physical challenges
When running such a long distance, you are asking a lot of your body which is why sufficient training is so important. Injury prevention is key, because an injury in the build-up could mean you have to hold off on the marathon for another year. However the biggest barriers are almost certainly the mental ones. There will be times when you struggle to motivate yourself to go out in the wind and rain. There will be times during runs that you want to stop or give up. There might be times when you don’t think you are good enough. But running a marathon is a huge achievement, and if you have to stop for a while or walk for periods of time that’s absolutely fine. Setting your target as simply finishing the race is a great way to stay motivated – you can always look to improve on your time when you do it again
Q. What recovery techniques do you use?
Re-hydration, nutrition and stretching are key here. Take on plenty of water and stretch thoroughly as soon as you return from your run. You will be glad you did! Try and eat a good meal within an hour or so of getting back. Some people like to take ice baths/cold showers after long runs – there is some evidence behind it but it’s not for everyone! Take it easy over the next couple of days, – day 2 post run in particular may be when you are most sore. Some gentle walking, cycling or yoga can be helpful alongside ongoing stretches
Q. What is your preparation for the week before?
I haven’t got there quite yet but I anticipate the week before the marathon being pretty chilled. At this point my training is done and the emphasis will be on making sure my body is rested for race day. At most I may go out and do a gentle 3 mile (5km) run just to stay loose and may do a couple of sessions of yoga to maintain my flexibility. I’ll be looking to get pasta into most of my main meals, staying well hydrated and as mentioned before, abstaining from alcohol. More than anything I’ll be trying to get excited about the prospect of completing my first marathon and trying to get the last little bits of fundraising in!
Q. What is your preparation on marathon day?
Depending on the start time, it can be tricky to know when to eat. I really don’t like having too much food in me when I run so I will look to have a big pasta dish the previous night, favouring a small amount of porridge or cereal in the morning. Of course, everyone is slightly different with their preference on this. Make sure you are well warmed up – stretches are less important before the race, instead I like to ensure that my cardiovascular system is primed and my blood is pumping. This could be jogging on the spot, high knees, bunny hops, star jumps or short shuttle runs. Have your energy gels handy – possibly making use of a running bum-bag or pouch to stash them in and make sure you have a strap for your phone if you’re wanting to track your run on an app or listen to music.
You will have been given a race number so make sure you secure this to your running top using safety pins (sometimes they are not available at the start line so come prepared!) Lots of races allow supporters, friends and family to track your progress on an app which means they can be waiting for you to cheer you on, exactly where you need it most. The best advice I can give is always run your own race – meaning the one you have trained and prepared for. It is easy to get swept up in the excitement of the day and to set off a bit too quick, so take a breath and remember to pace yourself. Most importantly, take the time to look around you, soak in the atmosphere and remind yourself that what you are doing is amazing! Good luck!
Wishing our physiotherapist Dan all the best in his upcoming marathon and thank you for all the useful tips!