Even for experienced runners, a marathon is one of the most challenging and rewarding events around. If you’re new to running, however, you might be intimidated by the total time, distance, and effort it can take to complete a marathon. It goes without saying that running a full-length marathon will help you lose weight and increase your fitness levels since you have to train yourself beforehand to endure the challenge. But if you are unprepared, you could end up suffering from dehydration or injury, and ultimately put yourself off running a marathon in the future. This is one area of fitness where preparation over several months is vital.
So if you’re seriously thinking about running a marathon, follow these tips to prepare yourself mentally and physically to get the most out of the experience.
Allow yourself a month or two to train for a marathon at the very least, even if you are a regular runner. You have to get accustomed to being on your feet for several hours. Start slowly by running a distance of approximately 5 miles and increase the distance by one or two miles per week. During this period, work on your pace and choose the one that suits you best. Most experts recommend a two-mile warm up before going into full-fledged marathon pace. Make sure you only train for 3-4 days per week – you don’t want to overdo the training and risk getting injured – as with any exercise, your body needs recovery time and pushing yourself too hard is simply counterproductive.
Long hard running takes its toll on the body, so don’t be surprised if you find yourself going to bed exhausted after a marathon training session. But sleep is a vital part of the training too. If you don’t get enough, your body can’t fully recover from the intense training. You also need sleep to boost your immune system – you won’t be able to complete 26 miles unless you are in top condition. So don’t miss out on your sleep, and aim for eight or more hours each night in the run up to the marathon.
You should eat breakfast two hours before race time – that’s the average time required for your body to properly digest food. Choose a simple, high-carbohydrate breakfast such as a combination of oatmeal, a bagel, nutrition bars or fruit. Don’t be tempted to try out new restaurants if you’re traveling to your marathon from out of town. The key is to stick with familiar foods you know your body can handle.
Your body can only store so much glycogen, its primary source of energy during the marathon. Once it gets depleted your muscles will begin to tire and feel heavy. One of the biggest marathon mistakes is waiting too long to start refueling. The best way to refuel is to start the process half an hour in and continue to refuel every half an hour until you complete the race. Energy chews and a bottle of water are the easiest to carry, and often the easiest to digest. A few pieces of fruit or a couple of energy bars will also do the trick, but you should have someone arrange a handover at some point in the run.
Running a marathon has massive benefits – you will step out of your comfort zone, confront your true self and gain a real sense of accomplishment. And who knows, you may even inspire people you know to follow your lead and start running too.