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10 essential tips to prepare you for running your first Marathon

Photo: Me during my first marathon in Tromso, Norway in 2019

1. Allow 16-20 weeks of training.

Your training plan should gradually increase in volume and intensity as you progress, which will prepare your body for race day and minimize injury risk.

2. Include strength and mobility in your training plan.

Your training shouldn’t just be about running as much as you can. Strengthening and mobility work can improve running efficiency (meaning you use less energy to run) and reduce risk of injury. Aim to include each twice a week as part of your training.

3. Get adequate Recovery.

Recovery or 'deload' weeks involve dropping volume and/or intensity for a week to allow your body time to adapt and recover. Typically you should aim to take a de-load week after every 4 weeks of training, although frequency depends on your fitness level, experience and rate of recovery.

4. Taper towards the end of your training.

This involves reducing volume of training in the final 2-3 weeks before race day, typically following your longest run. This allows the body to recover fully from the intense training, and replenish hormone levels, glycogen, muscle soreness etc so you are in peak condition for race day. While you may feel you are reversing all your hard work and losing fitness by running less so close to the race, the opposite is true. Your body is making it's final adaptations to get you race ready, so trust the process and you'll feel on top form for the race.

5. Test different fuelling options.

After about 90minutes of running your body’s carbohydrate stores deplete and you need to replace them in order to keep going. There is a whole host of liquid (e.g. a hydration drink with electrolytes and carbohydrates), gel (torq are my go to) and solid carbohydrate (e.g. Cliff chews, haribo sweets) based fuels out there which can be very useful in keeping your energy levels topped up to push you through to the end of your long runs. What works for your friend might not work for you, as combined with the intensity of exercise some can cause gastro-intestinal distress. So sample as many as you can to find the ones that work for you.

6. Stay hydrated!

Studies have found that dehydration of two percent of bodyweight leads to about a six percent reduction in running performance. My personal preference for long runs is to carry a hydration pack containing an electrolyte and carbohydrate solution. Find what works for you in training and replicate it on race day.

7. Spread your carbloading over multiple days.

And also don’t overdo carbloading the night before the race. Think about it, if in your training you haven’t been doing a massive carb load the night before your big runs, then don’t get too fork happy the night before the big race as you don’t know how your body will react, and it could leave you feeling bloated and heavy on race day. The best way to carb load to avoid this is to increase your carb intake across 2-3 days pre-race. Aim for around 8 to 12 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight per day. If over-eating calories are a concern you can simply cut back slightly on foods higher in fat to compensate for the extra calories from carbs (though you are about to burn a heck of a lot of calories anyway so I wouldn’t worry too much!).

8. Don’t eat or drink anything new on race day.

It’s a classic one, but it’s so true. I can vouch for the negative side effects of eating ‘new’ foods on race day. My first ever marathon took place in Norway, and was an evening race starting at 8pm. I was in a foreign country and had all day to fuel. I scoffed a variety of foods including a snack bar I hadn’t trained with shortly before the race and assumed I would be fine as I’d never had any tummy troubles in training. Boy was I wrong. Let’s just say runners belly is very real and it will derail your race time completely! I recommend being prepared with all of your own fuel/hydration and avoid taking any race day handouts during the race that you haven’t trained with.

9. Check out the race route in advance.

This way you will know where the toilets, water and fuel stations are located, enabling you to plan ahead accordingly and avoid getting caught out.

10. Keep an even running pace throughout your run.

This ensures the greatest efficiency and best chance of hitting your target race time. If you have a specific time in mind, consider following a pacer (usually a volunteer from a local run club who will run to a consistent pace in order to finish at a specific time, so other runners with that target time can run along side them) or following split times on your watch.

For my first half marathon, following a pacer meant less energy spent tracking my pace on my watch, and more focus on getting through the race. However when I ran my full marathons there were no pacers available. To help me stay on track during London Marathon I wrote out the time I should be hitting every kilometer and mile in onto a tiny piece of card and kept it in my pocket This allowed me to track more easily on my watch what time I should be passing each marker. I was very thankful to have it on race day and it helped me keep on track and finish with a PB!

Above all else, make sure you enjoy the run! It may feel like the hardest slog of your life, but remember there’s a reason you’re doing it. Whether it’s to raise money for a cause important to you, for personal achievement, for the atmosphere, or for an excuse to visit a cool place abroad you wouldn’t otherwise – remember that reason and channel it during your run to get you through the tough parts!

Looking for some support from a running coach in East London? Drop me a message and I’ll be happy to answer any questions and see how I can help!


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