Expert tips on how to run a marathon
Lowri Morgan, Motivational Speaker
I can’t wait to return to the London Marathon this year. It has always been a special race for me. 25 years ago, I couldn’t run half a mile after a serious knee injury put stop to my running. But during re-hab I watched the London Marathon and decided that one day I would run it even if it meant me running, walking or crawling over the line. From the fastest to the slowest, I was inspired by all the runners.
Five years later, I completed my first London marathon and since then I’ve returned to the event as well as having competed in some of the toughest endurance races in the world including a 350 mile non-stop ultra-marathon in the Arctic. Despite having raced around the world I will never forget my first marathon in London back in 1997 – It was one of the best, most triumphant days of my life. The camaraderie and the atmosphere is something I love about the marathon community. I’m proof that anyone can do it!
The hard training has been done and a massive congratulations to you all. There are two rules in endurance running – to get to the start line and to get to the finish line. So with only 48 hours to go, let’s all get prepared to cross that finish line!
Please avoid the common mistakes to which many marathoners (including the professionals!) fall victim during the days leading up to the race. The most common one is training too much immediately before the marathon. Studies have shown that training in the final days before the race not only will not help your performance but may actually harm it by leaving you unnecessarily tired or sore.
So take a break in the last two days or just go out and enjoy a short walk. If you feel you need a run to release pre-race anxiety, then jog an easy 2 to 4 miles on the day before the marathon. Of course, our advanced marathoners will have their own unique pre-race routine and may run a little longer. If you do go out for a short run, make sure to jog very gently the entire time to conserve your energy for the big day.
An important tip: Avoid trying anything new before your event. Stay away from new speed workouts, weight training, tree climbing or anything else that is not part of your normal routine. Your goal is to be injury-free and as fresh as possible for your event. Take it easy and save your energy for race day.
As with training and equipment, your first basic rule is it is best to avoid trying anything new. That is because you might not know how your body will react. For example, if you are not accustomed to spicy food, avoid it in the two days before your marathon since you don’t know how it will affect your digestive system.
It is best to eat nutritious, preferably freshly-prepared food—something you eat on a regular basis. Concentrate on food high in carbohydrates and eat in small amounts throughout the day. By eating less food on a more frequent basis, you also may reduce bloating and other problems associated with a large meal. I recommend six small meals throughout the day
I was told that I need to treat my body as it would a vehicle. It doesn’t matter how fast or tough you are, if you don’t give your body the right fuel nor hydration, you’re not going to get to the finish line. So please don’t get your fuelling wrong – so many runners do during the taper and end up ruining months of hard work. It’s all actually really simple – just eat normally and gradually reduce the volume and intensity of your training during taper. Your body needs the quality calories to keep your carbohydrate stores topped up so you feel great in training and on race day. Don’t stuff yourself silly on the night before the race; it will only leave you feeling sluggish on race day.
Your most important decision about equipment will be your choice of footwear. Be sure to wear shoes you have used for at least one long run and for some faster sessions so you know they won’t bother you over the course of 26.2 miles. Also, please do not wear shoes that are too old and worn—they won’t have enough cushioning to keep your legs fresh throughout the marathon. Hopefully, on your previous long runs you experimented with socks of different thicknesses to find what suits you best. I prefer thin socks with no seam, because seams can cause blisters.
Don’t try anything new
If you’re going to the expo, don’t buy anything new that you’ve never used before and expect to use it in the race. For example, if you’ve never worn compression socks, don’t wear them in the race. It will be an irritant to your legs if you try to wear them on race day. No new gels or drinks, no new gear or clothes. Stick to what has worked so far.
I carry some zinc oxide tape in my race bag as I struggle with friction burns under the strap of my bra and for men – they often apply small bandages over their nipples to prevent chafing.
Sip on a bottle of water or a tiny bit of sports drink or electrolyte supplement. You want to bring your electrolyte levels up and top them off for the next two days. Carry a bottle around with you and nurse it from time to time.”
Set a realistic goal and put together a race strategy. Especially important is not starting out too fast. You will be super-excited at the start, but try to keep to your planned average pace or even a little slower to save energy for the latter part of the race. Have your splits per mile written on your hand, arm in permanent ink or on a wristband.
Take a look at the weather forecast for race day – it’s going to be hot so wear whatever is going to keep you cool and comfortable. Remember the suncream!
Pack your kit bag with all that you will need on race day – pins, toilet paper, Vaseline, snacks, fluids and ensure your number is pinned on your vest and chip on your shoes in the evening. The less things to do at the start line the better.
After you pick up your race bib at the expo, lay low and get off your feet. Conserve your glycogen and keep hydrating, but just take it easy. Just don’t spend your free time shopping or sightseeing. Stay off your feet.
Eat your last main meal at 6-7pm and snack on easily digested carbohydrate snacks afterwards if needed.
Get to bed early! Sleep well two days before your race. This will help if you are not able to have a good night’s sleep the night before. Then the rule is to go to bed 12 hours before the start of the race.
Do a light 15-20 minute jog in the morning the day before the race to help ease tension and to warm up before stretching. Run 2 or 3 easy miles on Friday or Saturday morning before the race, preferably on soft surfaces. You can get excited for the race and see the finish line and prepare mentally for it, but take it easy out there. Pay attention and be in the moment so you don’t make mistakes like falling off a curb or stepping in a pothole. When you’re out there running, remember to breathe deeply and relax and enjoy it.
Know the course
Study the course map and match it up with your race strategy. Familiarize yourself with the course, but don’t get too stressed about it. Break it into bite-size parts. For example, think of it as four 10K segments and take each of those segments one at a time.
On Race Day
Eat the race day breakfast you have practised in training before you long runs approx 2 hours before race start
Keep your kit simple and wear the shoes you ran your last few long runs or half marathons in and make sure any clothing has been worn and washed a few times before you race in it, don’t try anything new.
Take a carbohydrate-based snack (for example a banana or energy bar) and sports drink to snack on between breakfast and race start and be prepared with fuel in case of a delayed start.
Look around you and focus in on the target you have set. Remember your pace, split times and don’t rely on your GPS…they often fail with so many signals in the same area.
Sip your final mouthfuls of water/sports drink but don’t take on more than normal, you don’t need it.
Don’t run to warm up or do any high-intensity drills – save your energy and use the first few miles to warm up.
Hand your kit in and perhaps have an old tracksuit and bin liner or previous race foil blanket on to stay warm, and head to your pen 20-30 minutes before the start. In the final minutes take your old kit off.
Stick to your plan
Stay on your goal pace as best possible, but realise that there will probably be a difference between your goal race pace and how you actually feel on race morning. It might be that you run 20 seconds slower early on, but stick to your plan and don’t panic. But back off if it feels like you’re running too fast. If it feels like you’re going too fast, you probably are. Check your splits and keep the faith. Run at the pace you have practised. After building into the pace you should then look to lock into the km or mile splits that became familiar to you in the marathon pace sessions and longer runs.
We recommend you take on gels every 30 mins on race day and you should have practised this on some long training runs. Take your first gel at 30-45 minutes and then every 30 minutes for the rest of the race. With it being hot on Sunday, I will be sipping water on every mile. You don’t need too much and be sure to not over drink on the way round.
Run on cruise control
Do a mental check during the early miles and midway through the race. You should feel relatively comfortable up until mile 18. You should be able to get to that point comfortably, then you have to go to work and see how tough you are. At that point, it’s all about what you have left. This is where the mind carries the body. It’ll be mind games towards the finish line. SO when you’re on the last 10K, grab hold of any motivation you have – maybe you’re running for a charity, for a loved one, for yourself – and keep reminding yourself over and over why you’re doing this and that you will do this. Do not fear anything! Just be super-excited, because YOU are going to do it!
Lowri Morgan is a world-class ultra-endurance athlete who has competed in and won some of the toughest foot races on earth. She is also a BAFTA and multi-award winning television presenter and journalist. Her experiences make her a highly motivational after-dinner speaker and educational keynote speaker.