Friday, January 23, 2009

Top 10 Marathon Tips

My road group are getting ready to do their final really long run tomorrow (22 miles) before the Austin marathon (I will use it as part of my last really long running weekend before Rocky Raccoon). Some of them have never run this distance before and this is a daunting step leading up to their first marathon, so I've been peppering them with tips, strategies and mental tricks to help see them through. Here are my "top 10" marathon tips and tricks in case any of my readers are in a similar position.

1. Hydration strategy in the days before the run - you should be alternating water and gatorade/powerade/your electrolyte of choice. It is important to be hydrated, but it is equally as important to not dilute your electrolyte levels (or you'll start cramping in the later miles).

2. Carb loading. Increase your carbohydrate consumption as your mileage decreases in the days leading up to the race, but a little bit of protein is important too. Favorite dishes for me include pasta with a tomato based sauce and some lean turkey meatballs, or baked potato with cottage cheese, brown rice and mustard glazed grilled chicken or salmon (a runner's super food).

3. You are all capable of running a marathon. The crucial thing is to believe that you can. Take 10 to 15 minutes the night before to sit down by yourself and focus on the task in hand. Relax your mind and think about what you need to do to accomplish your goals, where you get your motivation when you need to dig deep, and how far you've come in the last 6 months. Remind yourself that you're tough and you can do it. Visualize yourself at each stage of the race, feeling strong and pushing for that finish line. If you believe it can happen, it will.

4. Race day breakfast. I don't care if you drive a Ferrari or a lawnmower, it won't go without fuel and neither will you. Toast with peanut butter and banana used to work well for me, but now I use a meal replacement shake or some Hammer Sustained Energy. Find your magic bullet and stick to it.

5. It is good to be nervous before a race, but never stand at the start line with anything less than 100% confidence you are going to finish.

6. Don't go out too fast - it's far better to be strong in the last 6 miles and pass all those folks who did (and if you get it right, you will pass a lot of people in those last few miles). Having said that, don't be too alarmed if you're running a little faster than your normal training pace as long as it feels natural (my marathon pace is a good 30 seconds a mile faster than my training pace).

7. If conditions are not good or you're not feeling it, revise your time goals. Don't force yourself to run an uncomfortable pace just to hit a certain time (and discard that pace band). You almost certainly will not be able to hold it and end up struggling (see #6), whereas if you hold back a little you may feel better and surge later in the race.

8. Fuel during the race. Work out your strategy in advance and make yourself follow it. For a marathon, I will alternate water and gatorade at each water stop and take a gel roughly every 5-6 miles. If it's warm and/or humid, I lean more toward the electrolyte. I always carry my own liquid and salt caps as insurance (and usually end up giving them to other runners who are cramping). Again, that works for me but your mileage may vary so figure it out before race day. If gels are not your thing, I've also had good luck with clif shot bloks (margarita flavor for the extra salt) and sports beans.

9. There will be some mental lows along the way, there always are, but they will pass (if running a marathon was easy, everyone would do it). It is just something you have to work through, and there are several relaxation and diversion tricks I use to help overcome them. Mantras are good and I use them a lot, but one of my most effective weapons is "the count". If I'm feeling tired or can't find my rhythm, I will simply count each time my right foot hits the floor. By the time I get to 30, I have usually relaxed and found the rhythm I was missing. Remember that during a marathon you can go from a mental funk to a glorious high in as little as a mile, so hang on in there (besides, a few mental lows make for a much more interesting race report)

10. Most important of all, enjoy yourself. Be grateful that you are healthy and able to do this. Enjoy the energy of the other runners, the good wishes of the crowd, and ignore those people who insist you're "nearly there" when you know you've only run a couple of miles!!! We are the lucky ones - remind yourself of that at mile 20. Oh, and smile as you cross the finish line because somebody will want to sell you an outrageously overpriced photograph of it.


johnt said...

Hey, man! Good tips. I like the overpriced photograph part. haha No, joke aye! I count when my left foot hits the ground. It's an Army thing.

steve said...

Great tips! I think everyone can learn something here...

Curly said...

Great tips! Thank you. I am running my first marathon in 2 weeks.

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