It’s official! You’ve paid the race fee, signed the waiver, and marked the calendar. You envision your newly fit and fabulous self crossing the finish line, crowd cheering you on. However, after the initial excitement dies down you quickly realize that you have committed to one of the greatest challenges of your life!

Where do you start? How do you train? What do you eat? Thankfully, you’re smart enough to do some research! Let’s take a step back and discuss the essentials for keeping your body and mind in peak condition throughout marathon training.

Where do I start?

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Every day it seems another person is creating a “new and improved” marathon training plan. When finding a program that’s right for you, make sure it is based in science and designed by educated professionals. After all, you are about to dedicate much of your precious time to training – make sure you’re committed to a quality plan. Here are some key points to keep in mind:

– The program should be appropriate for your level of fitness and gradually increase total mileage. Choosing an “advanced” plan when your most recent run has been around the block is likely to result in an overuse injury.

– Look ahead and compare the training schedule to your personal calendar. Is the plan is realistic? When will you find the time to run? Planning ahead and committing to your training is key to race day success!

Also check out these Marathon running tips anyone can benefit from

Nutrition – important now more than ever!

Would you attempt to drive your car with an empty tank of gas? I didn’t think so! Try not to subject your body to the intense demand of long runs, speed workouts, and hills without proper fuel along the way. While you will read a variety of information on what and when to eat, here are some basic guidelines to follow:

– Eat a snack comprised of carbs and protein about two hours prior to your run. Aim for about 100g of carbs.

– During exercise, consume about 30-60g carbs per hour. This breaks down to one gel every 30-45 minutes.

– Post-exercise aim to take in 50-100g carbs immediately. A meal comprised of both protein and carbohydrate is ideal for muscle repair and recovery.

– The night prior to a long run avoid alcohol, sugar substitutes, and trying new foods. A small healthy snack before bed can serve as extra fuel the next day.

Hydration – the earlier the better!

– The American College of Sports Medicine reports that dehydration takes place with as little as a 1% loss in body weight. Unfortunately, every 2% decrease in hydration can mean up to a 20% loss in performance. Make sure you weigh yourself both before and after exercise and take in 20-24 ounces of water for every pound lost.

– Thirst is a poor indicator of hydration status. Don’t wait until you feel thirsty to start to drink. Experiment with hydration timing, aiming to consume about 2-8 ounces every 15-20 minutes.

– If you feel the need to jog through water stops make sure you practice the fine art of drinking on the go prior to race day. Otherwise, be prepared to learn this one the hard way. It’s only a matter of time before the water spilled on your shoes at mile 4 turns into a debilitating blister by mile 10!

Looking the part

– Treat your feet right! Since they will be working overtime, be sure to find a store that specializes in fitting footwear for runners. Be prepared to purchase a new pair of shoes every 300-400 miles for maximum injury prevention.

Keep in mind as shoe models change, so do the functional properties of the shoe. If you are in love with your current pair of shoes it may be of benefit to purchase another pair before next year’s model hits the shelves.

– Although it is tempting purchase new clothing especially for the race, remember chaffing is your absolute worst enemy! It’s best to look up average race day temperatures and select a few options to test during long runs. Your underarms and thighs will thank you.

first marathon training2

Long run essentials

It’s important to experiment with race day nutrition before the big day. Your race is likely in a new location with tempting foods and drinks. And while you don’t have to go to the extreme of packing your own secret recipe race day lasagna in your baggage, do your best to stick with a familiar meal the night before the race.

There are countless stories of runners spending more time in the bathrooms along the course than actually running! To prevent such a disaster, try the following during your long training runs:

– Try using energy gels, chews, or glucose tablets to serve as quick carbohydrate sources along the course. Decide which flavors you enjoy the most and at which miles you will aim to consume them.

– Experiment with different ways of carrying your fuel. Does your favorite pair of shorts have a small pocket? Do you need to pin the gels to the inside of your shorts or purchase a running belt? Decide now to make sure you are prepared and comfortable the day of your race!

– If you plan to use the gel and water stations provided at the race make sure you mimic the course to ensure you do not need to carry extra food or beverage.

Race day pointers

– Stick to your goal pace for the first half of the race, no matter how great you feel. It’s easy for race day adrenaline to fool you into thinking you can sprint along, but rest assured, mile 3 will feel very differently from mile 23. If you find you have excess energy later in the race, by all means go for it!

– Fuel often and fuel early. Since you experimented with race day fuel and hydration during your long runs you should be well prepared for race day. Make sure you adhere to your predetermined game plan! Remember, no matter how great you feel, the detrimental effects on your performance have long started to set in prior to actually feeling the symptoms of depleted glycogen stores and dehydration.

– Stay calm and just run! Your body knows what to do. If you have trained and fueled properly you have done your part. As those last few miles can become nothing more than a mental game, it may be of benefit to find a mantra that speaks to you. Use it as motivation and inspiration to cross the finish line with a smile.

Did you get all of that? Great! Game plan in hand, you are ready to begin the amazing journey of becoming a distance athlete. I wish you a successful, injury-free, and well-fueled journey to greatness. If you find you would like a stretching or strengthening plan to compliment your training, or have additional questions, don’t hesitate to contact the author. Otherwise, kick it into high gear and go pound some pavement!

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