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Top 7 Marathon Tips- by Jasper Blake

1- Warm up

Warming up for any event is crucial but not all warm ups are created equally.  It’s important to have several different warm strategies in place.  There are numerous factors that affect what type of warm up to do.  For example warming up for an endurance event when it’s incredibly hot requires some tempering.  There is no sense spending an hour depleting your body of water and electrolytes before the race even starts.  You still need to get your muscles and heart ready to do work but you need to factor in the cost.  For marathons a similar problem occurs.  How much time can you really spend warming up when the race itself is going to take 2.5-6+ hours depending on who you are.  Typically the shorter the race the more warm up is required and conversely the longer the race the less warm up is required.  This is in part due to the pace you are going to go (shorter is much faster) and in part due to the actual energy loss you can afford to give up.  For marathons you shouldn’t need more than about ten minutes of light jogging and some strides to really get warmed up.  Of course if you are an elite runner and aiming for a time in the low two hour mark you will likely need to get your lactic buffers fired up but if you are in the 4 hour plus crowd the first few miles will do just fine.

2- What to wear

Obviously weather is a huge component of longer races.  You cannot get away with something that is too hot or two cold when you have 3+ hours ahead of you.  It’s important to know what the conditions will be like and dress appropriately.  As a general rule you are likely to feel warmer when you are racing than when you are training probably in part due to the intensity.  Probably the number one rule when considering longer events is to make sure that you are comfortable above all else.  Wear what you feel good wearing and that includes your footwear.  Never make drastic changes on race day unless you have tried them in training and know you will be comfortable. 

3- Blisters and Chaffing

It’s rare that we ever run a marathon in training when preparing for a marathon.  It’s important to know that chaffing and blisters can happen when the length of time increases.  You may not experience either of these things in training simply because you may not have run for that long before.  It’s better to prepare for these two things and avoid them all together. 

Blisters are obviously most common on the feet.  There are several strategies that can help you avoid blisters.  Double layer socks are a great idea.  A company called “wright sock” make very lightweight, thin socks that are perfect in any shoe.  The basic idea is that the layers of sock rub against each other opposed to your skin rubbing against the sock.  There are several great products out there in cream or powder form that can also help stave off blisters that are easily massaged into the feet or put into the shoes.  

Chaffing is a different story.  Chaffing can happen in some of the most unexpected places and it’s a good idea to prepare accordingly.  Some common places for chaffing are inner thighs, underarms and nipples.  Combine the constant rub of clothing or skin on skin mixed with a bit of moisture and salt and it can be a painful experience.  Chaffing can be avoided with the right clothing and of course some anti-friction cream.  I’ve even seen people put band-aids on their nipples, which is as effective as it is interesting.

4- Pacing

Pacing is probably the most important aspect in a marathon.  You must have a plan when it comes to pacing or chances are that you will go out too fast.  The longer the event the less chance you have to do anything different than you have been doing in training.  By the time the marathon rolls around you should be well versed in your pace and should stick too it.  There is a tendency in races to feel very good particularly in the beginning and this can lead people out of their appropriate pace very quickly.  Inevitably it will come back to haunt you in the later stages if you go too far beyond your capacity.  At larger marathons it’s common to have “pace bunnies”, people who are designated to hit a certain pace so you can run and pace off of them.  Regardless, most races are usually marked in miles or kilometers and all you need is a stopwatch to figure it out.  Stay on pace and you have a greater chance of reaching your goals.

5- Mental Resiliance

One of the best mental strategies you can have for a marathon is to break it into pieces.  The thought of 26 miles or 42km can be daunting.  However most people are comfortable with one mile.  So instead of running 26 miles run one mile, then another, then another and so on.  It’s also a good idea to be familiar with the course.  Often a route seems longer when we first do it but as you do it more and more it gets smaller in your head.  The brain likes familiarity and if the route has been studied it’s easier for the brain to manage.

6- Nutrition and Hydration

The longer the event the more important nutrition becomes.  Anything up to an hour and nutrition is almost a mute point.  The body typically has enough glycogen stores to last 60-90 minutes but beyond that it needs a steady stream of carbohydrate to keep going.  Anyone who has bonked knows what it feels like to have depleted glycogen stores.  It doesn’t matter how fit you are, if you run out of glycogen it will seriously affect your day.  It’s important to have a plan that you have tried in practice.  It’s also important to know what they have on the course and know that you can handle consuming what they provide.  Typically aid stations are every 1-3 miles so it’s also valuable to know the timeframe with which you will have access to nutrition.  If you are on the slower side it might be a good idea to bring your own.  The best strategy is to take little amounts frequently so as never to dump too much sugar into your gut at once.  As intensity goes your ability to absorb calories decreases and vice versa.

Hydration is a major factor in longer events.  Water loss happens from the blood stream, which makes the blood thicker and harder for your heart to move.  This causes an increase in your effort level.  Water loss also decreases ones ability to cool down.  We sweat so that our body can regulate its core temperature.  Sweat on the skin has a cooling effect.  If we lose too much water we decrease our bodies ability to cool down which increases core body temperature and increases perceived effort.  Hydrating during long events needs to happen at regular intervals.  Like caloric intake, we can only absorb so much water at one time.  Dumping too much fluid into the gut at once is a recipe for disaster.  Sodium loss and intake also becomes an important factor when we consider hydration.  Most sports drinks have sodium for a reason.  Sweat contains salt and the more we lose the harder it is for us to move water from the gut to the blood stream.  Bloating is one of the major side effects of sodium depletion.  When the blood is low in sodium the osmotic gradient required to move fluid across membranes no longer exists and water sits in the gut.  You can have great quantities of fluid in your gut but if it’s not in your blood stream you can still be severely dehydrated.

7- Recovery

The marathon is probably one of the hardest events to fully recover from.  It’s easy to ride your bike or swim for several hours but the repeated pounding that happens when we run really takes a toll on the body.  There is a reason why people rarely actually run a marathon in training prior to the actual event, it just takes too long to recover from.  Studies have shown that even 3-4 weeks post marathon there can be micro-tears in the muscle indicating that they are still not recovered. 

There are several strategies you can use to recover quicker from a marathon. 

  • Stick to low or no impact sports for at least two weeks
  • Limit the time on your feet to walking for a couple of weeks
  • If you must run try water running- a low impact alternative
  • Focus on great nutrition and lean protein to help muscles rebuild
  • Contrast as in hot/cold treatment work wonders
  • Massage or any physical contact that promotes blood flow to muscle groups is a very good idea
  • Replace sodium and fluid that has been lost
  • Sleep- nothing is as restorative as sleep