138,336 feet doesn’t sound too far, right? How about 26.2 miles? That sounds much farther, but it’s the same distance…and that is the official distance of a marathon. The distance was originally set at 24 miles to commemorate the Greek soldier called Pheidippides, who ran 24 miles from a battlefield in Marathon to Athens to deliver news of victory. Those extra 11,616 feet, or 2.2 miles were added by decree of the International Olympic Committee at the 1908 Olympic Games in London, England, so the race would finish in front of the Royal box at White City Stadium. The distance of 26.2 has been regulation since. That kind of mileage is no joke. Legend has it that our man Pheidippides died promptly after his run to deliver his message. Training for a marathon takes intense preparation, dedication, and skill. I’m not saying you’ll die if you run a marathon without training, but the chances of you having a successful and enjoyable race will greatly increase if you’re properly prepared! Depending on your experience, training for mileage like this can take anywhere from 4-6 months, and up to a year for less experienced runners. This is definitely not a race you can just sign up for and give it a go. There are a number of variables that can determine the outcome of your training efforts, and eventually, your race day.
Diet. Throughout training, your diet plays a significant role in helping you perform and recover. In making food choices, it’s always best to stick with what you know works. You do not want to experiment the day of the race. A well-rounded diet of lean meats, legumes, dairy, fruits, and vegetables is a great way to set your self up for success come race day. Foods with a moderate to high glycemic index are your best choices before a race. Glycogen stores will deplete over long distances, so practice during your long and semi-long runs with the sports drink and energy gels you intend to refuel with during the race. While staying hydrated is key to performance, marathoners often get into trouble by over hydrating (hyponatremia). This can be quite serious. As you become dehydrated, less oxygen, fuel, and electrolytes are delivered to working muscles, resulting in fatigue, injury, and possible cardiac implications. In addition to fluids, there are significant nutrient losses during races lasting 1-4+ hours. It is best to take advantage of a sports drink containing carbohydrates and electrolytes to offset these losses during your race.
Race Prep. Select the shoes, socks, and attire you'll wear in the marathon. The shoes should be fairly lightweight, but provide good support. Do not wear brand new shoes the day of your race. You should do a mid-long distance run in your shoes at race pace to determine whether you'll develop blisters or sore feet. If the shoes bother you on this run, get yourself another pair. Many running specialty stores offer gait analysis which may be helpful in determining which shoe is best for you. It may not seem so, but attire is very important. Be aware of weather conditions, and dress accordingly. Non-cotton/technical moisture-wicking fabric is essential for comfort and prevention of chaffing.
Training Habits. Research your race and determine the terrain. If at all possible, start doing runs on the same topography as the marathon. If your race is hilly, incorporate hills or incline work to your training. Flat may sound easy, but you’ll be using the same muscles the entire time, so you must be prepared. If at all possible, run at the same time of day as the start of your marathon. As a result, your body's rhythms (especially your bathroom routine) will be in sync with the demands of the marathon come race day.
Pre-Race Habits. Extra sleep prior to a race is critical. Your body will really appreciate it the day of. The day before, continue eating as you have in the week leading up to the race, but increasing your intake of up to 5.5 grams of carbohydrates per pound of body weight. For longer races, your body will require more fuel. A more substantial meal is warranted approximately 2 hours prior to start, so set that alarm just a little extra early. In addition to your meal, it is good practice to have a light snack 1 hour prior to the race. A granola bar, energy chews, GU, etc. are good options for more sustained energy release and a lower possibility for GI distress. Maintain the hydration practices you’ve been following during training. Consume three to six ounces of fluid (water and sports drink) every 15 to 20 minutes to replenish carbohydrates and electrolytes and prevent dehydration. An hour prior to start, find a quiet place to spend a few moments reviewing your race plan and motivation. Remind yourself of why you're there and be confident in the months of effort you’ve put in.
Post Race. While every fiber in your body may be screaming for rest…keep moving. Gentle stretching and lower intensity cardiovascular movements, such as walking, for up to 60 minutes after the race, will help diminish a lot of post-race stiffness. Replace fluids, drinking enough so you have to use the bathroom within 60 to 90 minutes after your run (approximately 8-24oz). Post race practices are very important in regards to recovery. Replacing fluids lost and replenishing glycogen stores are crucial and the window of opportunity is small. It is best to consume a recovery ‘meal’ within the first 30 minutes after completion of the run. The optimum ratio is 3:1 carbohydrates to protein. Depending on your preference, this meal can take the form of nutrition bars, recovery sports drinks, or even chocolate milk. For a long run such as this, you should also take in a full meal within 2 hours of completing your race that contains lean proteins, carbohydrates, and maybe even a post-race treat…you deserve it! And finally…CELEBRATE!!! You’ve completed a major accomplishment. You have earned your bragging rights as being part of the 0.5% of Americans that have run a marathon. Be proud of all of your planning and sacrifices. Wear that race t-shirt with pride and make sure to slap your little black and white 26.2 sticker on your car when you get home!