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6 Tips for a Successful Marathon

Posted by Matt Hyder on

Spring is here and with it comes marathon season! Many of you are in the thick of training for a marathon in the coming months, perhaps even the Boston marathon. Some of you are preparing to do your first.

Completing a marathon is something to be proud of; it requires dedication and perseverance. It's not an easy feat, but it is worthwhile. Marathon success starts with training and ends with race execution. So whether you are looking to complete your first marathon, know someone who is, or are trying to set a new personal best, here are 6 tips to help you make it to the finish line and achieve your goals.

1. Be Consistent

Running 26.2 miles straight, and even trying to do it quickly, is not completely natural for anyone. While some people are naturally fast in sprints, the only way to develop the endurance to run a marathon and do it quickly is through hard work and putting in miles. You need to provide your body with frequent stimulus to "convince" it that it should improve and become more fit. Consistent running is crucial for tuning the motor coordination between the brain and the muscles (form), increasing aerobic capacity, improving muscle strength, and improving metabolic efficiency.

There are many training plans out there and available, and I would recommend picking one. Choose a plan that explains the purpose of each workout and how you're supposed to feel. Strava offers good plans for this.

In general for people running their first marathon (or even the average runner), I would recommend  running between 5-8 hours a week, or for those that like to train by distance, at least 30 miles, even up to 50 miles for the more ambitious.

Try to run at least 5 days a week, with a longer run on the weekend. Only working out on the weekends leaves too much time for "de-training" between sessions and will greatly mitigate your results.

2. Work on your pace

The only way your body can tune itself to your race pace is by practicing it. Learn what that pace feels like and run intervals at that pace. Divide your mile pace by 4 and do laps around a track. Try to get yourself to come within 1-2 seconds of your predicted  lap time each time. It sounds challenging, but with a little practice, it's quite possible.

This may sound very oriented around racing a specific time and many of you just want to finish the marathon, but by learning what pace your body can handle, you can have a smoother and, dare I say easier, path to the finish line.

3. Do your long run

There are certain body systems and muscles that can only be adequately targeted by the long run, so it is important to include in your training. Even more importantly, at least for me when I ran my first marathon, was that by accomplishing a long run in practice, I was more mentally prepared on race day, having shaken my fear of running long distance in training.

You should work to get your typical long run between 90 minute or even 2 hours. Many training plans will prescribe a 20 mile run about 3-4 weeks from your marathon. It is not important to go the full marathon distance before racing your marathon, but I would recommend at least 18 miles if your body can handle it. On race day, adrenaline and the thrill of the moment will carry you over the last bit of distance.

4. Stretch and recover

Many runners, especially distance runners, will neglect stretching but this is a mistake. Running long distances day after day can cause the muscles in your legs become chronically tight if you don't stretch frequently. This leads to a higher chance of injury, and will also leave you feeling stiff. You want your runs to feel more like gliding. When I neglect stretching, I've noticed that, while I save time and feel fine in the short term, after weeks of high mileage, my legs seize up and I no longer feel as good day to day. Stay mobile and flexible.

In brief, stretching, self-massage tools, icing, and proper nutrition will result in both your training and your race feeling much better.

5. Pay attention to your race nutrition

I got sick to my stomach and got side-stitches in my first marathon. Because of this, I only occasionally took water, refused Gatorade, refused goo packets, and didn't eat anything. While this strategy worked for a while, I bonked hard at mile 21. I had hit the wall. My pace plummeted, I slowed to a walk, and suffered my way to the next aid station. Once there I had a little Gatorade, which helped lift me to finish, but I suffered cramps and ran slow the rest of the way.

The moral of the story is that running a marathon is hard on your energy reserve systems. My blood sugar dropped too low and there wasn't enough to keep going, and my brain's emergency "stop" mechanism kicked in.

Make sure that you consume calories during your race, especially during the back half. It may not seem like much at the time, but it's that extra fuel that gets you through the last 6 miles.

6. Don't start off too fast

It's race day. You've been preparing for this for a long time. You're warmed-up, nervous, jittery, and surrounded by people and upbeat music. Then you hear the sound of the gun. It is easy when you're amped up and buzzed on adrenaline to start off fast, but resist this temptation. Starting off, even a little too fast, will make the end of the race much more difficult. Elite athletes, when they go for times, will even-split, or negative split their race (gradually speeding up). Even if you start off 10-20 seconds on your first mile, you still have 25 more miles to make it up.

Especially if it is your first marathon, try on running the first mile just slightly slower than your goal pace, and accelerate to your race pace from there. It's an investment that will pay off with interest latter. If you feel good at the half way point, slowly increase the pace.

Conclusion

We wish you the best on your marathon journey and hope these tips are helpful. What did we miss? Do you have any questions? Please comment down below, and if you liked it, please share with a friend!

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