Tine is counting down, your goal is in site, you’ve been training now for over 20 weeks religiously and the big day is only days away. The New York Marathon. You remember when you set yourself your first goal of getting in shape so you could live a longer and healthier life. Well that phase you conquered. You worked your way up from walking around the block several times a week, to walking your first mile, then you’re second. You began a slow jog 3 times a week to help build up your stamina and increase your lung capacity. You then worked your way up to running, a mile at first then increased it to 5 miles 3 times a week. Then slowly added an additional day of running. Your fitness journey has so far taken you four months of pushing yourself to continue on. But you have also seen the progress in yourself by staying the course. Your slimmer, you are not breathing hard now and if you think back when you started you wondered if you could even make it around that first block without falling over from lack of air.
You now decided to set your sights on a new goal, running in the New York Marathon. You know this is another large hurdle and it will involve even more intense training on your part.
Below are some recommendations on how to get yourself ready to run in the marathon.
Completing 26.2 miles is an awe-inspiring accomplishment that requires commitment and dedication and that provides many rewards, not least of which is joining the .5 percent of the U.S. population who have run a marathon. Most training plans call for 16 to 20 weeks of training. You’ll run three to five (or more) times per week, and your weekly mileage total will gradually increase as you get closer to the big race day.
Since you’ve been changing your lifestyle for the past 4 months this can be done, however it is recommended that a person who is in reasonable good shape physically should be running a minimum of 3 to 6 months and during this time you should feel comfortable in being able to run at least 6 miles and should have at least 3 – 5, 5K races under your belt. Trying to take part in a full 26.2 mi. marathon before you have accomplished these recommended steps isn’t advisable because it exponentially increases your chance of injury and an unhappy experience.
The key to successful marathon training is consistently putting in enough weekly mileage to get your body accustomed to running for long periods of time. Newer runners may start with 15 to 20 miles per week total and gradually build to a peak week of 35 to 40 miles.
The most important part of your training is a weekly long run at an easy “conversational” pace that gradually increases in distance, week over week, to build your strength and endurance. Spending the extra time on your feet helps prepare your muscles, joints, bones, heart, lungs, and brain for going 26.2 on race day. Most training plans build to at least one 18- to 20-mile long run.
Select a couple of long runs in the month or two before the race to use as "dress rehearsals." Get up and start running the same time you will on race day. Eat and drink what you'll eat on the day before, the morning of, and during your race the day before, the morning of, and during the dress rehearsal run. Wear the same shoes and clothing you plan to wear in the marathon. This gives you the opportunity to troubleshoot any problems, and to respect the cardinal rule of running a marathon: Never Try Anything New on Race Day.
Before you run: To sustain energy, you need to eat something before any run lasting more than 60 minutes. Ideally, you should have a high-carb, low-fiber meal three to four hours before you plan to run. That time frame gives your body a chance to fully digest and reduces risk of mid-run stomach issues. However, if you’re running in the morning, it’s not always possible to leave that much time between your meal and your run. If you have at least an hour before your workout, eat about 50 grams of carbs (that’s equal to a couple pancakes or waffles with syrup or a bagel with honey). If you’re doing a really long run, consider adding in a little protein, which will help sustain your energy levels. A PB&J sandwich or a hard-boiled egg are good choices.
During your run: Runners should consume about 30 to 60 grams of carbs per hour of exercise (it’s best to spread that out over time intervals that work for you, such as every 20 minutes). You can get the right amount of carbs from sports drinks (16 ounces of Gatorade provides 28 grams of carbs), one to two energy gels (GU Energy Gels provide about 22 grams in one packet), or energy chews. Real foods, like a quarter cup of raisins or two tablespoons of honey, also provide the right amount of easily digested carbs that will energize your run. Everyone’s tolerance for fuel is different, however, so the key is to find out what works for you during your training so you know what to take in on race day.
After your run: Eating a mix of carbs and protein within 30 to 60 minutes post run is crucial because it helps speed your body’s recovery. Carbs help restock spent glycogen (or energy) stores, while protein helps repair microscopic damage to muscle tissue. If you ran easy for less than 60 minutes, plan to have a small snack (like eight ounces of low-fat chocolate milk) or whatever your next meal is, such as eating a breakfast of oatmeal with raisins, nuts, and a splash of milk after a morning run. If you ran hard or for longer than 60 minutes, you need something more substantial. Aim to consume a recovery meal with 15 to 25 grams of protein and 50 to 75 grams of carbs. Good post run recovery meals include an omelet with veggies and feta cheese, plus two slices whole-wheat toast and a fruit smoothie. For lunch, a turkey sandwich topped with extra veggies on a hearty whole-grain roll along with a bowl of lentil soup will fit the bill. Or for dinner, try grilled salmon or flank steak along with a sweet potato, sautéed spinach, and fresh berries for dessert.
What to drink: You need to drink enough before, during, and after your run to perform your best. Just two percent dehydration can slow you down. It’s especially important to stay on top of hydration during warm summer months, when you sweat more. While some experts recommend you stay hydrated by simply drinking when thirsty, others suggest you develop a customized plan by performing a sweat test—that is, weighing yourself before and after exercise.
How to Stay Healthy: To prevent injuries and stay healthy while marathon training, increase your mileage gradually and incorporate rest and recovery into your program. Rotate hard workout days with easy days (short, slow runs) and consider reserving at least one day a week for a complete break from running. Stretching also helps—dynamic stretching is best before a run; static stretching and yoga can help you recover post-run. Above all, listen to your body. Scale back mileage and take an extra rest day or two if you feel pain that's beyond typical training soreness.
Remember, train hard but train smart and prior to any marathon, make the effort to go over the course so that you are familiar with how it is laid out, so you can plan for energy intake breaks as you run. If you follow the tips above for preparing for your marathon there should be no reason you won’t be crossing that finish line.