Getting Mentally Prepared

You need to accept that there will be difficult days during your preparation. Facing these challenges with a positive and long-term focus is vital. Every step, no matter how small, is a progression toward your marathon goal.

Granular targets, such as particular distance benchmarks or specific time aspirations, must be realistic and tailored to your circumstances. If you have just commenced running, your primary target may simply be to finish the marathon. If you come from a background of shorter races, a time-based goal could be appropriate. Your objectives should stretch your capabilities without straying into impracticality.

Form a pre-run routine that primes you for success. It might be a series of stretches, a particular warm-up jog, or even a mental checklist. This routine can be a source of comfort and a signal to your mind to prepare for performance.

Research common challenges and tips, and maybe even talk to veteran marathoners. The more knowledge you have, the less intimidating the journey will be.

It’s necessary to manage your stress levels to maintain mental clarity and motivation. Practices such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or mindfulness meditation can be valuable tools to keep you centered and calm.


Nutrition and Hydration

Carbohydrates are central to a runner’s diet because they provide the glucose used to fuel muscles. Including a variety of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables ensures a steady supply of energy. Proteins are equally important as they are responsible for repairing and building muscle tissues. Good sources include lean meats, dairy, legumes, and nuts. Healthy fats sourced from avocados, nuts, seeds, and fish provide important fatty acids and help absorb vitamins.

Consuming a meal high in complex carbohydrates three to four hours before a long run can help maximize glycogen (energy) stores. Post-run meals should contain a blend of carbohydrates and protein to aid in recovery and muscle repair. The general guidance is to eat within 30 minutes to two hours after your run when muscles are most receptive to replenishing glycogen stores.

During longer training runs and the marathon itself, your body will need additional fuel. Practice consuming energy in the form of gels, chewables, or endurance sports drinks on your longer runs to see what works for you. Your stomach can be sensitive, especially under the stress of running, so it is better to experiment during training rather than on race day.

While water should certainly be the foundation, runners should not neglect electrolytes—minerals such as sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium—lost through sweat. Sports drinks during longer training sessions can replenish these vital nutrients. Avoid excessive intake of high-calorie energy drinks. Choose those formulated specifically for endurance training.

Drink water consistently throughout the day and not just during runs. A useful strategy is to weigh yourself before and after runs to monitor water loss. Each pound lost roughly equates to 16 ounces of water that needs replacing. Be vigilant against overhydration, which can lead to a dangerous condition called hyponatremia.

Each runner has unique nutritional requirements, which could benefit from personalized professional advice. A sports nutritionist can assist with personal dietary plans tailored to your training schedule, ensuring proper fueling to match your body’s demands.


Gear Up

It’s worth visiting a specialist running store to find a pair of shoes that suit your gait and foot type. Remember to break in your shoes during training but not too much. They should still be relatively fresh on marathon day.

Choice of clothing can significantly affect your training experience. Look for moisture-wicking fabrics that draw sweat away from your body to help regulate your temperature and keep you dry. Clothes made from technical, synthetic fibers perform well for this purpose.

Consider the climate you will be training in when selecting gear. Layering can be an effective strategy in cooler weather, allowing you to remove items as you warm up. In warmer climates, opt for loose-fitting, light-colored apparel that reflects sunlight and facilitates airflow.

A good pair of running socks plays a vital role in preventing blisters and keeping your feet comfortable. Avoid cotton, which retains moisture and can lead to blisters. Choose socks designed for running, which will typically be made from a blend of synthetic materials designed to manage moisture and reduce friction.

A running watch or app can help you track your distance, pace, and other metrics. For long training sessions, consider hydration solutions like a water belt or hydration pack, especially if you’ll be running routes without convenient access to water.

Sunglasses that protect against UVA and UVB rays, a hat or visor, and sunscreen will protect your skin and eyes against prolonged exposure to the sun. On colder days, gloves, a headband, or a beanie can serve to retain heat.

Consider recovery gear like foam rollers or massage sticks, which can aid in muscle recovery and help keep your muscles supple and flexible. Compression garments are another option that some runners find beneficial for recovery by improving blood flow and reducing muscle soreness.


Technique and Form

Good running form starts with good posture. Stand tall with a slight forward lean from the ankles, not the waist. This lean should be subtle but sufficient to propel you forward. Your head should be up, eyes looking forward, and shoulders relaxed and level. It is necessary to avoid slumping or hunching over, as this can lead to inefficient breathing and unnecessary strain on your back and shoulders.

Marathon Runner Beginner Keep your elbows bent at roughly a 90-degree angle. Swing your arms in a forward and backward motion to maintain balance and energy efficiency. Your hands should be relaxed, neither clenched into tight fists nor fully splayed out.

Aim for a natural stride that feels comfortable and controlled. Overstriding can waste energy and increase the risk of injury. Pay attention to your foot strike. Many runners land midsole, which can be a good balance between speed and shock absorption. 

Effective breathing helps oxygenate your muscles and maintain a steady rhythm. Practice diaphragmatic breathing, which involves the diaphragm rather than shallow chest breathing. Inhale and exhale smoothly and try to establish a breathing pattern that syncs with your stride, such as breathing in for two steps and out for two steps.

A higher cadence with shorter, lighter steps can help reduce the impact on your joints and increase efficiency. Aim for a cadence close to 180 steps per minute, which has become a general recommendation for runners. Use a metronome or a running watch with a cadence counter to help you find and keep your ideal cadence.

Ensure that you are not holding tension in your jaws, neck, or shoulders. Regularly check in with your body during your run and consciously relax any areas of tension. This can prevent muscle fatigue and conserve energy.

To maintain good form, periodic self-evaluation or professional coaching can be advantageous. Simple video analysis or feedback from a running coach can illuminate areas for improvement that you might not notice yourself.

Running drills such as high knees, butt kicks, and leg swings can improve your technique by enhancing coordination, flexibility, and efficiency. Incorporate these drills into your warm-up routine or dedicate specific sessions to them.

Incorporate strength training, with a focus on core stability, and regular stretching or yoga into your routine. A strong core stabilizes your entire body, improving form, while flexibility aids in maintaining proper posture and stride.


The Long Run

Engaging in regular long runs adapts your muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones to withstand the repetitive stress of running for several hours. It trains your cardiovascular system to deliver oxygen more efficiently and teaches your body to store more glycogen, your muscles’ main energy source during prolonged exercise. Beyond the physical, long runs build mental toughness and help runners develop strategies to cope with fatigue and discomfort.

A typical training plan will slowly increase the long run distance each week or every other week, often alternating with a slightly shorter long run for recovery. Never increase the length of the long run by more than 10% from week to week to minimize the risk of injury.

The pace should generally be significantly slower than your marathon race pace. Many coaches advise running long distances at a pace that is 60 to 90 seconds slower per mile than your desired marathon pace. The focus should be on maintaining a consistent, comfortable pace and finishing the run feeling strong.

To stave off monotony and to mimic various race day conditions, consider incorporating different types of long runs into your training. This may include progression runs, where you gradually increase your pace throughout the run, or finish the last few miles at your intended marathon pace. You can vary your route to include hills or different terrains.

As you approach the last few weeks of marathon training, you’ll complete your final long run – the longest of your training cycle. It is common for this run to be between 20 to 22 miles. After this peak experience, you’ll begin to taper, reducing your mileage to ensure your body is well-rested and ready for race day.


The Taper

The tapering process begins about three weeks before the marathon. Runners will have completed their longest and most challenging workouts and begin to decrease the total mileage gradually. This reduction allows the body to repair micro-injuries, replenish glycogen stores, and recover from the accumulated fatigue of training.

Overall running volume is reduced by 20% to 50% of peak training mileage. It’s important that this reduction is gradual to avoid a sudden change that could leave your body feeling sluggish. The first week may see a moderate decrease, followed by more significant reductions in the final two weeks leading up to race day.

While overall mileage decreases, maintaining some level of intensity in your workouts is necessary. This means that while the frequency and volume of runs will decrease during the taper, a few key sessions should include race-pace efforts or intervals. These sessions help keep muscles tuned without putting undue stress on the body.

The extra time that becomes available due to reduced training should be used to maximize rest and recovery. Ensuring adequate sleep and rest helps clear the mind and reduce stress.


Race Day Strategy

Study the map to learn where the hills are, where you can expect downhills and the layout of turns. Note the locations of aid stations, bathrooms, and any areas where friends and family plan to spectate. 

Establish a realistic pace that you aim to maintain throughout the race. Your long runs and tempo workouts can serve as good indicators of what pace is comfortable yet challenging. It’s typically advised to start the race at a controlled pace rather than going out too fast and risking fatigue early on. It is important to factor in the terrain of the course when planning your pace.

Decide in advance what gels, chews, bars, or drinks you will consume during the race and when you will consume them. The strategy you developed during your long runs should inform your race-day nutrition. Know where the aid stations are located on the course and decide if you’ll rely on them or carry your own nutrition and hydration.

Do a light warm-up to get your blood flowing and muscles ready for the marathon. This might include light jogging and dynamic stretching. Be careful not to wear yourself out before the race begins.

Be prepared to alter your strategy if things—like the weather or how you feel on race day—do not go as planned. Be willing to adjust your pace to accommodate those factors.

Appreciate the support of the crowds and other runners. Enjoy the experience, for it’s a celebration of the hard work and dedication you’ve invested.


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