How you can successfully prepare for your first marathon.
One of the goals you may have for 2016 is to run your very first marathon, which is great – but it is, quite literally, no walk in the park! Marathon running is a test of your endurance, both physically and mentally, and the right preparation is key in the lead up to the big race.
Joe Ward knows a thing or two about marathon running – having run 50 marathons himself, he also holds the current record for the GNW Newcastle to Sydney race. He’s also a marathon coach and personal trainer for Manly Beach Running Club. Here he shares his tips to make sure you’re race-ready for the day.
Even before you strap on your shoes, the very first step, according to Ward, is to commit to doing the race – don’t just say that you’re going to do it. Not only is it a financial commitment (when you pay for the event), it’s also a time commitment – after you’ve entered and paid for the marathon, you can start building a solid structure of how to train and be successful in your training.”
“…one week you might run 20km, the next week 22km, and then 24km the following week. You could then do a recovery run of 12km every 2 or 3 weeks.”
When it comes to training for a marathon, Ward says “to be successful… [men should try] to train more like women.” For example, women tend to be more sociable when it comes to their training and work as a group – Ward encourages men to do the same. Training in a group will help make the running easier as you and your buddies help each other stay motivated and make sure you’re all on the right track. If you don’t have access to a training group, Ward suggests having at least one training buddy that can help pull you through the tough times (because there will be a few!) in the preparation for your first marathon.
Ward also advises that men be more conservative when it comes to their training. From his coaching experience, Ward says “Men go too fast, they’re full of testosterone, they want to go 100 miles an hour.” Even if you’ve been running for a while, don’t go too fast and too hard when you’re starting out. Ward recommends increasing your distances by no more than 10 per cent per week – for example, one week you might run 20km, the next week 22km, and then 24km the following week. You could then do a recovery run of 12km every 2 or 3 weeks. Building up your distances, taking your time and being conservative about your training means avoiding serious injury, which can set you back and affect your fitness and motivation levels.
Diet will also be a major part of training, and it’s important to increase your intake of carbs or energy food when you’re preparing for your first marathon. Men who do a lot of strength training often focus on protein, but if you’re serious about the marathon it’s important to keep your energy levels high with nutritious sources of carbohydrates. The healthiest carbs, Ward explains, come from foods such as bananas, mangoes, potatoes and rice (wholefoods if possible), and avoid simple sugars such as chocolate or treats. And of course, as with any workout, water and hydration are essential – Ward advises keeping your water and electrolyte balance correct by drinking the right amount of water and eating foods such as watermelon and celery to replace the lost salts you lose when you go for a long run.
“…it’s important to increase your intake of carbs or energy food when you’re preparing for your first marathon.”
So how do you keep yourself motivated and mentally fit in the 6 months (or more) that it might take to prepare for your marathon? According to Ward, enjoy your running – “you never want to outrun it,” he says. When you start training too hard, get exhausted and hate running, it defeats the purpose of why you started running in the first place. If this becomes the case and you find you’re not having fun or feeling motivated, have a rest, back off the training for a bit, and make sure you’re enjoying the process.
Finally, if you can see a coach who specialises in marathon or long-distance training, they can help create a training program to ensure you don’t get injured. Ward also recommends seeing a running specialist to ensure you’re properly fitted for a prescribed running shoe especially for you – again, this avoids injury not only to your feet but your entire body. As with any exercise program you start, make sure you’re also checked out by your doctor first to get the green light.
Marathon running can be physically and mentally tough, and it takes a lot of commitment to succeed. By pacing yourself, following a healthy diet with carbs and training with like-minded people, you will be on your way to completing that very first long distance run.