Getting Yourself Ready for the Marathon

The
marathon is one of the last frontiers of personal challenge we can give
ourselves. It’s not about becoming a world champion, or winning a race. Rather
it’s about pursuing an aspiration we have within ourselves to achieve something
on our own. At middle age, we have one last opportunity to be the athlete we
couldn’t be in our youth. The challenge also gives us the chance to travel and
participate in some of the great mass marathons, and make truly good friends
all around the world.

Training

Training is the key to your journey. Whatever
you do and how much, really depends upon how long you have been running, other
commitments in life, and not least your personal aims. It’s advisable to sketch
a long term objective and break up your training into specific periods to
achieve it, i.e., target a 10km race distance in the first year, and then a half
marathon in the second year, before you run a full marathon. This way you are
not just pursuing the quest to just complete a marathon, but preparing to run a
quality one as well.

It is not the kilometers you run each week
but the quality of those you run. As little as 60-80 kilometers per week could
put you in good stead for a great marathon performance. However these weekly
distances would only be achievable in the 3rd year for the nascent runner.

The key to any training regime is to make
the most efficient use of your time. Build up gradually the long run each week,
with a medium run, and interval/fartlek (varied pace running) session every
week. The other days should involve recovery runs. Race as often as you can
because racing, especially over the shorter distances is one of the best forms
of training.

Basically the only difference between
training for the 10km and marathon is the length of your weekly long run,
medium runs, and intervals you run. You may slowly build up you weekly long run
to 15-16km run for a 10km race, a 16-25km for a half marathon, and 25-30km for
a marathon. Your medium run should be about 60-70% of the long run distance.

The difference in performance between doing
just long slow distance and incorporating interval and fartlek in your training
schedule will astound you.

You can do two types of interval sessions.
Firstly, there are those at race pace covering distances of 1 kilometer or
longer, say 2-4 repetitions with walking in between, and secondly those
slightly quicker intervals over 200-600 meters with about 4-10 repetitions. The
later are particularly good for bringing down 10km times, which will assist in
bringing down the times of longer races.

Running over hills is great training for
strength and endurance. But don’t overdo it as running up and down hills puts
great strain on your knees and lower back.

It’s not necessary to do all your training
runs flat out. The pace should be varied during the week depending upon the
purpose of the session. Hard flat out running will only lead to injuries and
fatigue. Your recovery runs should be at a pace where you can talk to someone
comfortably at.

Perhaps the best way to judge the progress
of your training without a coach or mentor is to recognize the signs your body
is giving you. If your body feels flat and jaded from training then you may be
overdoing it and should ease back. Sore legs and lower back pains are signs
your body is having trouble coping with stress of training. In this case you
should look for the causes and ease back. Conversely when your body feels
strong and flowing, your body is in good condition. Maintain your training and
avoid allowing your body getting flat and jaded for too long.

Although wrist GPS watches are great at
giving you time and distance information during your run, don’t rely too much
upon them. Run most importantly according to how you feel. Relying on a watch
to set your pace can lead to great disappointments as it may encourage you to
run faster than suits you on the day, and cause injuries during training. I can
assure you the author is talking from experience.

One must also allow some time to recover
from races. A day for a 10km race, a few days for a half marathon, and anything
up to a month for a marathon. Some people will tell you it even takes much
longer to recover.

Don’t run too many marathons. Pick two, or
maximum three a year, and focus on a good performance. On the other race days,
focus on getting your times down over the shorter distances. This will help you
get your marathon times down. Your body can’t cope with too many marathons
unless you are just running them without any concern for time.

Diet is a very interesting issue. My old
coach Pat Clohessy, who was also the coach of the 1984 world marathon champion
Rob DeCastella always said “do the running and the weight will look after
itself”. Great advice for the youth. However unfortunately at middle age
with our metabolism, even when training for the marathon, it’s necessary to
control your food intake while you bring your own weight down. Roughly, every
one kilogram is worth a minute in a 10km race. So weight reduction is as vital
as training. The good news is that once you are there, it’s easy to control
your weight.

Injuries are the curse of all good plans,
but tell you that you are putting too much strain on your body. So when above
40 years old, it may be necessary to have longer rests between harder training
sessions to allow the body to recuperate. Don’t get involved in the situation
where you are highly motivated to do extra training which only leads to
injuries that take you away from training for up to three months, where you
basically have to start your preparation all over again.

One way you can test your recovery from
hard training is to check your pulse. If it is above your normal baseline (you
must check it resting every morning), then there is a great possibility you aren’t
allowing your body to recover properly between training sessions. 

Selecting
your races

Picking your races is very important. Try
to find a relatively flat course that gives you the best opportunity  to achieve your target time. Make sure it’s
not in a location that may be too hot for a reasonable performance. Check the location
and start time. A half marathon starting at 5.30am will be much cooler than one
starting at 7.00am. If you select a major marathon, the sheer number of people
may help pull you through for a good performance. Conversely, a smaller
marathon may give you more space to do your own thing. Crucial to the selection
of the marathon is the standard of marshalling and refreshments the organizers
provide. Signage along the course is also very important. To know how many
kilometers you have completed and how many to go is extremely important.

Getting
ready for dace day

The day before the race don’t over eat, so
as to take pressure off your bowel movements. Get up at least two hours before
the race and have your coffee, toast, oats, or whatever light snack you think
you need. Make sure you and your shoes are all fine before going to the race. It
is best to ease back on your training the week of an important race so you can
be at your freshest. An extra hard training run the week of a big race will do
nothing to enhance your performance, and will most likely detract from it.

There is no need to get restless the night
before race day, although you may feel excited. You have done the work to go
after what your running ambitions are. Just go out there and take the attitude
of running smoothly according to how you feel. Ironically your best
performances will be the least “painful” and most enjoyable. So
settle down as soon as you can. Run slower than you think you need to run and
you will most probably find that you are running faster than you have planned
anyway. Don’t get caught up in all the excitement of the start.

The
marathon race

How you run the marathon is extremely
important.

Try not to get too excited during the
start. Go out very conservatively, or else you may pay very dearly later on in
the race.

Try to get into the rhythm of the most
economical running style you have developed during your training as soon as
possible through focusing on the run. This is why you practice long interval
and fartlek running sessions. Put the emphasis on feeling good in your running
action. This rhythm will bring you almost into a semi-meditative state, and
each kilometer will just pass by relatively easier than when you push yourself. 

The
pace you run will depend upon so many factors in regards to how you feel, the
conditions you personally prefer, and your fitness, etc. Going out at an
unsustainable pace will result dire consequences.

As you will feel good over the early part
of the race, the temptation to run faster than you should will be there. You
must run conservatively for the first 30km as it is only at this point in the
race that the challenge really begins. There will be no “wall” as is
often mentioned if you have done the work, but there will always be the
likelihood that you can feel good one moment and terrible the next.

There is nothing more mentally positive
than feeling relatively fresh at the halfway mark of the marathon with the
necessary reserves available to slowly pass other runners on the way home to
the finish.

Running in a group has advantages and
disadvantages. The advantage is being able to run in a group that makes the
pace easier, but a major disadvantage is the possibility of tripping over
another runner.

If
you are used to running with others, then joining someone running the same pace
is greatly beneficial. When you feel tired and lose focus through fatigue, that
person next to you will help you cope with those down periods during the race.
You can mentally attach yourself to behind a person and imagine you are
connected by an elastic band. This helps you run at a strong pace but be
careful you don’t select a person or group having a faster momentum than you
are really prepared for. If you have selected a much stronger person or group
than you can cope with and drop off that connection, you will suffer greatly
from fatigue and most likely drop away through the field for the rest of the
race.

In
case you have gone out too hard, stopping to a walk may make the run even
harder. Instead, try slowing down to a jog until you recover enough to put some
pace back on.

If you have followed your training, you
shouldn’t need to get refreshments in a 10km or even half marathon, unless it
is an extremely hot day, or you are running on the road for more than two
hours. You can already do a two hour run without refreshments.

However the case is very different in the
marathon, especially when you could be out there for 4-6 hours. Get drinks in
the early part of the race before you are thirsty, as taking drinks much later
in the race when fatigue sets, won’t be of much help.

As many find out, training for and running
marathons is addictive and can completely change a person’s life. In countries
like Australia, there are many people who take up running in lieu of a
relationship with someone. Marathon running takes the place of a relationship,
which many find fulfilling. Running for many, brings meaning to one’s life, and
in this way is almost a spiritual experience.

Marathon running is also the great equalizer
in more ways than one. There are no classes or social hierarchies in the
marathon. The long road doesn’t distinguish between rich and poor, professional
or manual laborer. It’s an experience everybody shares equally.

All the wealth in the world can’t buy you
the experience and satisfaction of completing the marathon.

Murray Hunter is associate professor at the University Malaysia Perlis, and  consultant to Asian governments on community development.

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