Preparation is paramount
Recently I entered a competition which required the answer to the question “How do you prepare for a big run?”. I probably went a little over the top with my answer. In retrospect something a little short might have done the trick, well that and being the person picked at random. Anyway, when it comes to running it never hurts to be well prepared!
I thought I’d share my answer as it may be beneficial to you if you’re running a marathon for the first time or have been experiencing difficulties with your preparation leading into a long race. I’ve slightly modified my original answer and have broken it down into ten points covering pre, during and post race. Technically it’s not all about preparation as the post suggests. There is a little bit on recovery as well which is just as important as preparation.
Here are my top ten preparation tips:
Train well and smart
Be well prepared.
“You don’t run twenty-six miles at five minutes a mile on good looks and a secret recipe” – Frank Shorter.
There is no accounting for putting in a good effort in training. There are no short cuts in the field of running. Race day is just the icing on top of a long journeyed cake.
Make sure you have a good base of fitness before launching into harder training runs. Rushing into training can most likely result in nasty injuries and completely ruin a whole running season.
Train on the track
Being familiar with the track that you are going to run on race day is very important. It’s a good idea to do some reconnaissance runs on part or all of the route. Nasty surprises, like big hills, can throw you off mid-run and potentially stop you from gaining that all important personal best.
Often races are held in the early hours of the morning. If you’re usually a late riser then race day can come as a shock to the system and could potentially throw you off for the whole run. Practise once or twice, prior to race day, waking up at the time you plan on getting up for the big run and familiarise yourself with your pre-run routine. That way you can wake up on race day with confidence and be ready at the starting line.
Eating and Drinking Before the Race
The run really begins when you wake-up the morning of the race and start eating, drinking, and preparing for your run. Consume your pre-race meal approximately 3 hours before the start of the race. This may seem to be an inconvenience (see Rehearse race day), however this is important. You need to allow adequate time for digestion decreasing the risk of developing gastrointestinal problems during the race.
There is a huge surge in insulin levels in your blood after a meal which can really affect your performance. Insulin inhibits growth hormone (GH) release. GH improves your performance, you want to minimize the GH inhibition by insulin. Research has also shown that elevated levels of insulin before activities results in a faster rate of carbohydrate utilization. Since carbohydrates are a critical component of the energy needed to complete any long distance run, you do not want to use them up too quickly.
It usually takes 2 to 3 hours after a meal for the insulin levels to return to normal, ergo the I recommend 3 hours period before the start of the race. A good pre-race meal consists mainly of about 100 to 200 grams of carbohydrates.
Running and running long distances doesn’t just cause aches and pains in the muscles and joints. There is many a runner who will tell you that some of the sorest bits after a run is their blisters and chafe that have insidiously developed over the period of the run. It’s important to prepare for this.
There is no substitute for buying good running clothing and shoes. “Hot Spots” are areas on your foot that become warm and painful during or after long runs and may or may not develop into blisters. Chafing occurs, much like blisters, in areas where clothing (especially wet clothing) rubs against the skin. Pre-lubing these hot spots with Vaseline or Body Glide will significantly decrease the incidence of blister and chafe formation. Additionally, wearing shirts, shorts and socks that are made with cool-max, nylon, spandex, and polyester are much better at wicking moisture off the skin than any garment made from cotton and thus will decrease the incidence of blisters.
When the starting gun goes off you’ll be tempted to hit out hard. Your legs will feel fresh (especially after a couple of weeks taper) and coupled with the excitement of the event it’ll make you want to run faster than the pace you developed for yourself in training. You don’t want to exhaust your muscle glycogen stores too early on as you’ll end up jogging very slowly or even walking the last half of the race. If you think you may have trouble pacing yourself get a heart rate monitor and become familiar with training within a certain percentage of your age appropriate maximum. This is only an approximate measure however it’s better than nothing.
It’s very important that you drink during the run and drink effectively. On a warm day the average runner can lose over 4 litres of sweat during a marathon. However it’s important to note that over drinking can be just as bad as under drinking. Nailing the right amount is something that comes through practice and will vary depending on the conditions on the day i.e. heat, humidity and time of day can all have a variety of effects on the the amount you hydrate. Consuming 120 to 180 ml every 10 to 15 minutes during the race is recommended but not prescriptive. You should definitely play with these figures during training.
Good nutrition and sleep
A healthy diet goes a long way to helping you prepare for a big run. Feed yourself junk and that’s how you’ll feel during the run. Being well fed and hydrated leading up to a big run will make a big difference to your performance. Sleep is important for recovery, especially during your taper. Don’t just have a good nights sleep the night before the big run. You really need a period of nights consisting of at least 8 hours prior to the big run.
This is probably the most important thing of all. All the above tips are pointless unless your main aim is to enjoy yourself and be happy with the outcome when you go on your big run. Unless you’re enjoying yourself and enjoying the company of those around you then you’ll never be satisfied as a runner.