It's almost 18 months since I started training for my first half-marathon. I signed up for the Clontarf Half in July and started to build up the miles. My plan was to run it as best I could and if I survived I would sign up for the Dublin Marathon.
As I write this, I am now just weeks away from marathon number two, and although I am feeling every emotional – from anxiety and guilt to excitement and exhilaration – I am so glad I did it!
I learned so much along the way from people who had run it before and also, more importantly, from mistakes I made during training. Mistakes are our best teachers. Here are a few things that helped me get through the marathon taper and the marathon itself, I hope they help you run your best race.
After weeks of carefully choreographed long runs, speed intervals, tempo sessions and races, taper time can be tough, but it is vital that you do it. The idea is to wind down, heal any damage caused over the past few brutal weeks and start building your reserves and strength to get you to the start and finish line.
I try to think of taper as being as important as all of those weeks of running. You need it for optimum performance, so suck it up like you had to for those 20 milers. It will be worth it!
They will haunt you but do not panic, it's not an injury! Now is the time for your muscles to relax and in doing so they are going to twinge and ache. Phantom pains are totally normal and tend to be your nerves are kicking in.
You will conjure up every scenario possible to convince yourself resting is bad for you and that you would be better off running. However, at this late stage there's not much you can do to improve your performance, but there's a lot you can do to mess it up.
Self-doubt will creep in, you'll think you haven't done enough, just another speed session will sort it right? Wrong! Whatever programme you have followed has worked for someone else, so trust the taper and ignore the phantoms!
YOU ARE NOT UNFIT AND FAT!
Now that you have dramatically reduced your running you are not getting your mileage fix, you are out of your comfort zone and you may start to feel sluggish, unfit and fat.
Stick to your taper programme. You have worked so hard up until now, do not give up! Remember why you are doing this! Keep moving. You have to reduce your mileage but you don't have to stop completely. Remember to add a little cross training in or light jogs to help your mind rather than your body!
H20 KEEP WELL HYDRATED IN THE DAYS BEFORE THE MARATHON. DEHYDRATION WILL AFFECT YOUR PERFORMANCE MASSIVELY, SO MAKE DRINKING WATER A PRIORITY. IF YOU ARE HYDRATING PROPERLY YOUR URINE SHOULD BE LIGHT YELLOW, TAKE A LOOK!
YOUR BODY NEEDS GLYCOGEN FOR THE FULL 26.2 MILES. IF IT RUNS OUT, IT WILL TURN TO FAT FOR ENERGY WHICH MEANS YOUR BODY WILL HAVE TO SLOW DOWN AS IT TURNS TO ITS FAT STORES. YOU NEED TO GET AS MANY CARBS ON BOARD DURING THE 48 HOURS BEFORE THE MARATHON.
Aim for about 4gs of carbs per kg of body weight; with every gram of stored carbohydrate you store an extra three grams of water. Successful carb loading means you will put on about 4lbs before race day. You need this to be strong enough to cross the finish line.
Try and test everything you plan to use/wear/drink from/listen to on the day. Do not wear new gear. I always have to fight the urge to buy a new outfit but silence the fashionista and tune into the runner! You do not want any surprises like chafing, blisters etc. The same goes for your earphones, iPod, Garmin, gel belt, sunnies, cap.
Remember to recharge your Garmin, your iPod or whatever gadgets you will use on the day.
Spend time on your playlist if you run with music. I knew the miles that would be hard for me so I downloaded inspirational speeches and listened to those when the going got tough.
Be aware of what you wear on your feet the days before the marathon. Wear shoes that are comfortable to minimise any aches or unwanted blisters. I bathe my feet regularly the week before in epsom salts to relax and detox.
Get to bed early the days before. You probably won't sleep the night before the marathon with nerves and anticipation so get those hours in on Friday and Saturday night.
Have a plan A and plan B – 'A' being your ideal race, 'B' being your fallback plan. What pace will you run at? When will you take your gels? Having a plan will help with nerves.
Last year, I watched inspirational movies and documentaries the nights before race day. Seeing other people accomplish their dreams helps you focus on how important this is for you and gives you that extra boost. It will help to erase any self-doubt you might be feeling.
Remember why you are doing this. Keep that at the forefront of your mind throughout and you will get to the finish.
THE MOST IMPORTANT TIP
Run your race. Don't worry about anyone else on the course but yourself. You have sacrificed a lot and earned your place at the start line. This is your chance.
Don't worry about anyone else's pace, there will always be someone faster or stronger than you. Focus on doing YOUR very best, enjoy the experience of each mile, YOUR marathon. Remember that running is a privilege, this is your choice, enjoy the journey!
Gear: Hat or visor, runners,
short- or long-sleeve top (have both ready), sports bra, shorts/leggings for race (weather dependant), socks.
Vaseline or other anti-chafing cream
Running belt if you run with one
Tracksuit: I wore an old tracksuit and threw the bottoms away just before I started and the top a couple of miles in. You'll be cold starting off.
Water bottles: One for the journey to the start line and one for the race.
Toilet paper – pre-race necessity! Watch or GPS
Gels or sports drink if you've been training with them
Energy bar/banana if you'll be standing around
Extra socks, top, shorts, pants
Food – SO IMPORTANT
Plastic bag for dirty clothes
Cash (for cake!)