Monday 20 May 2019

How to run a marathon: 26 tips, 26 miles

The big day is nearly here. Now it's time to show the world what you can do. But be prepared, writes Katharine Teeling

READY TO GO: Katharine Teeling of Coast Road Runners. Photo: David Conachy
READY TO GO: Katharine Teeling of Coast Road Runners. Photo: David Conachy

Katharine Teeling

Just one week to go until the Dublin Marathon 2018. All the hard work is done but nervous energy starts to build up.

It feels like the run up to the Leaving Cert. You wonder have you done enough? How will you get through it? What should you be doing now? I am training for my sixth Dublin Marathon and ask myself these questions every time. Over these years I have gained many insights, sometimes learnt the hard way by mistakes made - or the easy way through experience. Hopefully, my 26 insider tips will help you through the 26-mile journey that lies ahead of you.

Marathon Week Monday to Friday

1 Relax, Reflect, Repair, Refuel

Look after yourself this week, both physically and mentally. It is a week of clean eating, drinking and living. Eat a bit more than normal but don't go crazy on carb loading. Eat plenty of wholesome, nutrient-rich foods, protein, carbohydrates (good carbs, save the bad ones for after), unsaturated fats and micronutrients. Avoid processed, greasy and take-away foods and alcohol. Start your marathon hydration now. Drink less coffee and lots of water. Get lots of sleep.

2 Short Runs

No matter what training plan you have followed, only do short runs this week. I will do a 60-minute, 45-minute and finish with a gentle 30-minute run on Friday.

3 Course Route

Familiarise yourself with the route physically or online. Take particular note of the water, Lucozade and High 5 Gel station locations. There's also a great video of the route on Dublin Marathon's Facebook page. Definitely worth watching.

4 Supporting Family & Friends

Supporters are invaluable. Plan where they will be on the route so they are spread out. The more often you see a familiar face the better. I can't over emphasise how happy you will feel when you see one.

5 Race-Day Nutrition Plan

Stock up on your tried-and-tested gels, bars, drinks and so on early in the week. Your race nutrition experimenting finished on your last long run so don't buy anything that you haven't used before. You know what fuel you need, how often and when from your training runs. You need to incorporate this into the marathon route. Tie it in with the water/Lucozade stations. Write it down. Know it inside-out.

6 Race-Day Random Essentials

Stock up on what you need. Anything from plasters for your nipples/feet, anti-chaffing sticks, Deep Heat, medication, etc.

Marathon Eve Saturday

7 Rest

Try not to have too much on today. Easier said than done but, if possible, avoid unnecessary jobs. Today is about resting not just your body but also your mind.

8 Don't run

As tempting as it may feel, do not go for a run today.

9 Hydrate

Your hydration for the marathon moves up a notch today. Drink plenty of water. Avoid too much coffee and dehydrating drinks.

10 Nutrition

Don't eat or drink anything that you normally wouldn't. Stick with the meal plan that you have tried and tested before your long runs. Today is not the day for experimenting. Eat your dinner early so you're not too full going to bed.

11 Race Bag

Get your race bag ready early in the day. Pack a disposable rain poncho (or black bin liner) for before and a full change of warm, dry clothes for after. Bring a packet of tissues for the portaloos. No explanation needed.

12 Running gear

Get your tried-and-trusted running gear ready before you go to bed, right down to your socks and jocks. Attach your race number to your running top. Don't give in to the temptation to wear the new running gear that you just bought at the Marathon Expo. I learnt the hard way with a pair of new socks.

13 Find an old sweatshirt

Between the late October early morning temperatures and pre-race jitters, you can get very cold - so I always wear an old sweatshirt/ hoodie to the start line and dispose of it just before I start running.

14 Charge your devices

If you run with music, phones, watches, etc, make sure they are fully charged. Don't update your playlist or software at this stage if you want a relaxing pre-marathon evening.

15 Get an early night

For weeks, so much of your waking and perhaps sleeping thoughts have been about the marathon so you will find it hard to get to sleep tonight. Give yourself a fighting chance to get a good few hours' sleep by going to bed early.

16 Turn the clock back

In case your phone doesn't do it automatically.

Marathon Day Sunday

17 Early start

Regardless of how far you have to travel, get up about three hours before the marathon to give you enough time to wake up, eat your tried and trusted pre-long-run breakfast and hydrate.

18 Portaloos

After bag drop, head straight for the Portaloos. The queues are always huge so whether you feel like you need to go or not, start queuing. You'll be queuing for a long time so a handy trick I've learnt is to do your stretches while queuing as before you know it, you will be herded to the start area where there isn't a whole amount of space or time for stretching.

19 The Starting Siren

Enjoy this moment. Whether it is your first or tenth marathon, savour and enjoy the moment you hear the start siren. You are finally getting to put into motion all that you have worked towards. And there are 20,000 people to share the moment with you. Be careful though that you don't trip or get knocked over in the first few minutes as it is a bit like a cattle stampede!

20 Pace yourself

It is very easy to get swept up and carried away with other runners at the start. Your adrenaline is on overdrive so you don't feel that you are running faster than normal. But if you don't slow down soon, you will feel it with a bang a few miles down the road. So by mile two or three make sure you are settled into your normal pace.

21 Water Stations

If you feel thirsty or not, drink some water at every water station. If you don't, you will feel thirsty the second you've passed it. The next water station will feel like an eternity away. This doesn't bode well for the head. Grab a water bottle and always drink it while running, particularly in the later miles (20+) as, once you stop, your legs seize up, making it difficult to get running again.

22 Take it all in

Look at your surroundings. You are seeing Dublin from a whole new perspective. Areas you have never seen before. Autumn colours everywhere. Engage with the crowd. Raise your hands passing by them. You'll be sure to get a big cheer. It will do wonders for you and your fellow runners' morale. Especially on the last mile. It is electric. You will feel like a rock star.

23 Running roller coaster

You will experience highs when you feel you can run forever. And lows where you think how can I keep going? You will feel aches and pains and be challenged like never before. Remember that you have run through these things before while training so you can run through them again. Enjoy the highs, battle through the lows.

24 Don't Stop

The wall is surmountable. If you hit it, do everything in your power not to stop. Especially after mile 20. One of the hardest things you will ever face during a marathon is to start running again after this point. Slow down considerably, but keep running. Think of who you might see around the next corner. Just a small boost of adrenaline can get you over the wall. Take some race fuel. Think happy thoughts, eg the jam doughnut at the finish line. Think about how hard you have worked to get to this point. Not just today but for the past few months. If, however, you are feeling really unwell or are in great pain or anything by all means stop running.

25 Best laid plans

Stick to your carefully prepared race plan as much as you possibly can. It was put together when you had all your wits about you, which you won't necessarily have during the marathon. But be prepared mentally for everything not to go quite to plan. It isn't game over. Just game change.

26 Enjoy the Race

People of all ages, familiar and unfamiliar, are lining the streets for you and the 20,000 other runners. You will see people you haven't seen in years. An old school friend, college friend, neighbour, colleague, old flame (look at me now!). Let the adrenaline, atmosphere and crowd carry you along the course and before you know it, you will be crossing the finish line. And experience the marathon runner's high.

Katharine Teeling is a running coach and owner of Coast Road Runners, Learn to Run 0-5km & Beyond

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