If you’ve taken on the task to run 26.2 miles, chances are you’ll be keen to read any tips that’ll help you run a successful marathon on the day. It’s no easy feat, but with the right preparation, knowledge and training, running a marathon in the time you want, without injury, is certainly achievable.
We spoke to marathon runner Amy Whitehead and asked her to share her expert advice for the last few weeks of marathon training.
Amy Whitehead’s marathon tips
Back in 2014 I ran two marathons, only 100 days apart, due to the fact I wished to secure my qualification for the Commonwealth Games. First I ran the London Marathon in April, where I qualified, and then the Commonwealths in July, where I finished ninth. This close proximity meant I had to be very careful with the way I approached both races and ensure I left nothing to chance. Below I’ve shared my tips on running a successful marathon. Many of you will no doubt already have your own routines for race day and should definitely stick with what works best for you. But, I do hope some of my general pointers may help to ensure you are super prepared on the big day. Good luck!
Do make sure that you’re really strict with yourself in the last three weeks leading up to the race and resist the urge to do more training. The hard, really tough training has been done and your focus from three weeks out should be on preserving the fitness that you already have to ensure that you feel fresh and bouncy on race day.
As a rough guide, your training should reduce to 80% of your previous training load three weeks out from the race, 60% two weeks out and to 30% in the final week of the race. The pace of your training runs in the final week overall should feel well within yourself. This doesn’t mean that you can’t complete any shorter, faster intervals though. I’d still advise doing a faster session on the Tuesday before the race, but to make sure you’re running the reps controlled and that you only complete around six reps instead of the usual ten. You should finish feeling like you could have easily done the additional reps. Mental discipline is vital here! Do remind yourself that this is key to ensuring you run a successful marathon and ignore your mind when it begins to play tricks on you that you should be training harder!
Don’t panic if you also feel more sluggish and lethargic: this is typical of taper training and is not a sign that your body is de-training. Ideally, I’d take one or two complete rest days on the Friday or Saturday, within two days of your marathon race day.
Shoes and Kit
Do ensure that you have ‘broken in’ the kit that you intend to wear for race day. By wearing kit you’re used to, you’ll be less prone to blisters and chafing. Try to wear the exact kit you intend to race in for one of your longer runs (even if you have to wear a long sleeve top over the top as it is too cold!). I suggest that you complete at least two easy runs in your racing trainers and ideally a gym session in them too. You can also wear them around the house to break them in.
Everyone has probably heard of carb-loading and its benefits for marathon running, but it can still be an art to get this right. Your glycogen levels will stock up by reducing your training, but it’s also key to take in more carbohydrates closer to race day. You can eat relatively normally up to three days before the race. Then begin increasing your carb intake at meal times and having carb rich meals for both lunch and dinner – for example, spaghetti Bolognese for lunch and a chicken risotto for dinner. You can also eat light carbohydrates in between meals, like bananas or an energy bar. Keep meals healthy and avoid rich sauces or foods that could irritate your stomach, particularly the night before the race. (Probably best to leave the curry until post-race!). You don’t need to stuff yourself until you feel uncomfortable each time you eat, the aim is to feel stocked up on race morning.
It’s important that you keep hydrated in the lead up to the race. In the days before, it’s probably best to keep a water bottle with you that you can sip from frequently. And, try to avoid tea and coffee to maximise your hydration. Most athletes avoid alcohol altogether in the lead up to a race, but I have seen some elite athletes enjoy a glass of beer the night before to relax. The key is moderation and keeping your head.
Try to get as much additional sleep in the lead up to the race as possible. It’s likely that you won’t sleep at all the night before the race with nerves and adrenalin. This won’t impact your performance if you ensure that you’ve had adequate sleep in the week before. Aim to go to bed an hour earlier than normal in the week leading up to the race and stay off your feet in the day as much as possible. Then two nights before the race try to go to bed as early as you can.
Marathon race day preparation
Don’t experiment by doing anything new! Race day is all about keeping a routine and you’ll feel more in control by sticking to familiar habits that you know work for you. Eat your usual marathon or race day breakfast as you have practised before training runs. This should be eaten at least three hours before the race starts. Under no circumstances should you miss breakfast as this final topping up of energy stores is vital for the race in a few hours time. A breakfast should be substantial, but not too heavy, and needs to be eaten even if food is the last thing you feel like.
A suitable breakfast could be porridge (though I personally find this too heavy before a marathon), three or four slices of toast with jam, or cereal and toast. You may wish to top up with something like a bit of a ripe banana or a bit of energy bar within this three hour time slot: this should be a small amount to avoid it not digesting in time. That said, to our amusement, myself and Susan Partridge saw an elite Japanese athlete guzzling cake on the bus to the start line at the London Marathon once! I would never recommend this, but it’s important that you’ve stuck with what works for you.
It’s important to keep hydrated. Again, keep sipping a drink in the lead up to the race, some people also like to sip on an energy drink (but don’t do this if you haven’t practiced it). If conditions look like they will be hot you’ll obviously need to take on board more liquid. Within an hour of the start, avoid drinking much more than a few odd sips to avoid getting a stitch. Ensure in the race that you take on regular drinks as practiced in training.
Ensure you have all your travel plans sorted for race day and your kit organised, so that on the morning you can stay as chilled out as possible. Get to the start line with as much time as you can and have a sit or lie down until it’s time to warm up. A light warm up of a five-minute jog is all you need, plus some gentle stretching.
Remember how hard you’ve worked to get to this point and don’t let last minute nerves get to you; they’re just a sign that you care. Stay in control, remind yourself of all the great training that you’ve done and think only positive thoughts.
The marathon is a victory of both physical and mental strength allied with willpower and commitment. You’re about to take part in something very rare and special. Memories will be made that will last a lifetime for you, as well as your proud family and friends watching. Whatever the outcome, you can be proud of taking part in such a huge, unique challenge.
Enjoy your special day and loads of luck!