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Getting Yourself Ready for the Marathon
by Murray Hunter
2014-02-16 11:57:00
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The marathon is the challenge that many people 30s upwards are taking up with great seriousness and discipline. 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 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.

marathone01_400The 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.



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