Running your first marathon? Here’s everything you need to know

Posted by for Strong Women

Unfortunately, you won’t be running the London Marathon this weekend, but don’t give up with your training just yet. After all, a marathon requires plenty of prep. Ensure you’re clued up with our expert guide on training, fuel and recovery. 

You’ve secured your place, bought the kit and put the date in your diary… and now it’s postponed. Maybe you’re gutted that all of your hard work is not going to be put to use for months, or perhaps you’re secretly delighted that you get more time to train. Either way, now is not the time to hang up the running shoes. 

Whether it’s a long-term ambition or raising money for charity, tackling a marathon is no mean feat for beginners or seasoned runners alike. Not only does crossing the finishing line give you serious bragging rights, it can also add years to your life. According to a new study conducted by the University College London, running a marathon can reverse the effects of ageing on your blood vessels by four years as well as lower blood pressure. Win-win!

While you may be racing in five and a half months rather than this weekend, we asked the experts to answer all of the essential questions about preparing for the big day. You’ve got this.

THE PLAN

Whether you’re starting from scratch or upping your weekly 10k, having a plan is key to success on the day. “One of the great advantages of running is that you don’t need much to get started,” says Chris Stanton, personal trainer at Third Space. With most typical marathon training plans spanning 16 to 20 weeks, Chris recommends running three to five times a week, increasing your mileage as you get nearer to race day. “A plan will give you the tools to focus and succeed but before you decide on one, think about the following:

Available time

Identify the total time available to you on a weekly or biweekly rotation. Break this down into how many days you can run in addition to your other commitments.

Training environment

For the time-poor athlete, consider completing the session on a treadmill as an alternative. Treadmills are hugely beneficial when targeting a specific pace or working on hill repetitions using the incline.

Barriers to training

Identify what factors may affect your commitment or consistency of training, such as family or work. Once identified, work out how to overcome these barriers. 

Download a basic training plan here.

THE KIT

A great pair of trainers and anti-chafing apparel can be the difference between a good run and a new PB. “The number one rule for kit is – don’t try anything new on race day,” says Adidas running captain, Olivia Ross-Hurst. “Practice your long runs in what you’ll wear on the day, so you can be confident it won’t cause any issues. Get your gait analysed for the right pair of trainers, think about what socks will be best if you suffer from blisters or hot feet, and try using talcum powder or Vaseline beforehand to see what feels more comfortable.

“Also make sure you try and test the best sports bras well in advance to eradicate rubbing so that on race day it is the last thing you are thinking about.” Personalise your marathon kit with customised insoles and sports bra fittings at Sweatshop and have your running style analysed at Run and Become, where you can try out their trainer selection on the in-store treadmill.

THE DIET

The right marathon diet doesn’t have to start and end with bowls of pasta; a nutrient-dense plate underpins miles of hard work. “Training for a marathon means asking a lot from your body, so it is important that you provide it with the fuel it requires to undertake such a demanding task,” Olivia explains. We asked registered nutritionist Seb James at Third Space for his go-to marathon diet plan.

Day-to-day training recommendations:

Energy intake:

Beginner to intermediate athletes: 25-35 kcal/kg/day

Advanced athletes: 40-50 kcal/kg/day

Carbohydrate:

Beginner to intermediate athletes: 3-5 g/kg/day 

Advanced athletes: 6-8 g/kg/day

Protein:

Beginner to intermediate athletes: 1-1.5 g/kg/day

Advanced athletes: 1.5-2.3 g/kg/day

Fat: 

The rest of your calorie allowance. Normally between 0.8-1 g/kg/day

“Before long runs and race day, make sure you consume a meal six hours before exercise, and a light snack (50g of carbs with 5-10g protein) 30 to 60 minutes prior to the run to stop you hitting the wall,” Seb explains. “This strategy will help keep your muscles fuelled by topping up glycogen levels. If the long runs start to last over 90 minutes, then energy gels can be introduced. After the run, aim to fuel with 1g/kg of carbohydrates and 0.5g/kg of protein within 30 minutes then a high carb meal within two hours.”

THE REST DAYS

“Recovery is where the magic happens,” Olivia says. “Think of your training sessions as creating the damage and your recovery is where your body rebuilds, allowing you to come back stronger. If you deny your body this, you’re more likely to get injured and your training sessions can make you slower as you dig yourself into a fatigue hole.” Whether this is a gentle yoga class, a short walk or a Grace & Frankie binge, do something once or twice a week that will nourish your body and mind.

Natalie Pennicotte-Collier, a performance coach at Mind Tonic Therapy recommends having a ‘success snack’ every day by tuning in to the signals of fatigue, body aches, and distractions as well as responding to the question: “What is it I need right now?” In addition to this, paying close attention to your sleep patterns is non-negotiable. “The power of better quality and consistent sleep is essential for every fibre and cell and is your Swiss army knife of PB. Up your sleep game pre-race by adding another 15 minutes extra shut eye each night and at least two nights a week be hyper-focused on more rest without tech at bed time,” she advises. 

Strength moves for runners

MARATHON DOs AND DON’Ts

DON’T be tempted to jump into an advanced plan just because you are short on time. “You’re more likely to miss the important early base work, risking injury and compromising fitness,” Olivia says.

DON’T become obsessive. “Training shouldn’t be put above your family, friends, or health,” Chris warns.

DO practice your race day nutrition. “Find out what your body reacts well to and when so you know what you need on the day”.

DO learn to box breath to calm any catastrophising internal dialogue. “Inhale for four beats, hold for four beats and exhale for four beats. It’s a game-changer for final flow state,” Natalie explains. 

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