So you want to run a long race that requires months of training? If you’re a first-time marathoner, you’ve probably received conflicting advice during your preparation. Even if you’re a seasoned marathoner, you’re probably still getting conflicting information.
“Marathons, like all sports, are kind of rich in rituals,” says Jonathan Cane, a marathon trainer and the founder of City Coach, a New York City-based organization that educates novices and athletes in running, swimming, and cycling. And, as with any excellent ritual, there may be a lot of disagreement over which ones to observe.
Should I eat carbohydrates the night before? What amount of water should I drink before, during, and after my workout? What does recovery entail? We met down with Cane to get his last-minute wedding advice. Here’s how you cut through the noise and get there — and recover from — 26.2 miles, from first-timer objectives to diet to avoiding distractions.
1. As a first-time racer, set modest goals.
It might be exhilarating as a first-time marathoner to focus on run times, but Cane believes that the focus should be on the fundamentals.
“As a coach, my goal for first-time marathoners is to get them to the starting line.” “If you train and arrive at the start healthy, you’ll finish,” says Cane, who each year prepares between 30 and 50 runners of all abilities and backgrounds for the New York City Marathon.
According to Cane, many runners do not make it to the start and finish lines of a race because they let their desire get the best of them and do too much too soon — either in training or on race day — resulting in injury.
Training for a marathon can take anything from several months to a year, depending on the runner’s degree of expertise, he adds.
“For a first-timer, 20 miles [in training] is a good goal,” Cane adds. “Normally, you do that three weeks in advance.” Then you begin to taper, allowing your body time to recuperate so that 20 miles may realistically increase to 26.2 miles on race day.”
Despite the fact that attaining 20 miles before race day is a good training objective for novices, research has shown that running 20 miles or less in training poses a high chance of “hitting the wall” at any point during the marathon. The highest danger appears around mile 21, with a continuous reduction.
Cane advises novices to be thorough with their preparation and to run as close to a 20-mile race as possible before the marathon to increase their chances of finishing.
“For the first, don’t let time devour you. Take it all in. “Enjoy it,” Cane adds, adding that he’ll discuss timing with participants who go on to complete a second marathon.
2. Avoid additional stressors and leave nothing to chance on race day.
Preparing for a multi-hour race may be as difficult emotionally as it is physically. The good news is that there are things you can do to psychologically prepare yourself for a marathon in the days coming up to it.
“I think it’s important to study the course, to know where the challenging sections are physical because those typically turn into challenging sections mentally,” Cane continues, “and then go in with a plan.”
Cane has a tradition of running the final 10 miles of every marathon with his athletes the week before the event to make them feel comfortable with the most difficult section of the route – the finish.
“I’ve seen really smart people do really stupid things on race day, and it’s usually because they didn’t have everything planned out,” Cane adds. “It’s an inherently stressful day.”
According to the study, stressful events can impair decision-making and potentially lead to increased risk-taking.
Cane applies these findings to runners who vary their speed on race day because it seems right at the time, even though it may hurt them afterward. “Just because you’re feeling good doesn’t mean you should deviate from the plan and run faster, because that will come back to bite you.”
Cane advises covering all of your bases by planning for every detail, from what time you’ll get up on race day to what you’ll wear if it becomes cold.
3. Don’t let cheering crowds urge you to speed up.
The race has begun, the people are roaring, and you feel invincible – so you quicken your speed. Wrong. Cane strongly advises marathoners not to be intimidated by enormous cheering crowds, which are unavoidable at large races like the New York City and Boston marathons, when hundreds of thousands of people turn out to express their support.
According to one research, runners who started a marathon at a speed that was too fast to continue throughout the event slowed down throughout the race.
“You’ve got plenty of time to make up for a slow start, or you’ve got plenty of time to regret a fast start,” Cane warns. “If you let that crowd get the best of you and start running faster than you intended to, you will pay for it in the end.”
Cane suggests harnessing the excitement and cheering crowds into calmer sections of the race, which may be more hard psychologically and physically.
“At first, enjoy the crowds, but don’t let them distract you from your game.” “You feed off their energy and let it pull you through late in the race,” he explains.
4. You Do Not Need to ‘Get Ahead of Hydration
How much water to drink and when to drink it is a hot topic in the marathon scene. According to Cane, dehydration used to be a major worry since runners would bypass water stations to save time.
“Once the negative effects of dehydration on health and performance became well known, the pendulum swung in the other direction, and people began overhydrating, known as hyponatremia,” he explains.
According to the Mayo Clinic, hyponatremia can occur when too much water is ingested, which dilutes salt levels in the blood. It can induce swelling in the body and lead to potentially fatal health problems.
Cane advises trusting your thirst to tell you when to drink unless you’re competing in high heat, in which case you should try to stay ahead of your thirst. You can beat thirst by keeping track of your perspiration rate and stopping at water stops every mile or two. If you discover yourself sweating more than normal and still feeling thirsty, you should raise your rate.
5. You don’t have to deplete your carbohydrate reserves before overeating the night before.
A typical myth while training for a marathon, according to Cane, is that you must “empty your tank” and then overload on a carbohydrate-rich diet 24 hours before race day to achieve maximum energy storage.
While studies suggest that a carbohydrate-rich prerace diet might improve a marathon runner’s performance, experts advise you shouldn’t deplete your glycogen reserve; rather, you should boost your carbohydrate consumption several days before the race.
According to Kelly Kennedy, RD of Everyday Health, the body stores glucose from carbs in the muscles and liver as glycogen. This glycogen is used for energy during exercise and can aid to postpone exhaustion.
“A few days before your race, increase the carbohydrate percentage of your diet from about 55 percent to 65 to 70 percent.” “This does not imply avoiding protein and fat in favor of carbohydrate-rich foods,” Kennedy clarifies. “You can simply increase your carbohydrate portions at meals and decrease your protein and fat portions slightly.” This corresponds to recommendations made by three distinct national organizations, including certified dietitians and sports medicine professionals.
Kennedy advises marathon runners to remember that quality counts and to focus on carbs such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and dairy foods.
“You won’t be able to stock up on glycogen in one big meal, so one big bowl of pasta isn’t going to cut it,” she warns. “You should also eat your largest meal of the day at lunch and a smaller meal in the evening… Consider including a carbohydrate-rich nighttime snack as well. This allows your body to assimilate everything.”
6. Create a recovery plan for the day off and the following weeks. The Race’s Aftermath
Cooling down and stretching are normal recovery procedures after a workout, but recuperating from a marathon is a little more complicated. It might be beneficial to approach recuperation in the same way that you would approach race day.
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How long should the healing period last? Cane suggests taking one day off for every mile raced, which equates to nearly a month of recuperation for a 26.2-mile run.
“Take it easy over the next couple of weeks. That doesn’t mean you should be inactive, but it does imply you shouldn’t perform any vigorous activity for at least a couple of weeks,” Cane explains. “You must respect the challenge you put your body through as well as the recovery it requires.”