The Do’s & Don’ts of Running A Marathon
By Jimmy Williams, PT, DPT
With all of the fall marathon races quickly approaching, I’ve decided to put a list of helpful hints to allow runners, both experienced and new to the distance, to prepare themselves to run a good marathon and have a fun time!
Longest Training Run
DO: make sure your longest training run of the marathon cycle is appropriately spaced several weeks, I recommend 3-4 weeks, before your goal race. This will ensure that your body has proper time to heal from not only the physical exhaustion of the longest run but also the mental exhaustion of being on your feet for that long.
DON’T: run longer than 3 hours in terms of running duration for your long run. You don’t need to hit 20 miles in training in order to run 26.2 on race day. In fact, if 20 miles would take you closer to 4-5 hours, you increase your risk of injury significantly and do not receive any additional aerobic fitness beyond that 3 hour mark. It would be a better idea to stack your longest run into two separate back-to-back days with one day including a 3 hour cut-off and the other being a shorter distance, such that the total of the two runs is closer to 20 mile, if you feel that you need that benchmark prior to your race.
DO: practice using whatever gels, chews, and/or liquids that you plan on taking during the race so that you can test how they settle in your stomach and train your gut to adapt to running while taking in calories. It is even a good idea to wake up for your long runs around the same time you will wake up on race day and eat the same breakfast you plan on eating to see how that settles in your stomach during training as well.
DON’T: try any new foods the night before or morning of your race. It is important to test your stomach during your training so there are no adverse events “bathroom time” during the race. Don’t be like Michael Scott & eat three plates of fettuccine alfredo and drink absolute zero water before the race.
DO: make sure to read the race website regarding all information for where you need to be, what documents you may need to present, when to go, and how to get there. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, many races have imposed new rules regarding race-day travel & packet pick-up. It is also important to have a post-race plan on where to meet friends, family, and/or other runners after the race. There are many things that can happen regarding post-race communication including losing a phone & having no reception so making a plan of where to meet ahead of time is ideal to ensure you’re not the lost child in the grocery store.
DON’T: freestyle your race day transit plans by thinking you’ll be able to take an Uber/Lyft/Taxi to the start line. For a smaller race, this may be okay but for the larger races there are specific plans in place regarding transportation that you may have to schedule weeks ahead of time. Go in with a plan and don’t stress the morning of, trying to figure out how to get to the start line.
Race Day Pacing
DO: have a plan for your ideal pace for the marathon distance. Ideally this should be a “goal marathon pace” that you have done in multiple workouts and should be something that you can hold for the duration of the distance. It is a good idea to communicate with your coach or use a race calculator to look at your training runs and predict an ideal marathon goal time. If it is your first marathon, it is important to be conservative as many runners “hit the wall” between miles 18-22 due to running a little faster than they should have in the early miles. You’d rather go out easy & finish strong rather than dragging yourself across the finish line. Sometimes it can be beneficial to have 3 separate goals for the race based on how you’re feeling. The “A” goal would be a PR with everything going perfectly. The “B” goal would be something you’re happy with (a personal best but not the time you had hoped) in case weather is not favorable or the legs aren’t having their day. The “C” goal would be not ideal but still coming across that finish line in one piece. This goal would be if there was horrible weather, nutrition issues, an unforeseen injury, etc.
DON’T: go out like a bat out of hell and PR your half marathon time halfway into the race. This is an easy way to have a very bad day right around 8 miles left in the marathon. Start slower than you think you need to, and push the last 6 miles if you feel strong. The marathon can be broken up into three distinct phases: the first 10 miles with your head, second 10 miles with your training & the last 10k with your heart. What this means is that you need to be conservative and stick to your goal for the first 10 miles. Everyone feels good at this point and it is not the time to try to run faster than goal marathon pace. The second 10 miles is where you’ll start to feel some discomfort, when you trust your training and where the nutrition training really comes into play. The pace you did for the first 10 will be harder to hold for this 10. And the last 10k can be where the wheels absolutely fall off, you’ll have aches and pains you didn’t know you could have and this is where you remember your why and just keep one foot moving in front of the other all the way to that glorious finish line.
Best of luck to all of those running an upcoming marathon! You’ve put in the training and effort for months and now is the time to sit back, relax and enjoy the race. Remember, if it is your first marathon then crossing the finish line will be a Personal Best regardless of the time! As they say, 3 weeks before the race, the hay is in the barn and you’re not going to have any huge gains in fitness so make sure to taper appropriately by decreasing your overall mileage and running 1-2 days at marathon goal pace for short efforts.