A recent study found that 10% of the UK population have completed a marathon, half marathon or triathlon, and there are sure to be plenty more planning their first experience of the race.
Marathon preparation isn’t all about building up your fitness, be it with a personal trainer or your own strength and conditioning programme. There is more to surviving one of these epics than following a simple training plan.
Whether you are running one of the biggest marathons such as the London marathon, or taking part in something more local, there are plenty of things to consider before you line up on the day.
So with that in mind, here are my top ten marathon running tips. They don’t have anything to do with running but are things which every runner should consider before their first event.
Maranoia is normal
You’ve done most of your training, you’re ready for the challenge but yet worrying about every little thing to do with the marathon. You start to feel niggles where you’ve never had any problem, think that your dry throat is the first sign of a cold and worry about travelling on public transport for fear of catching some illness! You start to doubt you’ll be able to start, never mind finish.
Don’t panic – you have maranoia!
Everyone gets anxious before a major sporting challenge, especially one that takes as big a commitment as a marathon.
Nerves are a natural way of the body preparing itself for the task ahead. Incorporate some relaxation sessions into your training programme e.g. spa visits, massages, pilates or meditation sessions. Even a day out with your mates will help give you some perspective and distraction from the world of marathons.
As maranoia can fuddle the mind it is best to prepare in advance for the big day. The week before, check you have all the necessary kit and that it is in working order – this will give you time to purchase something if it is missing or worn out.
Make a race kit list, especially if you are travelling from far afield and staying in a hotel the night before. You don’t want to forget anything. This may sound over the top but maranoia can make you forget even the basics!
Lay out your kit and pack your race bag the day before so that there isn’t an unnecessary panic on race morning.
Beware of the expos
Most marathons have registration and an expo either the day before the race, or in the case of the London Marathon, most of the week before!
Registration is where you will collect your running number, timing tag and kitbag. Avoid being on your feet for too long at registration, as you need to rest those legs.
It’s best to register at quiet times. At London try and avoid registering on the Saturday as the queues will be long and you will end up spending too much time on your feet. If you can, visit on Wednesday or Thursday, which are the quietest days.
You will be offered an array of products at the expos but be careful about eating too many complimentary energy products, as a sugar overload might mean that you find it harder to sleep, which is important in the run up to the race. Also, you don’t want to get any gastrointestinal problems from products you haven’t tried before. Pop the freebies in your bag for another time.
If you buy something at the Expo don’t use it on the marathon! One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to try something new on race day, whether a piece of kit or nutrition products. If the marathon you are doing offers free products at the aid stations then find out what brand they are and try them in your training, so you know that they won’t cause any stomach problems.
It is a good idea to have a massage before the marathon and these are often available at the race venue or expo. At London you can get a massage at the expo and the good thing, is that the massage therapists are experienced in pre-event massage and know what you need. The massages they offer are stimulatory rather than deep-tissue, which could result in soreness.
At the expo in London you can pick up an ‘Expo Wristband’, which tells you what time you should be at each mile mark to hit your target time. This is useful if you find it hard to calculate your mile times in a time of stress and oxygen depletion!
Plan getting to the start
With lots of athletes and spectators all trying to get to the same place (40,000 at London!) it can feel a bit like a military operation just getting to the start. Plan how to get to the race. Work out how much time it will take to get to the start and then double it!
At London, the closed roads and limited parking means that it is easiest to travel by public transport and your race number lets you use public transport for free. There are free trains to the start from Charing Cross, Waterloo and London Bridge. It is better to travel from Charing Cross as the trains are often full by the time they get to Waterloo or London Bridge.
Depending on when you arrive at the start you may have to wait a while until the official start and you need to avoid getting too cold. If it looks like rain, take a black bin liner or cheap pac-a-mac, which you can dump in a bin. Wear some latex gloves to keep your hands warm(ish) and then throw them away.
A good tip is to wear some old clothes that you don’t mind discarding. At some of the biggest marathons, charities pick up all the clothes that are left behind, so you don’t have to feel guilty about wastage.
Forget about your dignity for the day!
A major worry for runners is when and where they will be able to go to the toilet! If you wish to use a toilet (rather than a bottle or a bush) then you need to prepare yourself for long queues.
The queues at the London train stations will be very long so try to hang on until you reach the venue. The best thing is to queue for the toilet as soon as you arrive and take some toilet roll.
Don’t be surprised if you see people having a pee in a bush, against a wall or in a bottle. Maybe it’s better just to forego your dignity for the day and go where you can (within reason and without getting arrested!).
At London there are toilets every two miles, including mile 24. Those close to the start will have less of a queue and won’t be as unpleasant!
Make friends with lubricant
Chaffing is a major hazard when running 26.2 miles, so on race day lubricant isn’t just for your lips. Apply it under your sports bra, along your waistband, watch strap and wristband, under your armpits, on nipples, inner thighs, bum crack, basically anywhere that might rub.
At London there are even volunteers on route that will distribute extra supplies!
Think about how many people you want to know your name
Lots of people write their name on their race number as it can be a great boost to hear spectators cheering you on by name. You can even have your name printed on your race shirt at the London Expo.
However, there are two things to consider before doing this. Whilst at first it might feel great everyone shouting your name, by the time you are at mile 20 and have hit the wall you might just want to hide and not have everyone shouting remarks which they think are encouraging but which in your fatigued state you might find annoying. There are only so many times you can hear “get running Sarah” or “don’t stop Sarah’” when all you want to do is take a break!
The second consideration is that by having lots of people shouting your name it will be more difficult for you to discern the calls of your friends and family. On that note, agree in advance where your supporters will be cheering you on route so you can spot them.
Have an escape plan
It can take a long time from the time you cross the finish line to collect your medal, finisher’s bag, kitbag and leave the secure area. You will need to plan in advance where to meet family and friends otherwise you might not find them.
At London there are a series of letters from A-Z in Whitehall (e.g. stuck on trees) where you can meet people. Most people agree to meet under the letter of their name. It’s a good idea to forget this and just meet under a less commonly used letter e.g. Z, Q, X.
Don’t rely on calling or texting people to meet up as there is often not a signal due to the number of people using their mobile phones.
For those running the London Marathon, the best way to leave the finish is to leave via Trafalgar Square or north to Piccadilly Circus. Don’t go south to Victoria as you’ll have to cross the marathon route and the queues can take ages. A better plan is to walk to Green Park or Piccadilly Circus and take the tube.
Get your friends to bring some flip flops or sandals, as you will want to get out of your trainers as quickly as possible.
Plan your recovery
Most marathons will have massage available at the finish and if you are running for one of the larger charities then they sometimes have volunteer massage therapists at the finish. Whilst there is a debate about how soon after a race you should have a massage, if you want one then just go for it.
Your toenails maybe in a sorry state. Don’t be surprised if you have a few black ones. Book a pedicure in advance for a few days after the event.
Regardless of how fit you are, you will be tired after running 26.2 miles. Although you will be dying to show off your finisher’s medal to your colleagues, it is sensible to book a day off from work the day after, as you might not even be able to walk down your stairs! You deserve a day off to sleep, celebrate and eat cake!
So, good luck for your marathon and the main thing is to enjoy the experience!
Helen is the current overall British Quadrathlon Champion and British Quadrathlon Trophy Series winner and the World Quadrathlon Champion and World Cup Series winner in her age group. She is also a former age group World and European Duathlon champion and European Triathlon champion. In 2015 Helen was part of the One Day Ahead team, which raised £1m for Cure Leukaemia by riding the entire route of the Tour de France one day ahead of the pros. You can follow her on Twitter via @helengoth