Welcome to part 2 of my 26 tips on how to run a marathon!

Last time we focused mainly on your marathon training and random pre-race stuff, but today we are going to go over the all important week or so before the race and the race day itself. Here we go…

14. Taper capers

Tapering: If you haven’t heard of this strange word before, it simply means ramping down your training schedule as you lead into the weeks before a big race. This is both in terms of distance and speed. There are a few reasons for this:

  • Avoid injuries before the big day which would be devastating having trained so long and hard for it.
  • Give you body time to recover and build energy and strength up before the big run.
  • You deserve a bit of rest after all of the effort of training, right?! 🙂

I would say your last long run should be around 8-12 miles 1 week before the Marathon and then once you are inside a week just do one or two short and brisk jogs of 3-5 miles. Personally I wouldn’t run at all the day before but some people seem to find that useful also. I’d maybe go for a walk instead to keep the legs loose and obviously don’t do anything else too energetic or dangerous! Although you do want to do something. The worse thing is keeping the day completely free so all you have to do is sit around waiting and freaking out about the whole thing, so maybe just book in to see some friends or family to keep your mind off of it.

15. The last supper

The received wisdom on eating the days leading up to and the night before a big run is to carb load and eat lots of pasta. Once again I’m going to buck the trend here as I’ve tried this and am not a massive fan. Obviously you will need some carbs but a fucking massive plate of pasta just leaves me feeling bloated and a bit sick, and in all honesty quite lethargic, which is not ideal if you are trying to run 26.2 miles.

So once again I would encourage you to experiment, and try different types of meals the night before your long runs while you are training.

I’ve done this and have found my best meal to that leaves me feeling light but still energised is some chicken, rice and salad. Add some (not too spicy!) sauces and condiments to jazz it up a bit, very tasty 🙂

 

16. Morning munchies

Once again the morning meal is a topic of much discussion and once again you will have to experiment with various types of breakies while training. Here are some ideas:

  • Toast (scrambled eggs optional)
  • Porridge + Banana/Berries (my personal fav)
  • Bowl of cereal
  • Muesli + Yoghurt

You can also add in a banana at any point during the build up to the race to give you some extra energy but I would try not to eat anything within 1 hour of your start time, in case you don’t have time to digest it properly. There is nothing worse than getting a few miles into a run and feeling something you’ve recently eating still sitting on your chest and feeling like you are going to paint the pavement with it at any moment!

Also, I wouldn’t bother trying the old Full English personally but YMMV* 🙂

*I tried this with my brother-in-law at the Brighton10 one year as we turned up ridiculously early and thought why the hell not, then spent the first half of the race dealing with sausage and bacon repeating on us. Not great!

 

17. You’re amazing, just the way you are

Simple one this, and it is one of the common wisdom bits of advice I fully support, which is to not change anything about your routine in the week before, and especially not on race day.

I have two examples where I failed to listen to this advice, both in my 2011 Marathon. I not only decided to use gels in the race 1 when I’d never really used them before as mentioned in part i, but additionally I ate some pasta (fine) with some random jar of sauce I’d never eaten before (not fine! 2) which didn’t really agree with me the next morning either. Although it could have been pre-race nerves on that front, I’m certain it didn’t help!

So I mean literally do not change a thing!

You need to eat exactly the same thing the night before that you’ve practiced with, go to bed at the same time, eat the same breakfast, run at the same pace, and so on…

 

18. Then again… maybe you’re not

Aha. There is one big, huge mahoosive caveat to the above point and that is you need to take in the conditions on the day of the race and maybe update your race plan accordingly. Rather than do this on the fly when you wake up that morning, it might be a good idea to have 3 times, or even better 3 whole race plans knocked up to aim for as weather and body conditions will permit. These should be roughly according to, a race plan for:

  • Perfect conditions: It’s 8-14 degrees with no wind or rain and you wake up feeling like a superhero. You know this is the chance to run your perfect race so you should aim for “Plan A” which is your desired time or maybe even stretch goal, say 5 minutes under the time you want to beat, so 3:25 in our example case of beating 3:30.
  • Mediocre conditionsIt’s either a little too hot or a little too cold with a stiff breeze and patches of rain. You also wake up feeling a little lethargic and maybe have a bit of a dicky stomach. Not to worry because this is when to switch to Plan B. This could be just adding 10 minutes onto the time you were aiming for so 3:40 in our example case.
  • Horrendous conditions: Either the weather is snowing, hailing, gale force winds, or it’s roasting hot. Also in addition you may have woken up feeling horrendous for whatever reason or maybe sustained a really annoying injury in the weeks leading up to the big day. This situation is obviously soul crushing but it’s best to be zen about the whole thing if possible and just go with race plan C. This can vary wildly depending on exactly how bad things are but you are probably looking at least 30 minutes more than what your perfect run would be.

These plans don’t have to be complicated and could just be having a time in mind, and making sure you know the pace to hit that time. Although if you like making complicated plans then knock yourself out! It’s also worth bearing in mind you may have to switch plans mid race if climactic conditions change for the worse or you sustain a niggling injury or something like that, or maybe even switching up from B to A if things start going your way!

A very short aside, my 2011 was something between scenario B and C, it was roasting hot, 24 degrees, and I woke up feeling pretty dodgy. Also I sustain my first and last ever blister whilst running at around mile 15. I compounded this by not remotely trying to change my race plan to take into account the hot weather and so ended up with a still respectable 4:11 (was aiming for 4). I think my first half on the day was around the 1:45 mark which was way too fast and I should have aimed for around 1:55 which may have given me a sneak of still breaking the 4 hour mark, but I did myself in and totally broke down in the last 6-7 miles. On a positive note, I beat 400m runner and Olympian Iwan Thomas that day, so I always have that to take away with me 3 🙂

In conclusion, be flexible and don’t beat yourself up mentally if it looks like Plan A is not going to work.

Ah… I love it when a plan comes together!

 

19. The early bird and all that

Basically turn up early enough so you are not stressed out!

The starting areas are massive so you will need time to find the bag drop off area and get to your pen, and don’t forget to have the all important pre race poo 🙂

 

20. No warm up needed

This one is going to be controversial I think, but I wouldn’t even bother doing a warm up session/jog. You will have walked a fair way to start line already and first mile will be slower than your desired pace anyway, even if you get fairly near the front. Why waste any extra time doing pointless silly exercises and stretches? As usual if this works for you then crack on, but it certainly isn’t for me.

 

21. Stick with Gerry

Try to stick with the pacemakers (worst pun of the series award there, I know).

There will be at least a couple of pacemakers for 4 hours, 3:45, 3:30, 3:15 and then I think every 10 minutes below that, so it’s a great idea to get near to these if you are aiming for any of those times, which I think most people are.

In fact I think it was both mentally and physically beneficial to try to stay just ahead of them. Mentally because, as long as they are behind you, you are not playing catch up. And physically, because if you are just behind them you will get a huge crowd of people who decide it’s a good idea to go literally just behind the pacers. Don’t be one of the mindless mob and get yourself just in front.

Having said the above, I found that the pacers lost the mob towards the end which suggests to me that many of those people were maybe running a bit too fast at the start and dropped off? Or it could be that they powered on to beat their time easily. Either way, it definitely thins out towards the end so it should (theoretically) be easier to stay on their heels if they get ahead of you.

 

22. Food and drink

There are drink stops at least every mile and I would suggest that you not drink from every one. For a start this will just slow you down and secondly too much water can be bad for you! I would definitely avoid eating anything whilst running, but you will probably be famished afterwards, so take a few snacks in your kit bag so you can have a nibble as soon as you finish. Snacks are provided in the after race goody bag as you’d expect with mixed results IMO 🙂

 

23. Banana split (times)

Don’t go off too fast but I’d prepare for a negative split (i.e. first half will be faster than the last half). So if aiming for a sub 3:30 then you might want to be aiming for a 1:40 first half and anything sub 1:50 for the second half. To give an idea of my pace for 3:28 here is a screen shot of my split times.

Marathon Split timesAs you can see it did gradually get slower but it was actually surprisingly consistent. I thought I got slower in the middle and sped up again, but apparently I did not.

 

24. Not so wonder wall

Prepare to hit the wall at anywhere between 18-22 miles! In fact the first year I did it I genuinely hit the wall at mile 15. It was terrible. Often you can overcome the wall so don’t think your race is over if it happens. This year I hit the wall around mile 18 and it only lasted about a mile or two, then I got a second wind. There are so many factors that can affect this, fuelling, weather, etc… so just try not to get flustered when it happens (oh and it will happen!) and see if you can battle through. It’s a great feeling when you actually realise that you’ve come out the other side and still have some energy left for those last few crucial miles.

I googled “Brick wall quotes” and this little gem came up:

When you’re hitting the wall, focus on one brick

Which fits really well here because one brick is the next mile, next few hundred yards or even the next step.

If in need of further motivation you could do worse than to have a browse through this list of cheesy inspirational Marathon/running quotes. My personal fave is:

“I dare you to train for a marathon and not have it change your life”.

So true!

 

25. The final countdown

Just to clarify with my stupid subtitles, we are talking about the final run in here which I’d generally say starts at around mile 20. You will likely be totally pooped by this point but the real race doesn’t even start until the last 3 miles.

You will be in immense amounts of pain in the last 3 miles, and the only advice here I can give is just think that you’ve “only” got 5km left – I know, easier said than done, right? Yes, it will seem like the longest 5km you have ever run.

Also remember to note that, as the race comes towards the end, it goes from mile markers to “distance left”. I remember seeing a 1km left marker and thinking OK cool. Then the next marker came up and I was thinking it would be 500m left but oh no, it was 800m. Honestly that was the longest 200m I have ever mentally run, it was insane. I nearly went over to a race official and went Jon McEnroe on their ass…”You cannot be serious!?!?”

Anyway eventually you will turn the corner just before you enter the final straight which is The Mall and you will see this lovely sign:

See this and you are practically home and dry!

Why 385 Yards I hear you ask? I originally thought it was because it was the 0.2 out of the 26.2 but 0.2 miles is actually 352 yards according to the Google folk. Actually, it turns out that a Marathon is 26.219 miles, so that’s where the extra 33 yards comes from (so I was kind of right in my original assumption). Here (short) and here (longer) is a bit more on the history of the length of the race, if you wanted to dig deeper, very interesting stuff!

Anyway all that’s left now is to try to remember to wave at the crowd and attempt to enjoy the moment where you cross the line, hopefully having beaten the target you have set yourself!

WELL DONE! 🙂

 

26. Post race beers

You will be fucked. Everything will ache, you will likely feel sick and exhausted for at least the first half an hour. Make sure you arrange to meet friends/family somewhere quite specific in case phone reception is dodgy, so they can help you home/to the pub! There are areas at Horse Guards Parade with huge visible letters of the alphabet corresponding to surname, so you could say “meet me at F”, for example. Or if not there are areas of St James park that are quite easily spottable such as by the pond, by one of the cafes, and so on. I used google maps and picked out an area I would be chilling on the grass. Expect your entourage to turn up quite late if you are running a pretty fast marathon time if they saw you anywhere in the last 6 miles because it takes longer to navigate London via public transport than it does to run it on this day!

If you are still standing after all that then hobble along to a pub nearby. The queues will be pretty long so get your mate to get you a cold one and enjoy it, as it will certainly be well deserved!

 


 

Well that’s officially the end of my 26 tips on running a Marathon 4. Hopefully you learnt something and were relatively entertained along the way. Once again if you have any extra tips or questions on any of this or anything I haven’t covered please do leave a comment below!

 

THE END

Notes:

  1. “Free gels!” I thought, “well what’s the worst that can happen?” Famous last words!
  2. It was an Asda own brand jar of sauce from memory. So fuck you Asda for ruining my 2011 Marathon
  3. Although he has appeared on and “beaten” Bear Grylls The Island, something I can’t ever see myself doing
  4. Another 2000+ words. I should have turned this into an e-book and charged you all for it! 🙂