Hannah’s Marathon Top Tips
Deciding to take the plunge and jump into your first full marathon can be a slightly daunting task but one that I believe is COMPLETELY manageable! I have personally trained complete beginners all the way to the Full Marathon distance in just a few months, and having myself gone from never running in my life to completing my first ever marathon a few years ago in the space of 8 months from walking to running I know first hand that it IS possible! So now you have decided to tackle your first Marathon – here are my Top 10 Tips to get you started on preparing for your first full marathon!
Tip 1: Warm up and cool down
The warm up and cool down is SO important but overlooked by most if not all of us at some stage! I know of a fair few people who do absolutely no warm up at all and just go off for a run starting off at their full throttle training pace and just keeping it there for the whole run. This will increase your chance of getting injured though so please, please warm up! Not only for your muscles but for your heart too! When you suddenly start exercising your heart rate increases dramatically, so it is best to start off at a slower pace and gradually build up. Avoid stretching before you have started moving, trying to stretch completely cold muscles can also cause injury – so if you feel you must stretch, then warm up jog for a little bit first before hand!
The cool down and stretch is also important. Reducing the pace for 5 – 10 minutes after your main workout and slowly bringing the heart rate back down. Then make sure you stretch each major muscle group that has been involved in your exercise and hold each stretch for 15 – 30 seconds. Warming up and cooling down properly will help you to keep your body in the best possible shape and prevent injury further into your training.
Tip 2: Build up SLOWLY – stick to the plan!
The initial excitement at signing up to your first marathon can sometimes be a little infectious and when you take a look at the first few weeks of your training plan you may well feel that you are bounding with energy and capable of doing MUCH more than your plan states. But the key to an injury free marathon is building up your mileage gradually! Overdoing it in the first few weeks may be okay at the time – but increasing the mileage too quickly can result in injury several weeks after the fact. Once you have a plan that fits in with your current level of fitness and running ability – STICK TO IT! Even if you feel you are capable of running for longer ease yourself in. The training schedule is a long one, and after a few weeks as the long runs increase you will be thankful for starting off more conservatively 🙂
Tip 3: Start off on the right foot
Make sure you have the appropriate footwear and gear! Everybody is different so what might suit one person, will not work at all for someone else. Even if your footwear feels comfortable, if it does not have the right support for the way your foot lands on the ground – it could have a knock on effect somewhere else! Shin Splints, knees or even hips and back! So be sure to get your footwear checked. Also you should make sure you replace your footwear on a fairly regular basis (this will depend on how many miles you do), running around in a pair of trusty old trainers you had for years will not do you any favours and will give you little to no support which again could result in injury!
Tip 4: Add some strength
When your main focus is running it is easy to forget about adding extra sessions on top of what is already a busy schedule however, the benefits of adding some resistance exercises into your routine as little as twice a week will help to reduce the risk of injury and added strength and support to the muscle and joints. Our legs are the main movers in most sports so just by adding a few simple and quick leg exercises such as squats and lunges will be a great addition to improving your lower body!
Tip 5: If injury occurs
The majority of first time (or indeed any) marathon runners will pick up an injury or small twinge, soreness etc at some stage during the training schedule. When you feel that first niggle try and get it sorted straight away! If you are exercising and suddenly feel pain…..STOP! I am guilty of this one too, but so many people will just keep running “just to see” if the pain goes away. If something doesn’t feel right, you need to stop. If it doesn’t feel too severe then walk it out for a bit and see how it feels otherwise give up the ghost, go home and use the R.I.C.E. method (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation)
Seek advise of your physio – many injuries will appear in one area but are actually originating from somewhere else completely! Often the root cause of the problem will not actually cause any discomfort itself but will manifest the pain somewhere else. Nip it in the bud early to prevent a more serious injury and getting a sports massage every few weeks, especially during the longer mileage weeks can be a real benefit to the muscles.
Tip 6: Hydration
Hydration is also key to keeping your body in tiptop condition. Keeping our bodies working effectively. If you are doing a tough session – for example a long run, or high intensity speed training session, it can be a good idea to weigh yourself before and after your workout. For every lb you lose during your workout – replace it by drinking approx. 1 pint of water 🙂 Drinking before, during and after your session to make sure you keep hydrated. It is a good idea to introduce your hydration and practice running whilst drinking and refueling so that you are used to it well in advance of the marathon. Drinking and eating on the run can take some practice so build it in slowly to your routine 🙂
Tip 7: Mentally Break up the miles
As the runs get longer it can sometimes become overwhelming thinking about how MANY miles you are about to run. Instead of being bogged down by the final figure a good idea is to break it down into more manageable chunks. Start counting down the miles, and even half miles if you have to – I will use several different division techniques when I’m running long runs, I will break into halves and quarters and then even break those sections into smaller sections too! A 12 mile run I might just focus on the first 2 miles and then tell myself I’m half way to the next milestone, once I get to 4 miles I’m suddenly a 3rd of the way through – only 2 more of the same and I’m done. Trick yourself into going those extra few steps, to the next tree, to the next lamppost. Every step is another step closer to your final goal 🙂
Tip 8: Mix up your training
One way of seeing great improvement over the course of your marathon training schedule is to keep your training varied. In terms of setting your pace – it can be very easy to push ourselves to our limits every time we run as in the early stages you WILL be seeing quite quick improvements with the consistent training and gradually increasing mileage. Including some speed sessions such as interval training sessions can be beneficial to both your strength and speed progression – HOWEVER – if you are constantly pushing yourself every run in a bid to beat last weeks run then you will likely run out of steam or risk injury! I find with running that the saying “less is more” definitely rings true. For both your long runs and the majority of your runs during the week you will want to aim for an “easy” pace. To test this pace you should aim to be able to maintain your pace comfortably and also be able to talk whilst you are running – perhaps not a full blown conversation, but a few words here and there rather than huffing and puffing. If you wear a heart-rate monitor you can also gauge your easy pace during your run by monitoring your heart rate. A marathon is exactly that – A marathon, NOT a sprint. Save the speed for speed work sessions and races and use your other runs to get the time on the feet and allow for active recovery for easy runs.
Tip 9: Focus on YOU
The main focus when training for your first marathon is to stick to your own personal fitness and running capabilities. Running with a group can be great for support, especially on those longer runs, but also ensuring at the same time that you are running with people at a similar level or pace to you. I personally find it very hard to find an exact match for a training partner – even if my race times are similar, training paces can still be quite different! The best pace to run at is your OWN. Running either too slowly or too quickly in training can affect either your projected finish time or potentially lead to overtraining if you are consistently running too fast compared to your own natural pace. Running a marathon is such a personal achievement so don’t try to compare yourself to others. It doesn’t matter how fast or how slow you run, the important thing is to run at a consistent pace that suits you – and the great thing about training for your FIRST marathon is that ANY time you achieve crossing that finish line will be a personal best. Take every training session as it comes, do not get stressed and just enjoy the prospect of coming away from the event with your first full marathon completed!
Tip 10: Positive mental attitude, don’t give up!
Running, especially the longer distance running, is about mental power just as much as the physical. Having the self-belief to continue, and the mental power to keep going is all that will hold you back from achieving your goals! I truly believe that if you set your mind to it – you can do it! When you get your plan, stick it on your fridge – tick off each training day as you complete it! Have a bad day?? It happens, sweep it away and move on! Have a great day?! Bottle that feeling and keep the positivity flowing! Some days you will go out and find it a struggle to run a mile and other days will seem easy in comparison. You may even have several weeks where the increased mileage and extra effort leaves you feeling heavy legged and unable to imagine how you can possibly go any further – but believe me, this happens to EVERY runner at some stage or another so keep the faith and stick to the plan as best as you can and you WILL make it through on the big day – HAPPY RUNNING! 🙂