Top tips for marathon runners
London marathon day is approaching fast.
And, after months of careful planning, training and monitoring your progress, knowledge that the end is in sight is probably met with a mixture of excitement and relief.
You’ve sacrificed your social life in the name of early nights and mornings spent getting miles under your belt. After-work drinks have long since been replaced with after-work runs.
But now is – almost – the time to put all that hard work to good use.
To support you over that finish line, we’ve put together some last-minute top tips with the help of Chris Myers of Complete Physio. A physiotherapist, osteopath and marathon runner.
We might not be able to replicate months spent dedicated to training in the space of a few days (and hopefully we don’t need to). And no, we don’t have a miracle cure for blisters.
But, regardless of whether you’re a seasoned pro at running those 26 miles, or totally new to the marathon experience, these expert top tips for marathon runners will hopefully make running a little bit more manageable – and maybe even more enjoyable.
Stick to what you know
The mantra for you to follow in the week leading up to the marathon is: “stick with what you know”.
If you regularly go to bed at 10pm at night then keep doing that. Don’t change your routine in the days before the marathon as this could be disruptive.
The period leading up to the race is also not the time to try new shoes, a new hydration drink, or even a new outfit. If it hasn’t been tried and tested over months of training – don’t do it!
It is also all too easy to get tempted to take the gels or drinks on offer from race sponsors on the day, with the hope of gaining some extra energy for the race. But some of these can have a powerful (and unpleasant) effect on your digestive system. Instead, keep using the energy supplements your body is used to – and save yourself those sprints to the portaloos.
And finally, it is set to be warm for the marathon this year. However, if you’ve trained in leggings, wear leggings on the day rather than shorts.
Cooler legs might not be worth the painful chafing inner thighs!
There is absolutely no benefit to training hard the week before the race. It won’t negatively impact your training if you don’t, and you will just exhaust yourself for the race.
The hard work is already done by now and hopefully you’ve clocked up all the miles necessary. Now it is time to rest your body in preparation for the big day. So, whilst it’s important to keep your mind busy and go about your normal routine (to avoid stressing about the 26 miles to come), it is also advisable to stay off your feet whenever possible to rest your legs.
At this point, it is also helpful to remember that everyone’s training plan is unique, as is their taper – so don’t compare yourself to others. What is important is that you stick to your training plan, whilst also making plenty of time to relax.
The latter is vital given the strain the marathon training process puts on the nervous system and immune system. Because of this, prioritising relaxation – for mind and body – is just as beneficial as time spent physically preparing for the race.
Keeping anxiety at bay
At the same time, we understand that keeping anxiety at bay can be difficult with the race on the horizon. A good book or board game might be your perfect way to relax. We also suggest practising some deep-breathing to soothe that over-stimulated nervous system.
To try it, inhale deeply, fill your lungs with air and allow your ribs to move out in all directions: to the side, the back and the front. Then, let the air out slowly on the exhale as your ribs come back together. And repeat.
This style of breathing can encourage you to stay calm in the lead up to the big day. And it can be useful during the race itself, as good breathing habits can also help you avoid the dreaded runner’s stitch.
Get enough rest
Sleep is essential for running the marathon. But it is normal to feel anxiety and excitement the night before the race, which may make it difficult to sleep.
Our advice is just make sure that you’ve slept well in the days leading up to it, so that you feel rested no matter what the night before brings.
Our suggestions for a good night’s sleep include:
- Have a bath 30 minutes before you want to go to sleep. The drop in body temperature when you leave the warm water and move into a cooler room (like your bedroom) tells your body that it’s time to rest.
- Avoid phones and laptops last thing at night. Research has found that exposure to light at night disrupts our natural sleep rhythms. This is especially true of the blue light emitted by technology.
- I know we said don’t try anything new but it is never the wrong time to start meditating. A recent clinical trial showed that it can reduce sleep disturbances – so why not give it a go? It might just help you get a good pre-race sleep, despite the jitters.
Interested? Why not try an app like Headspace and Calm.
As the old saying goes; fail to prepare, prepare to fail. Having prepared your body for the race, it can be a good idea to prepare mentally for it – and this can include doing a quick recce of the course.
To do so, we would advise that you run, walk, bike, or even drive (where possible in London) a section of the race course.
Not only can this help calm first-marathon nerves and psychologically prepare you for what is to come. It might also help you to make a rough plan of how to tackle the route, taking into account changes in terrain, such as hills.
It is also pretty helpful – and reassuring – to know beforehand how frequent the water stops and porta-potties are!
This is the time for the famous carb-loading. It is not, however, an excuse to eat anything and everything in sight.
Instead, you should be aiming to eat about 65-70% of your calories from carbs in the days leading up to your race.
And, whilst it might be tempting to cram as much food as you can the night before, it is also worth remembering the warning that too much “loading” can lead to “unloading” during the race.
So, don’t pile your plate high on race night. Instead, aim for smaller portions of the same healthy food you’ve enjoyed during that week. This way you won’t wake up feeling bloated or uncomfortable on the big day.
To help with digestion, it is also important to avoid carb-loading with high-fat foods such as French fries, crisps, doughnuts, buttery croissants, creamy pasta meals and cheesy pizzas. These can be hard for the body to process, and aren’t exactly the best source of energy!
We’d advise you go for easily-digestible slow-release carbs. Things such as porridge oats, basmati rice, pasta with tomato-based sauces, wholemeal toast and lots of fruit and vegetables are much more belly-friendly. And will set you up with plenty of energy for the day of the race.
Again, now is not the time to change your diet. It is important that you stick to the foods that you’ve trained on and that your body is used to.
Our most important piece of advice is to try and enjoy the process of running the marathon as much as possible! It requires a huge amount of effort, determination and dedication to even reach this point, so congratulate yourself. Race day is when you get to put everything you’ve learnt over the past few months into action – and see what those legs are made of.
Check back here next week for some post-race recovery tips.
Education is key:
These blogs are designed to give information to everyone, however, it is important to remember that everyone is different! If you have not seen one of our therapists and have any questions about injuries, what you have read or whether this may be useful to you, please just ask.
At Complete Pilates we would advise you to always speak to your doctor, physiotherapist, or clinical Pilates instructor here at Complete Pilates if you are worried about starting a new exercise regime.
We are more than happy to help anyone and point you in the right direction. Our biggest belief is that education is key. The more you understand about your injury, illness and movement, the more you are likely to improve.