10 Tips for a Better Marathon

by Shem Leong, 

1. Taper – A well structured taper is essential to run a good one on race day. It gives your legs a chance to fully rest and “soak up” the many kilometres that have been put into them in training. It is NOT an excuse to do nothing and “Carbo- Load”- Please! There are many factors that will determine a good taper- training load, recent race history, recovery from injury, etc. As a rule of thumb, cut down on total weekly volume to 75%, 2 weeks out and then again to 50% in the 1 week leading up to race day. Retain some speed work and intensity to keep the specific neuro-muscular impulses firing – this will help maintain a high stride rate.

2. Visualisation – Spend some time in the weeks/ days leading up to the race thinking about the race. Put yourself in different points and situations throughout race day. This will help you to prepare well when December 6 comes round. For example:

a. Pre race: How are you getting to the start line? What time do you want to be there? How am I going to carry my gels?

b. Race: How am I going to pace myself? How am I going to feel at the half way point? What is my nutrition plan like? What happens when I hit “the wall?” How am I going to respond?

c. Post Race: How am I getting home? Where can I get a snack after that? How do I recover properly from a huge effort like a marathon?

3. Gear– Plan your outfit. You should use the most comfortable running gear you have. How are you going to carry your gels? Is it time to treat yourself to a new pair of running shoes? Don’t leave this till last minute because you need break in them beforehand.

4. Nutrition – Read the labels. Know what you will be putting in your body as fuel for your big day. Try to get at least 150 calories every hour after the 1st hour of your run. You can get this from sports drinks (e.g. Powerbar Endurance Formula) or gels (e.g. Powergels). This works out to about 1 gel every 40 mins. Larger athletes will need more than this. Remember that it is important to wash your gels down with water because it helps with absorption.

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5. Nutrition – If you are a heavy sweater (you sweat through your shoes) it is essential to replace the lost electrolytes as the race wears on. Excess loss of sodium though sweat will affect your muscles contractility. Replace these with salt tablets/ Nunn Rehydration tablets/ “extra sodium” gels. * Try sucking on a Nunn tablet – I find this works well. When you’ve had enough, and you will know when, simply spit it out.

6. Hydration – Aim to take in moderate amounts of water at regular intervals at the aid stations. In most cases a few mouthfuls is often enough. Do not wait until you are very thirsty and gulp down a whole litre! This will disrupt the concentration gradients in your stomach and may lead to bloating – a very uncomfortable situation when running.

7. Pacing – Start EASY! The adrenaline and atmosphere at the start will have your heart rate 10 beats above normal and raring to go. HOLD BACK. No matter how good you feel, do not sprint off at the start- Take a few kilometres to let your body find its natural rhythm – and then back it off a little more. Yes! The energy you “put aside” in the first half of the race will pay big dividends in the closing stages of the run. Try to get the 1st 10 km out of the way as effortlessly as possible. Remember – START EASY!

8. Pacing – If you are following my advice to START EASY, you should be able to reach the halfway mark with no problems. This is the time to make an assessment- if you are feeling fantastic, showing no signs of fatigue and still raring to go – then you could increase your effort a little. If you are feeling OK – no problems, nutrition on track, legs still in good shape, relatively fresh- maintain the current effort because a marathon has a way of biting back after 30km!

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9. Pacing – Running a marathon will never be a simple, painless stroll in the park. At some point, you will have to grit your teeth and “Man-up”! Whether this happens with 10km to go or 500ms before the finishing line, the important thing to know that from here onwards, the race is run in your head. Stay strong and focused – Nothing else matters, just hold your form and run tall.

10. Enjoy your race – Enjoy putting your body to the test! Relish the fact that you are able to run a marathon – that in itself is special. Remember everyone that has supported you and be thankful for them. Encourage those having a tough time on the day with a smile or a few kind words. “Never give up!”


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