Top Tips For Going The Distance
Just 26.2 miles stand between you and marathon glory on Sunday 23 April. Top coach Martin Yelling is here with 26 tips to help you to beat the distance and make it to the Finish Line in fine form.
1. Calm down
Calm down. You’ve come a long way in your training and there’s a lot riding on your run around London in April. It’s natural to feel nervous. Everyone does. Don’t lose it now! Relax. Take a moment to stand confidently on the Start Line; look around, you’ve made it. Reflect on how far you’ve come in your marathon journey, close your eyes, breathe deeply, exhale slowly and get ready for one of the best days of your life.
When the start gun goes, don’t panic! Relax. Despite your heart rate racing, you’re probably not going to go anywhere for a few minutes as the runners in front of you move forwards and cross the Start Line. You’ve got plenty of time to get going. Walk into your race and get moving. Have some fun!
3. Woah there!
Hang back. Be disciplined at the start and especially in the first few miles. It’s going to be busy with runners all around you. You might be tempted to go out a little harder than planned. Don’t. Hang back and conserve your energy. It should feel easy at the start. If it doesn’t, you’re working too hard so slow down. Poor pace control at the start of your marathon effort can bring about a tough final third of the race.
4. Simmer down and settle in
Once you get going, allow your pace, breathing and stride pattern to settle down. Simmer and tick off the opening miles. Allow them to pass with as little effort as possible. Your goal is to get to mile three feeling as relaxed as possible and to get to mile six at your target pace. This will help you to arrive at halfway feeling like you’re ready to tackle the real race.
5. Too hot, too cold, all in a fluster!
Marathon day can throw up all sorts of weather conditions. Check the forecast leading up to Race Day and plan appropriately. It can be cold first thing in the morning but you’ll soon warm up once you start running. It’s better to be a little chilly at the start and then warm up once you’re running than wear too much and be roasting-hot by mile five and have to carry your most expensive running jacket with you flapping around your waist for the next 21 miles!
6. First Drinks Station antics
There’s no need to stop at the first water station and neck everything available on course. If you’re adequately hydrated pre-race it doesn’t matter if you skip the first station. When you do grab a drink, carry it with you for a while, control your breathing, take a few sips in your own time and then think about how you throw away your bottle – they can be slippery little things when under another runner’s feet so try to throw them to the side of the course to prevent accidents.
7. Break it up
Before Race Day arrives, review the course and make a few mental notes of key landmarks on the route. These might be physical places (for example, the Cutty Sark, Tower Bridge, Big Ben), course mile/km markers, points of interest or where family or friends will be. The points can be mental markers for you to aim at on Race Day. Break your race down and focus on reaching the next important landmark.
8. One or two?
What do you do if the need to use the toilet suddenly becomes simply too much? Don’t cross your legs and try to keep running. Instead, stop and use the loo. A few minutes on the roadside portaloo (there are plenty along the course) and you’ll feel better and get back on track.
9. Resist feeling frustrated
If you have a target time in mind and, despite being disciplined and in control, you simply got it wrong and are slower than hoped at mile 10, don’t get frustrated and cross and try to ramp it up to get back on track. You are more likely to have a successful race if you keep your effort consistent and smooth. Take your time to claw back those valuable seconds as the miles progress. Use the next 10 to 12 miles to get back on pace again as an evenly distributed effort. Then find yourself at mile 22 ready to give the final miles your best shot.
10. Stitched up
The dreaded runner’s stitch is a sharp, localised pain or spasm normally just below the rib cage around the diaphragm. It can often restrict breathing and tighten your chest and rib cage. It can come on quite suddenly and halt your progress abruptly or niggle away at you in the background causing you to slow down as you strive for the Finish Line. If you do get a stitch during the marathon, try taking three deep breaths in and out and each time attempt to push the air out forcefully from your lungs as you exhale. Slow down and walk a little if you need to; the stitch will pass and you’ll get going again.
Everyone experiences tough moments in a marathon. The marathon will test your limits and you’ll ask yourself to do some difficult things. Yes, you might even cry. It’s how you respond and react to these tough moments that make or break your day. The choices you make when it hurts to focus and keep moving will help you believe you can achieve anything. Think beyond your limits and expectations and never stop moving forwards. Even if your run is reduced to a jog, your jog to a shuffle, your shuffle to a walk and your walk to a crawl, keep moving.
12. Get personal
When you’re feeling rough and questioning if you can do it, remind yourself of how far you’ve come. Boost your confidence by thinking back to some of your best training runs and remembering how well they went. Everyone arrives at the marathon Start Line after different journeys and the race will have many different meanings to different people. Understand yours.
13. Killer cramp
Cramp in marathon running is quite common. It’s not unusual to see a runner grasping their hamstring, writhing around in race-stopping agony a few miles from the finish. Cramps are a sudden tight and intense pain brought about when a muscle involuntarily and forcibly contracts but then fails to relax. When you’re running for a long time your muscles get tired and fatigued. Cramp is more common in tired muscles when they are overloaded. Cramps are less common in runners who have prepared well for their marathon. If you do feel cramp coming on, slow down, ease up, walk and try and stretch it out. Take some food and fluids on board and get moving again.
14. Other runners are AMAZING!
As you’ll discover on Race Day, you’ll be surrounded by thousands of other runners just like you, all out to achieve something amazing. Many will be first time marathoners; most will have the same anxieties, concerns, hopes and dreams that you have. You can get an amazing feeling of encouragement, support and togetherness from the runners on the course on Race Day. Talk to each other, support each other, encourage each other and motivate each other; together you’ll go the distance.
15. Hydration and fuelling
Don’t neglect listening to your thirst when you’re running. You definitely don’t need to stop and neck litres of water or Lucozade Sports at every Drinks Station but it is vital to stay on top of – and aware of – your hydration status and energy levels. If you feel thirsty, then take a drink. If you’re low in energy, then use the fuel you’re carrying with you or the fuel available along the course to keep your energy levels topped up.
16. Gadget malfunction
In training, your GPS distance monitor, heart rate monitor or MP3 player has been your best friend. It’s been there for you on every run, but at mile 12 on Race Day you hear ‘beep beep’ and your beloved gadget decides to go pop and run out of juice. Don’t let this spoil your day or ruin your run. Be confident: you don’t need gadgets to finish a marathon. It’s your legs that carry you so relax and keep running.
17. Bleeding nipples, chafing and soreness
Rubbing, chafing and sore spots are pretty common, if a little unpleasant, during marathons. A solid application of lubrication on any tricky areas (inner thighs, nipples, under arms, toes and heels) before the race certainly helps. You can also make sure you’re wearing clothing that doesn’t rub by trying it out in training.
18. The wheels properly fall off
You’ve not signed up for a morning drinking coffee with friends. The marathon is physically demanding, psychologically challenging and emotionally draining. It’s certainly going to challenge you in many ways. At points in the race everything is going to hurt and you are going to want to stop, yet at the same time the truly amazing thing is that this experience can be quite transformational. After you’ve run a marathon you’ll feel like you can do anything. When it gets super-tricky think of someone or something important to you and run your next mile with them in mind; dedicate that mile to them.
19. Pesky niggles
Things were going so well then BANG from nowhere that pesky injury you’ve been successfully managing and keeping at bay for the past few weeks gets a firm hold of you. A few miles struggling against it, ignoring it, pushing it out of your head pass with little progress or improvement and you realise things are looking bleak. Slow down, stop if you need to, stretch it out, adjust your pace, and ultimately if things fail to improve, adjust your goal. It’s okay to change your goals mid-race. The most important thing is to finish, even if you walk the final few miles. (If you feel the injury or pain might cause some serious long-term damage then seek medical assistance on the course and take an informed and qualified decision about whether to continue.)
20. Blister attack!
You feel a sore spot; a hot spot on your heel or toes. As the miles tick by it gets worse. It’s definitely a blister! Try not to stop. The pain is worse if you stop. Ideally keep moving and keep the skin covering the fluid and the tender new skin below intact. If it pops of its own accord, keep moving. Consider stopping at a first aid point and getting it dressed and then get yourself going again.
21. Give yourself a form check
You’ll think to yourself plenty of times before and during the race that you can’t do it. You’ll have plenty of doubts and anxieties. On Race Day and throughout the race keep asking yourself how you’re feeling. At regular intervals, ask yourself: how are my energy levels? How do my muscles feel? Do I feel on track? Am I keeping my hips high? Ask yourself these questions as a mental checklist to stay on track.
22. Hitting the wall
The wall doesn’t actually exist. Runners struggle in the later stages of the marathon typically because they’ve got something wrong. They either haven’t trained adequately or appropriately for the task at hand, have started off way too fast and failed to distribute their effort economically and effectively throughout the entire race, have failed to be sufficiently fuelled and hydrated before and during the marathon and run out of energy, or a combination of all of the above. The best way to avoid the wall is to prepare for it not to be there. If on the day, however, you do find yourself significantly struggling in the later stages, you’ll need to slow down. You’ll probably have no choice. Drop your pace, allow yourself to find a new rhythm and get things under control. This might mean walking. Get some fluids and fuel (energy gels, sports drinks, anything you can get your hands on) on board and continue putting one foot in front of the other until you reach the Finish Line.
23. Soak it up
This year, for one day in London, you are the centre of attention. The crowds along the course are spectacular. People will line the streets and they’ll be screaming at you, encouraging you to keep going, to never give up, to earn your medal. Running London is all about you. Be proud. Draw on the energy of your family and friends and those you know supporting you and the passion and excitement of strangers who will help you all the way to The Mall.
24. Being passed by a giant banana, rhino or Elvis
This may happen. If it does, suck it up, keep moving, smile to yourself and carry on.
25. Final three-mile mantra
As the final miles approach, every muscle and tendon is likely to hurt. You can barely catch any more breath and your heart has been working overtime. You are so close yet you also want to stop. You think you’ve drawn every ounce of strength from your body and mind. But you haven’t. Devote each single mile from mile 24 to someone or something that has helped you on your marathon journey. Run this single mile with them/that in mind. Be inspired and you will do it.
26. Finish Line emotions
Before you know it, the Finish Line will be in sight. Run tall. Run strong. Lift your spirits for the final push across the line. Raise your arms high in the air to celebrate your personal marathon success. Soak it up; you’ve earned it.