Running a marathon is an enormous—but accomplishable—endeavor. It requires months of training and dedication to a solitary goal. While the marathon itself is an accomplishment to cherish, you’ll likely place greater value in the weeks of hard training and preparation that got you to your goal. I’ve learned through trial and error how to best prepare for a marathon while still keeping intact my body—and my sanity.
Plan your entire training schedule before you begin. Good, free training plans are available online, but you may also find that investing in a book or purchasing an in-depth plan online will provide additional helpful advice as well as inspiration to train. Whichever plan you choose, put it somewhere highly visible so you can hold yourself accountable for meeting your weekly goals. Know your race terrain and route and whether you’re running a loop, an out-and-back, or a point-to-point race. This will help you visualize the course and the upcoming landmarks during your race. Being prepared for both your training and your race will give you confidence and peace of mind.
2. Replenish, but avoid the “food as reward” psychology
Now that you’re pounding out more miles per week, you need to replenish those lost calories. But do so wisely. While we do need to take in more calories during marathon training, we can do so simply by having slightly larger portions of healthy, nutrient-filled meals, and by adding in an additional snack or two throughout the day. Consume foods with anti-inflammatory properties to help negate the stressful effects of hard training on your body. In that same vein, eschew foods and beverages that are known to cause inflammation, such as refined sugars and grains. If you want to indulge in occasional celebratory treats, look for healthy alternatives to store-bought goodies. You will feel better about yourself and your training just knowing you’re fueling your body with healthful foods that work for you and not against you.
3. Hydrate—with the good stuff
The main beverage you should be consuming, in large quantities, throughout training is water. While you likely already have a system in place for hydrating during your training runs, you want to be thinking about hydration throughout every day of training. Just as you can’t prepare for a marathon a week before the race, you can’t sufficiently hydrate for a long run the night before. Try to limit coffee intake, as it is a diuretic, which causes you to lose water. Perhaps try a non-caffeinated tea as an alternative. Also, avoid alcohol, sodas, and sugary beverages, as these all add to inflammation in the body.
While it’s important to log lots of miles during the week, you don’t want to avoid strength-training. The number-one purpose of strength-training is not to bulk up but to help prevent injury, and this is also something I learned the hard way. I ended up with a stress fracture of my pelvis the first time I trained for a marathon—without having incorporated any strength-training. Focus on core-muscle strengthening, even if it’s just 15-20 minutes a couple times per week. Or add in yoga or Pilates classes, which often focus on core muscles. Do your body this favor!
5. Take time to recover
A workout isn’t complete until you’ve recovered from it. Keep this in mind when you’re thinking about doing back-to-back workouts because you missed a run, or when you’re consistently getting too little sleep because of your training schedule. I like to think of sleep as the magical time when our bodies repair all that’s broken down within them. If you aren’t investing in enough of this time, you’re interrupting the repair work and continuing to train on a broken-down body. This can eventually lead to injury, and your hard work will be for naught.
6. Pamper yourself with baths
So maybe an ice bath doesn’t sound like pampering, but it has the word “bath” in it, and it can do wonders for your lower extremities, which take the brunt of training impact. The ice-cold water causes fresh blood to rush through your veins and flush out built-up toxins, reducing inflammation in problem areas. I recommend these especially after long runs but also after any run in which you’ve felt new pain, which could lead to a stress injury. Make your bath as cold as you can tolerate for about fifteen minutes. As an alternative to the ice bath, soaking in a warm tub with Epsom salts can also be very healing for tired or sore muscles—and it doesn’t make you want to flee toward a hearth.
7. When in doubt, roll it out
You’re going to discover new (or old) places of tightness or pain throughout your training. If you don’t already have a foam roller, get one, and make it your new best friend. Foam rollers are particularly effective on IT bands, hamstrings, quads, and calves. If during your rolling session you have the urge to let out a guttural cry of pain, you know you’re doing it right. Just breathe through it. You want to roll out the problem area slowly, allowing the built-up lactic acid to break down and move through your circulatory system. After an intense foam-rolling session, just as after a massage, you want to drink lots of water to flush out the toxins you released.
8. Don’t stress over a missed training run
Know that your overall training efforts will not suffer if you miss a training run or two. If you’re sick or overtired or your schedule just won’t accommodate a workout, it’s best to just let it go and focus on the next one. Stressing over one missed run or trying to run on a sick body will be more detrimental than the missed run itself. Remember that your body is the primary piece of equipment in this race, and you must honor it if you wish it to perform well on race day.
Image Source: Phil Roeder/Flickr