Going the distance
Marathon season has begun and this weekend it’s the iconic London Marathon. Well done to everyone who is competing on getting this far, and the very best of luck – particularly if you’re planning to attempt it dressed in a hot, heavy and generally unsuitable fancy dress costume!
Leading expert Roger Kerry, of the Division of Physiotherapy and Rehabilitation Sciences in the School of Health Sciences, believes from a physiotherapist’s view that running the marathon will be about three things: performing well; not getting injured; and most of all – having fun! Here are his top 10 tips for getting the most out of your London Marathon experience…
- Prepare – It’s too late now to think about more training, but you should prepare properly for the day in all other respects. Make sure you have checked all your kit at least the day before, and that all your food and drinks are organised in good time – there’ll be no time to dash to Runners Need on Sunday morning.
- Taper – The evidence behind tapering (progressively lowering your mileage leading up to the event) is a bit hit-and-miss. However, for a long race, basic principles of exercise suggest that it is not a great idea to be cramming in long or hard sessions the week before the race. Start to relax and do just what you need to keep you motivated and active, but not much more. At this stage, noting will change your fitness in time for Sunday.
- Eat – You need the right type and right amount of fuel for Sunday. Start to think about that now, but don’t do anything that your body isn’t used to. Avoid strategies with inconsistent evidence, like dramatic ‘carbo-loading’. Make sure you have wholesome, simple complex-carbohydrates the night before – plenty of brown rice or pasta, supplemented with dried fruit etc. Before an intense, prolonged effort, progress towards at least 10g of carbohydrate per kilogram of bodyweight in the days leading up to Sunday.
- Drink – Again, the golden rule: don’t do anything your body isn’t used to. You obviously need to be well hydrated before, during, and after the race. However, over-hydration can be just as (if not more) problematic that dehydration, so you don’t need to guzzle 3 pints of water every few hundred yards. Aim for no more than 0.8 litres of fluid/hour. You will need carbs to keep you going as well, so if you’re used to a specific sports drink or gel, than use that, but don’t start experimenting during the race though!
- Shoes – Don’t run in new shoes! Make sure your socks are fitted well, with no small creases or seams. A tiny crease at the start will seem like a boulder at 10 miles, and increase your chance of blistering. Make sure your heel is captured well, but remember that in a long run your forefoot will expand, so avoid ultra-tight lacing in your lower laces. Use thick, or double-layer socks, or Vaseline, to reduce chance of blistering. Use plasters is you’re used to them – again, nothing new please!
- Warm-up – OK, so in 26 miles there’s plenty of time to warm-up, however, it is still absolutely sensible to make sure your muscles are ready for action and your vital organs are ready to be stressed. Do some gentle, progressive running or drills to get ready and try and keep moving on the start-line. The evidence for stretching (especially static stretching) or massage suggest that these don’t help in either performance of injury prevention, so you’re better off spending your time moving and preparing your tissues for load.
- Pace yourself – The crowd will most likely prevent you from sprinting off, but aim for negative splits, i.e. the first half of the race being slower paced than the last half. Use your GPS if you need to, but better still, listen to your body. Have confidence in all that fantastic training you have done, and know that you can achieve your marathon aim if you don’t stray too far from what your body is used to.
- Keep control – In line with the point above, consider strategies to put in place when you start to fade. Going through rough patches is normal, even if your fitness and fuel control is in order. It’s what you do during these patches that’s important. Try not to get worried about a drop in your pace. If you do, you will try and speed up at a time when your body and mind is asking you not to. Rather, try and focus on your form: work from top to bottom – recalibrate your head posture and your shoulder height, make sure your torso is not slumping and affecting your breathing, make sure your arm swing is even and synched with your leg movements, keep control around your pelvis, shorten your stride length and/or increase cadence, and think about your foot strike. You’ll soon be back in the zone!
- Finish strong – Let the crowd motivate you during the last few miles, but don’t blow up before the finish line! You have put in months of training, and this is where it all comes together. Make sure you save something for that last kilometre. You might get a bit of euphoria with two or three miles to go, but avoid that last burst until the finish line is in sight.
- Re-fuel, refresh, and reflect – You’ve done it! 26.2 miles in the bag, and an amazing experience. But it doesn’t stop here. How you feel for the next few days, and whether you remain motivated to ever do this again will depend on what to do in the few hours post-race. You will need to gradually take on some replenishing carbs and protein, and get your hydration status balanced, considering electrolyte also. Again, stretching or massage won’t necessarily help the recovery process, and may in fact contribute to a delayed recovery. A sensible reduction in tissue load, whilst maintain some movement is key for that next 72 hours. That means keep your legs moving, as long as they are comfortable. You can expect to introduce steady running again after a few days. No hard sessions for a good three weeks or so though. And finally, reflect on your experience to maximise your enjoyment as well as learn from it – for next time!