Run a Better Marathon


There’s an old joke that says, “If you mention exercise to some people, they’ll run a mile!” If you’re reading this though, there’s a good chance you want to run 26.2 miles! If you are one of the brave souls that’s running a marathon soon, then here are our practical tips to help make sure all that hard work pays off…

Less is More
If you’re into the last fortnight of training, it’s time to ease off a little! Doing fewer miles and getting more rest lets your body store energy, and gives your muscles some repair time. You’ll lose nothing in fitness terms through running a little less. It takes around 10 days for training benefits to kick in, so that last week is mostly irrelevant… Just make sure you make the occasional fast effort to keep things ticking over.

Stay Well
This doesn’t quite go without saying! A last-minute illness can scupper months of running around… Eat well, and avoid people that say they’re ill. Use hand sanitiser and be sure to get plenty of sleep over the fortnight that leads up to the marathon..  

Stress Free
Relax more. Enjoy less! During the last week of training, completely cut back on things that stress your mind and body. No partying, clubbing or shopping in busy city centres! Stress is just terrible for the immune system.

You’ve probably heard before how important it is to set a time goal for the big day! One tip that we got from a number of repeat marathon runners, though, is to set three achievable goals for a marathon: an ambitious ideal time, a realistic great time, and an acceptable “I-wanted-to-crawl-the-rest” time. Be realistic about your chances!

Get There
Not many Marathons are so well-organised that they’re a joy to get to. Most advise public transport, and lay on plenty of it. If you leave it too late, however, it can get incredibly busy. Aim to get to the site about an hour early. If you drive, keep in mind that it can take a while to get from the parking area to the start. Factor that in. Be sure to work out exactly where you’re going and how you’re doing the journey.

3… 2… 1…
In the three days just before the marathon, eat more carbohydrates! Now, be careful… You don’t want to make radical changes if you’ve been naughty up ’til now, but ideally around 70% of your diet should be fruit, pasta, rice, potatoes and the like by the last three days.

We Don’t Want to be Coarse…
…however, the toilet paper provided at the race tends to be exactly that… And it’s often in short supply! Take our tip – and take your own loo roll.

Get Packing
Pack your gear the day before… And weather-wise, remember what they say about Britain: it’d be okay if the whole country had a roof! Pack clothes for different conditions and check you’ve got your entry number, some Vaseline, energy bars or gel packs. Take plenty to drink, sun cream, tissues, safety pins, plasters and your electronic chip if you have one.

One of the Back in Shape team used to work in a specialist running shop! He tells us that, for some inexplicable reason, many loyal customers would send staff photos of their toes after running a marathon! They’d be black, bruised, hanging off or missing altogether… Ugh! So here’s the advice he gave: trim your nails a few days before the event. And trim is the operative word… If they’re too short that’s just as likely to end up painful!

All the Gear, No Idea!
This lovely little phrase is what some retailers tend to say when someone spends a fortune on new equipment shortly before running a marathon! Don’t buy new shoes. New kit may well cause blisters, chafing, or other unpleasantness. Wear shoes, socks and underwear that you already know works for you.

Pre-race Nosh
The night before the marathon, don’t try a new Jamie Oliver dish just because he’s been on the telly! Eat food that’s high in carbohydrates and low in fibre. Stick with what you know: a large meal of stuff you’ve eaten prior to long runs in the past.

Oh! The jitter! Oh, the Bug!
People’s last-minute changes to routines are often down to nervousness: many get a little pre-race tension leading up to the day… Indeed, it’s recently been dubbed ‘maranoia’! The one-size fits all rule, however, is don’t do anything to change the routine that’s been working for you! Just ease off a little. And take a short, easy jog the day before the marathon to help see off those jitters. This should also help you sleep…

Of Which…
Get a good night’s sleep the night before a marathon. Check out our Secrets of a Great Night’s Sleep Info Sheet here: Sleep Well Info Sheet If you do find you’re awake in bed, though – relax! As long as you’re resting for 7 or 8 hours, you should be fine.

Booze! Hiss!
Not great news here… To ensure you’re hydrated properly, you should drink plenty the day before – but not alcohol. If you must ‘soothe your nerves’ with one small beer or a glass of wine – okay. But really: one’s your lot!

Wakey, Wakey!
Much as with any important day, you want to be up and at ’em without fail. Set two separate alarms. Put one of them out of your reach and – when they go off – make sure you jump to it! Don’t press ‘snooze’. Get up and get going.

Even if it feels too early, have a light meal. Be sure it’s a meal you’ve previously eaten before a long run. Stick with what you know is okay.

The same goes for whatever you’ve been drinking. If you been consistently drinking water or consistently using sports’ drinks, carry on. Don’t switch at the last minute.

Queues for Loos
Inevitably, these will be l – o – n – g, so allow loads of time, and stop drinking half an hour or so before the off. This reduces the chance of your needing another toilet stop.

“Slide, Charlie Brown, Slide”
We mentioned Vaseline earlier for good reason. You should apply this to any regions one would not wish to chafe. That may include under the arms, the bra band, the thighs and between your toes. Be careful to apply only a sensible amount here, though, because if your toes are slippery, they can blister from that. And have you heard of “jogger’s nipple”? No? Well, you don’t want it! Help avoid it by the strategic positioning of plasters or surgical tape.

Friends and Family
This is easily overlooked! You must, though, agree exactly where you’ll meet up with your supporters in advance. You’ll be way too tired to trudge round hunting for them.

Waiting for the Off
Warm or cold, warm or cold… There’s no need to decide! Wear an old tee-shirt or sweatshirt while waiting to go. When you’re ready, take it off and toss it away! In fact, a bin liner with cut-out holes for your arms and head will do. Just wear something disposable.

One Step at a Time
The first few miles of the race are always ridiculously crowded, particularly at bigger marathons. Weaving in and out of other runners to hit a target time may not seem like it’s going to tire you out, but trust us – it does! This early on, it’s better to relax, enjoy the atmosphere and go at a gentle, even pace.

Count Down
After the crowd thins down, it’s easy to use the course ‘mile markers’ to work out how you’re doing. Be sure to pace yourself… Stick to your goals and race plan.

Finish Fine!
Just get those last twenty six miles out of the way, and you’re ready for the next tip! Which is to drink plenty and get some decent food as soon as you can after finishing. And look… You just ran a marathon! Your body probably won’t seem mad on the idea of eating… The sooner you do, though, the sooner recovery starts. And when we say decent food, we mean little things that are easy to digest: a banana, a smoothie or those sweets one often finds buried in the official goody bag.

It’s a Wrap
As soon as you finish, you get a ridiculous looking space blanket which you should use immediately! Wrap up in it and get out of the way. When you’re ready, indulge yourself with a gentle sports massage and, later still, a mildly hot bath.

So What Happens Now?
It really, really makes sense to take a few days off work and give in to your body’s tiredness. Some say most marathons are run on a Sunday, felt on a Monday and regretted on a Tuesday! If this is your first one, definitely keep away from running! Even experienced runners tend to wait a week or so – until their bodies feel ready – before going on a short, muscle-loosening and gentle run.

Bonus Tip
When you can move again, take the time to pat yourself on the back. Congratulate or reward yourself, even if you didn’t hit your goals… People tend to get sucked into the training for so long that they forget what an amazing achievement it is to train for, enter and complete a marathon in the first place. Not literally in first place, you understand, that’d be silly. Although we are crossing our fingers for you! Good luck…

Back in Shape cannot accept responsibility for the consequences of any action or inaction based on its Info Sheets. If you have any doubts or concerns over medical and health issues, our best advice is always to pop in to see us, visit your GP or call NHS Direct on 111 to discuss your health.