How To

Run Your Best Marathon by Avoiding Common Mistakes

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Those who want to tackle a marathon know there are a variety of challenges they’ll face when looking to conquer 26.2 miles. Many runners find that preparation for a 5K or 10K is considerably different than training for a marathon. In the same way, things like eating, hydrating, and knowing your route make a considerable difference in a long distance marathon or ultra-run, where shorter runs tend to have a more flexible training regime. Follow these tips for before and during a race to help you run you very best:

Tailor your training to your event:

So many things can affect the way you run; the surface you’re running on, the weather, the elevation, and therefore they should be key factors in your training. If you are used to running trails in one condition, let’s say warm and muggy, you will be ill prepared for cold and rainy conditions. Similarly, those who train at ground level for runs that are either high or low altitude will face significant hardships when trying to catch their breath. So, make sure training runs mimic the conditions you expect on race day.

Ensuring that training runs takes place on a similar surface as your target marathon is equally important. If your marathon is going to be a road race, training mostly on asphalt will get your body used to the repetitive pounding of the pavement. If you are doing a trail run, it is important to train on the uneven surface so your body can acclimate to those settings. Training on the proper surface will also prevent injuries and help you recover faster from your marathon.

Don’t over-train or under-train:

The best way to make sure you are successful on race day is to maintain that perfect balance of pre-race training. Some people think that running multiple long runs in one week is the best way to train, but in actuality this is the best way to wear your body out and cause injuries. Also, those who over train can fall victim to over-training syndrome, which is where you’re training becomes ineffective and you actually begin to run slower.

On the other hand, if you do not prepare properly for your event, you will also come up short. One big mistake marathoners make is training at a different speed than they decide to run. Remember that endurance and running abilities are dependent on speed. In the same way, only ever running a 10K or even a half-marathon will not fully prepare you for the 26.2 miles you will be asked to run on race day. Some runners believe these extra miles or increased speed will come from adrenaline, or some other unknown force. They will be sorely disappointed. Instead, vary among long and short runs in order to give your body time to heal, and be sure to keep a consistent and comfortable pace.

Avoid pre-race stress:

It’s hard not to get excited and let pre-race jitters affect your performance. Sometimes you get no sleep the night before, other times you stress yourself out cutting it close to start time. But the most common mistake is getting psyched out on the way to a race.

The first bit of advice to counter all three of these common stressors is to make sure to arrive at the race early. For destination races, arrive at least 48 hours ahead of time. This allows you time to get accustomed to the lay of the land, get in a pre-race warm up run, and prepare yourself for the race with a good night’s sleep. For races close to home, it is important to give yourself at least an hour to get all your pre-race gear together, including your number and tracker, as well as hitting the bathroom and warming up.

Now that you are at the race, use this extra time to visualize and repeat calming mantras to prevent yourself from getting worked up. Some of these practices can be adopted a few weeks before the race so that the day of, you have a set routine and are comforted by its repetitive nature.

Dress for the occasion:

Marathons take a while to run, and if you are uncomfortable, that race can seem even longer. Before you get to the race, make sure you are dressed for the weather. If you are traveling far, bring an outfit for hot weather, an outfit for cold weather, and one for something in between. Also, it can be a great idea to bring an extra pair of laces, just in case of an emergency.

On the race day itself though, don’t over-do it. Wear base layers that will keep you comfortable, and try to avoid bringing extra clothing that you will shed and then have to carry. Remember, once the run begins you are going to warm up considerably.

For rainy days, some runners wear Hefty bags or ponchos over their gear. This again is a personal choice. If you have practiced this way and are comfortable, protecting yourself from the elements can be beneficial. On the other hand, if you aren’t used to it, it can hinder your running ability and make you uncomfortable. When you arrive (early of course), assess the situation and do what you think is best.

Don’t forget to eat:

Part of your running regime should be planning pre- and post-run meals to ensure that you are fueled up. Pre-race meals should be consumed a few hours before your race so that your body has time to digest them and get the full benefits. Pre-race meals should be high in carbohydrates as well as other ingredients that are easy on your digestive system; so avoiding sushi and other ethnic foods before a run is a good idea. This also means steering clear of foods high in fiber, like nuts, seeds and a majority fruits, bananas being the main exception.

Most marathoners also carry on-the-run snacks to help continuously fuel their bodies. This is where power bars and gels come in handy and can make a big difference between a successful and unsuccessful finish. According to nutritionist Kim Mueller, M.S., R.D., C.C.S.D., the average runner burns roughly two-thirds of their body weight in calories every mile, so aim to replace around 30 percent of the total calories you burn between the 10k mark and the finish.

Stay hydrated:

It seems like it would be common sense—your body needs the electrolytes and other nutrients from water and sports drinks to keep you hydrated and allow your muscles to move. Many marathoners, however, try to save drinking until the later stages of the race. At this point fatigue is already setting in, and the drink has little effect because it does not have time to digest. Instead, drinking something about 10 minutes before the race, and then at two or three miles intervals, will keep you hydrated. It is also best to decide ahead of time if drinking sports drinks or water is your preference.

Pace yourself:

This is the downfall for a lot of runners. It’s hard not to get worked up and excited at the beginning of a race, making you take off way too fast and quickly depleting your energy supply. The best thing to do is to hold back and treat the first few miles as a warm up. Then settle into a consistent, comfortable pace, preferably one that you have trained at. Those who try to run faster than where they have been training will hit the wall sooner. Instead, wait to push until the very end so you can finish strong.

Stick to your plan:

One of the biggest mistakes someone can make is trying something new on race day. New equipment, new meals or new speed will all hamper your running because, simply, you’re not used to it. It is important to stick with what you know rather than switch things up on race day in order to give yourself the best chance to finish. After all, you train for a reason so stay true to what you know.

Enjoy it:

Sometimes the best thing that you can do for yourself is forget about the goals. Put your time and the set miles of the race in the back of your mind. Look around you, listen to your music and take it all in. This is supposed to be fun, so let it be.

Image courtesy the Wikimedia commons user TonyTheTiger

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