How to prepare for the racing challenge of your life
One of the questions I get asked a lot of the time is “What’s the minimum time required to prepare your body for a marathon?” Realistically it can be done within a 16-week period but idealistically you should already have some running experience as running is both physically and mentally draining.
There aren’t that many people out there who have the self-motivation and commitment to suddenly start running at least 4 times a week in the wind and rain!
With having an experience of fitness training (especially running) you are more likely to stick to the full training plan and experience less problems along the way, i.e. injuries and fatigue. You may be better off to start training for shorter races such as a 10km or a half marathon. These distances are reasonably achievable and if you are still enjoying your running after these events and feel that you are prepared enough to take that next step, then go for it!
Without going into too much detail about specific training programmes, there are a few steps that I feel are necessary to get you into running and these steps will help you answer a couple of the questions that you’re probably pondering about: whether or not if running is for me.
1) Achieve a base level of fitness
Now is the time to start building your aerobic base with steady, comfortable runs focusing on time and distance, i.e. time spent out running and what distance you cover. This is different from regular runners who want to run 10km in 40 minutes. Your first goal is to build your aerobic base and improving on this base over time. Only then can you start planning goals based on distance and time.
2) Get geared up
I cannot state strongly enough that having the correct running shoes for your biomechanics is of the utmost importance. If you ignore this then expect to be in a lot of pain and to be injured a lot. There are 3 types of foot:
i) Pronator – strike the ground with the outside and back of the heel
ii) Supinator – land on the outside of the foot and roll outwards
iii) Neutral – combination of the above
3) Be an all-rounder
Instead of just running at a steady pace vary your training, helping to prevent boredom. You still need to run, but you should cross train at least once a week through spinning or weight training because the muscles used in running won’t become as strong as they need to be through running alone. You should introduce some shorter, quicker paced runs to simulate running the last stretch in a race and to get your body working anaerobically. Remember the old saying “variety is the spice of life”: vary your training through cross training, tempo runs (above Marathon pace) and interval training. Plodding along mile after mile at the same pace will not unlock your full running potential.
4) Nutrition and rest
Becoming a runner doesn’t mean that you should automatically turn into a “carb-junky”. Carbohydrate intake only needs to stay around the 60% mark of your daily dietary intake. Protein needs to be consumed to help the muscle to recover and grow properly. The “carbo-loading” factor doesn’t need to be considered until later in the programme to coincide with race day. Feel free to drink an isotonic drink before your run to give you an added electrolyte boost, followed by a high protein and carb shake afterwards to aid in the recovery process. Isotonic drinks and recovery shakes are not to everyone’s taste but speaking from experience these are what work for me. Lastly, remember rest is important so take a rest day at least one full day a week – two in the early stages.
5) Enter your first race
The earlier you enter your first race the better. This will give you a more realistic running experience and help you to answer a lot of questions, especially the big one: “Can I actually do it?” Remember to start off small, i.e. a local 5km or a “fun-run”, and build up to a 10km. Once you know you can run comfortably at these distances then it’s time for a half marathon and then the big one – a full marathon.
I hope you have found this short guide helpful in how to kick start your own running experience and remember to come back next month for your guide to a 16-week scheduled programme.
“Every morning in Africa a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must move faster than the lion or it will not survive. Every morning a lion wakes up and it knows it must move faster than the slowest gazelle or it will starve. It doesn’t matter if you are the lion or the gazelle, when the sun comes up, you better be moving.” – Maurice Greene (attributed to Roger Bannister shortly after running the first sub-4 minute mile)