Windmiler Wisdom - Running and training for a Marathon

Running a marathon can be a daunting task and completing one is a major achievement.  For the newcomer it can seem overwhelming; it seems a huge task with many pitfalls.  Thankfully there is a lot of guidance out there, hundreds of internet pages, videos and books.

But our club mates are also packed with wisdom, between them a few centuries of running experience; often the wisdom we seek is standing or jogging right next to us.  So it is worth asking other Windmilers for advice. Here are some marathon tips from fellow Windmilers.

This isn’t meant to be a comprehensive list.  Please send us your words of wisdom and advice so we can periodically update this list: coaching@windmilers.org.uk

Before

  • Training plans.  Choose a training plan that is suitable to your ability not your ego – and if you choose one based on a target time make it realistic, don't just scale up a shorter distance. Norman
  • Have a training plan and stick to it, but if you go out to run one day and you're really not feeling it, ease off. There's a good chance your body is telling you something important. AnnS​
  • Cross Training. Top tip is around cross training. Knocking 17 minutes off my pb last year I put down to taking up body pump and yoga - so strengthening core and legs - enabled me for the first time to run the second half of a marathon in roughly the same time as the first. KatyB
  • Cross Training. Plan cross training for active recovery days – strength work (not legs) is good for the day after a hard running session. SteveF.

  • Base your practice runs on time rather than worry about a set miles or KMs, your legs don’t know the distance the have travelled but they can feel the time you have been on your feet for. Bryn

  • Practice drinking and eating during training and don't eat anything you're unfamiliar with for breakfast or during the race – race day is not the day to experiment. SteveF and Gareth
  • If you get injured during training don't panic - but do ease off the training.  Do cross training, such as swimming, if you can, but don't push it.  Undertrained is safer than running on an injury. AnnS
  • Cut your toe nails 5-8 days before the race. SteveF & Dave Sharman
  • Most people will taper (reduce the volume of) their taining for up to 2-3 weeks before a key target race. There is no perfect taper which will suit everyone, some people prefer to reduce their amount of training gradually over several weeks, others may just take a few days easy before the race. Find out what works / doesn't work for you and learn from it for your next target race. Dave S
  • Taper time means rest time - do not take on additional chores or tasks to fill all of those additional hours that you have magically discovered due to reducing training hours. Dave S
  • Do not panic if you feel sluggish or lethargic during your taper - many people feel like this as their body rebuilds and freshens up from many weeks of tough workouts. Dave S

  • Do not worry if you feel self-doubt about the race ahead in the days beforehand, this is also normal. Avoid at all costs any 'tester' workouts in the last 2 weeks before your main race. These will be low gain or detrimental. Have faith that you have done the hard work and need to back off to reap the benefits from all that training. Dave S
  • Don't eat too much the day before.  Carbo load 2 or 3 days before the race.  The final day before race day, try to eat a normal and not overly heavy meal. AnnS
  • Eat a bit more starchy food than normal in the three days before the race, but not a massive binge.  For example some extra sweet potato, polenta, risotto, pasta, potatoes, or bread. In theory you can double your glycogen stores, which would help avoid 'the wall’ at 20 miles.  Norman
  • Try to hydrate for several days beforehand, to maximise body saturation: don't leave all your hydration to the final day before the race AnnS
  • Get in and out of the race expo as quickly as possible to minimise time on your feet. I have yet to discover a new or interesting product at a race expo and useful freebies are very rare at race expos. DaveS​

The night before

  • Get a good night's sleep the night before the night before.  Accept that the actual night before the marathon you may be too anxious to sleep well, but if you've had a restful night or two BEFORE then you'll be fine. AnnS

However…

  • You will never get a good night's sleep before a big race (you are usually too nervous/excited/worried that the alarm clock won't go off) so try to get a good night's sleep two nights before. EllaW

During

  • On race day have a carb breakfast at least two hours before the race, such as porridge with honey, cereals or toast and jam.  Norman
  • One mainly for the girls: just accept that you're going to have to go the loo half a dozen times before whistle: that's just the way it is.  Allow time for queuing. Ann S
  • Wear quality shoes, which you have run in for at least a month so are comfortable with. Colin
  • Grease your nipples. Nothing more painful than rubbed nipples in a damp shirt. Colin
  • Don't wear anything new for the race (especially shoes). SteveF
  • Tie your shoelaces securely. I use a double-knot. KeithR recommends tucking the bow under the loops between the lace-eyes.  Don’t make lacing too tight. Your feet will expand during the race. SteveF
  • Negative Split – seems everyone agrees….
  • Use a negative split pacing schedule based on what you've achieved in training - you can't miraculously run a marathon 15s per mile quicker than you've trained - and stick to it - the first few miles might feel slow, but you've a long way to go. SteveF
  • A negative split is waaay cooler than blowing up spectacularly and more pleasant. Gareth
  • Run the first 3 miles gently, as slow as you dare, keeping heart rate low keeps you in ‘fat burning’ zone, while you are there you can digest your fuel while your stomach is still working this increases your chances having energy at mile 20.  Norman
  • Run relaxed and don't worry if you are held up by the crowds in London. By starting slowly you should be able to maintain your optimum pace for longer. Colin

  • Pace yourself.  It's obvious and I'm sure everyone else has said this too: but the temptation to get some faster miles in the bank, go with the flow or try to keep up with the crowd/your running-club nemesis can all serve to sabotage your training.  Have a pacing plan and stick to it: maybe even writing it on your arm to remind yourself. Dave S
  • Pacing is a beautiful art; in the early stages of a race only run at (or marginally below) your current ability. Do not try to bank time, the bank charges interest!! DaveS
  • Pace wise, stay conversational as long as you can - it stops you running too hard, makes new friends and keeps you positive! Gareth
  • But don’t feel you must stick with them if they start going too fast for your target pace. Pete Chandler
  • Break up the race into segments and concentrate on only the current segment at a given time during the race. Setting time targets and/or aspects of your running to think about for each segment (such as keeping a strong, upright core) may be useful. Dave S
  • Smile at least once a mile (if it works for Kipchoge...). SteveF
  • If it's going to be warm, take salt tabs to ward off cramp.  These tablets could make the difference before a good time and not finishing at all. AnnS
  • If you are running anywhere near to your potential, it will hurt. Lots. Accept this in advance of the race so that you can embrace the challenge on the day and keep on your pace target when it gets really difficult.
  • Little and often is better than a few big drinks/eats. Gareth
  • If you are faced with plastic or paper cups for water, pinch the top between 2 fingers to make a spout, you'll get more in you and less on you. Gareth
  • If you're in a big event, don't feel you need to use every water /aid station, go with what you practiced. Gareth
  • If you feel low in energy and sluggish, try drinking more, if that doesn't work then eat a bit more and if that doesn't work - slow down. Going a bit slower is better than ending up walking... Gareth
  • If you feel sick, give your stomach a break! Go to water or electrolyte (not sport drink) or even just skip an aid station and go to the next one. Gareth

  • Be prepared for the unexpected. This could be anything - adverse or very warm weather, feeling particularly mashed earlier on in the race, your nutrition gone wrong, cramps or other pain such as, very sore feet because the course has a lot of camber or cobble stones etc. It's unlikely you'll know what it is until you're actually experiencing it! Chiara
  • Stuff does happen during your marathon, but you can make the most of a difficult or bad situation (assuming you haven't injured yourself or become suddenly very ill, in which case just stop and get help). Chiara
  • I find mantras really helpful, make some up to help you with the unexpected. Make them 2 or 3 syllables long depending on the pace you're trying to go for. This distraction is brilliant. Also smile and take time to thank the supporters - give them a cheer! Chiara
  • Remember your form - using your arms more can help sore/tired legs and feet. Keep upright as best you can. To help with this, include cross training 2-3 times a week alongside your training to strengthen glutes, core and your upper body. Chiara

After

  • Walk around afterwards to help recover. Norman
  • Although some people feel able to make the most of their fitness, most of us could do with some time off.  Back off the effort, even if you feel fine, take it easy. Norman
  • The old adage used to be 1 day off for every mile raced, there wouldn’t be any harm from taking three weeks away from hard effort after a marathon.  Don’t panic if you gain a bit of weight; eat well, rest, replenish and come back strong when you are recovered.  Norman
  • Be prepared for walking down stairs backwards and sideways. SteveF