Part 2 – Taking Care of Yourself
Last time we covered the basics of getting yourself a support network and finding a suitable plan. Today we’re going to talk about how to make sure you look after yourself when you’re training for a marathon.
Time & Motion
Training for a marathon takes up a massive amount of your time. Even on my four session a week plan, once you factor in work and home life there’s not a lot of time left. You may not have much of a non-running social life if you’re marathon training.
There are of course ways to make it work for you if you are time poor – I have found for example that getting my long runs in around parkrun means I am all done by coffee o’clock on a Saturday morning – but you do have to make sure you have enough time to commit to a decent amount of training so that you can make sure you take care of yourself. If you’re considering training for a marathon but you know you have other big life events on the horizon, give it plenty of thought. Of course, training can give you structured time to yourself, but don’t underestimate how much it may take out of you.
Eat, Sleep, Run, Repeat
Taking care of yourself is a big part of marathon training. Even if you are planning to take it steady and you’re not training at a fast pace, all that time on your feet and the extra exertion has a massive impact. You will be tired – this is hard to avoid. Again, be careful about what else is happening in your life when training and if something has to take priority, let it. And remember that your rest days are actually part of the plan – your body adapts to the changes made by your training on rest days, so try not to skip them.
Sleep and rest are vital, and so is the way you eat. Obviously if you are running more you are burning off more calories, but remember that on your long runs you are likely to be taking on calories in the form of gels or drinks to help you avoid bonking. Not in the naughty sense (which would be most irregular mid-run not to mention the impact it might have on your pace) but in the sense that your body can only keep moving for so long without the right amount of nutrition. Gels, energy drinks, Bounce balls, even malt loaf or cheese and marmite sandwiches all make appearances on my running friends’ long run menus. Add in a recovery snack and you may not have burned off as much as you think.
I also find my Garmin is never accurate on the calories I’ve burned over longer distances – after last week’s 16 miler it told me I’d only burned off 700 calories. In 3 hours, mate? I don’t think so! I have started using the Runner’s World Calorie Calculator to work out what I actually need to replace.
All this means that it’s easy to put on weight when you train for a marathon – I know people who have gained a few stone during training, because running makes you extremely hungry and it’s really easy to overdo it!
So you need to both eat enough to keep you strong and healthy and to fuel your runs, but not so much that you start to creep up and away from your racing weight. The trick is, of course, to eat enough of the healthy things. We all know this. It’s boring but it’s true.
After many years of trying to find the magic formula, I’ve found that for me the best solution is to keep it simple; eat a healthy balance of carbs, protein and iron rich foods and drink more water. You may also need to include an iron and B12 supplement – low iron levels are extremely common amongst runners, especially female runners. Eat protein with every meal, keep carbs brown and low GI if possible, and try not to get all your extra calories from cake (get some from cake though, we’re Normals after all and what’s life without treats? Even Kenyan world record holders drink sugary tea). Simple!
Get a Good Physio
Oh the value of a good physio!
Let’s be honest, a training plan that requires you to run for further and longer than you ever have before will take its toll. Unless you have perfect posture and totally symmetrical muscle balance, which is unlikely, it may well reveal weaknesses or alignment issues in your body that you didn’t know about. That’s fine, but if your body is telling you that something is off, listen to it. Go to the physio. Although they do have a tendency to throw around that most horrific of phrases ‘stop running for a while’ that doesn’t happen every time, and if you go when something first feels a bit funny they will probably be able to catch you before you fall and give you some exercises and stretches to keep everything together.
My physio has worked extensively with sports teams and that means he really knows what to do to keep my body in enough shape to keep going. He uses some weird and wonderful techniques, but I trust him completely because he always explains why they work in terms of anatomy and physiology. Tips so far have included the use of cling film, and lying down with my legs wobbling about above me for a few minutes post-run. Odd, but if it works I couldn’t care less.
Also, make sure you do what you can to prevent any niggles. Always do a dynamic warm up before runs, and always, ALWAYS stretch well afterwards – wherever you are!
To sum up; noone pretends that training for a marathon is easy. It’s not supposed to be easy, if it was then it wouldn’t be a challenge. But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it – in fact I would argue that you absolutely should be enjoying it because otherwise why bother? You are going to spend hours in your running shoes out on the streets during the 16 weeks before race day, all for the privilege of running for yet more hours covering the distance on the day. Why on earth would you commit to something like that without making sure you could enjoy it?
Normal people run marathons all the time. You absolutely can do it. Just train well, eat right, listen to your body and above all remember to do it on your own terms.
Your training will get you to the start line. Your determination will get you across the finish line. And that’s what makes it all worth it in the end.
Good luck to all my fellow Normals training for their own Spring marathons – we’ve got this!
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