How to Run a Perfect Marathon

42.2km of running. The race of races. The legendary distance. The Marathon is the biggest test of a runner’s race calendar. It is a distance respected by all. It doesn’t matter if you are a beginner or a professional athlete, the Marathon is the distance everyone respects, loves and fears. Books have been written and movies made about the difficulty, the stories, the legends, and the heroes behind the distance. What was once reserved only for the best runners is now seen as the race that every runner needs to face at least once. In this blog, we will share with you how to approach the mythical distance.

“Of all the races, there is no better stage for heroism than a marathon.” -George Sheehan

If you are reading this blog, and if you are even considering running this challenging distance, it means that you have a clear understanding of running. You have done your fair number of races. You know your hydration and nutrition strategy and you can read your body when it is seeking out hydration or nutrition. What is most important is that by the time you decide to race a marathon, your body and your mind are synchronised. You need to be able to tap into both to go beyond what was once your limit and to overcome what was once unthinkable.

“The marathon is an opportunity for redemption. Opportunity, because the outcome is uncertain. Opportunity, because it is up to you, and only you, to make it happen.” – Dean Karnazes

The Marathon is the race where the mind, the body and the spirit become one to take you to the finish line. Your training will take you to the start line, but only your grit and determination will get you to the finish line.

With a distance of 42.2km required to be covered, the strategies you use in the race are vitally important. After all your training has been completed, the Marathon race starts from the week leading into the event. It is different for every athlete, but from this point you will be tapering your training to allow your legs to freshen up without losing any fitness. The days prior is where your carb loading should start and your hydration should be a high priority, getting your body ready for the energy requirements of race day.

The race journey begins after a very easy warm up and some light stretching, just to get your body ready for action. Most marathon events will divide people on the start line into their expected finish time or expected race pace. When on the start line be sure to stand in a suitable group that will allow you an unincumbered line at the start of the race. Try not let the nerves get to you. Stay focused, remain clam, and trust your training.

Once gun goes off the first 8 to 10 kms are a time for your body to get into a rhythm, to find a comfortable zone and allow your body to relax into free flowing effort. Science will say that you should be aiming for an aerobic zone of 80-88% of your threshold heart rate. The more experienced you are, the more you can push these upper limits. If this is your first race, however, then erring on the side of easier is the best strategy. This will allow your body to maintain the physiological functions required to keep you running through the whole distance without blowing up.

If you have paced yourself correctly, then from the 10km mark to the halfway point your pace and energy levels should feel the same as the first 10 kms. It is important here that you stay hydrated and on top of your nutrition strategy to provide your body with the fuel it needs to keep you going.

“Everything you wanted to know about yourself you can learn in 26.2 miles.” – Lori Culnane.

As with a car, the faster you go, the more energy you will burn. Trying to go faster than your planned marathon pace will result in you burning your energy before you finish. Be sure to stay focussed on your objective pace and run at a speed that you can easily sustain. If done properly, your body should be able to digest the gels and electrolytes that you are introducing and absorb your hydration. The objective during this first part of the Marathon is to be wise and intelligent with your strategy. There will be time for heroics later in the race.

Once you have reached the halfway point, the next mental and physical challenge is to reach the magic 30 kilometre mark. At this point fatigue is starting to settle in and you need to stay focused. It is through this stage that your body will start to ask for a break. You need to stay strong and stick to your plan without going over the limit. Remember not to lose sight of your individual hydration and nutrition strategy. Focus and control are key here.

Somewhere between the 30th and the 35th kilometres you will approach your breaking point. The infamous wall will hit your body and it is where your spirit will need to lift. Your body won’t gently ask for it, it will yell for you to stop. Even perfectly pacing yourself and eating properly over the first part of the race will not allow you to avoid this feeling of fatigue. By following your race strategy perfectly, all you can wish for is to minimise its effects on your body.

It doesn’t matter who you are or how well you have trained, the last 10 kilometres of the marathon is less about your body, and more about your mental strength. You need to know how much you want it. Tiredness will take your body, but you can fight back. There are a few mental strategies that can carry you through this point:

Break the race into small sections

It is easier to think that you are running four sets of 10km with a 2.2km run to the finish line than it is to view the event as the full 42.2km. This will allow your mind to stay focussed on what it required in the moment rather than thinking too far ahead in the race.

Having positive phrases

“I can do it”, “I am unstoppable”, “I believe in me”. These personal affirmations will keep your mind in a positive frame and trigger a positive emotional response that normally translates into endorphins and a positive physiological response. This will make the run easier to handle and stop you from getting into a negative geadspace that will hinder your forward progress.

Running cues

Remember everything that your running or triathlon coach has taught you. Think of all of those things you were told at training. Keep a good form, hold your arms close, check your posture, shorten your stride length. Thinking of those small details will help you be most efficient and stay in control of your run.

The last 2.2kms, is known by many marathon runners as the celebration kilometres. Once you reach the 40th kilometre, it is all about finishing the race with everything that your body has left. Some athletes mention that you run these kilometres with your heart. Once you are here, it is time to give it your all and celebrate your achievement. Push to whatever limit your body can cope with at this point and enjoy the moment. By the time you cross the finish line, your life will have changed forever.

“You thought the Marathon would break you in two, but it made you twice as strong.” ― Eleanor Brownn

The Marathon is a race for those who want to challenge the limits of their body and their spirit. Those who run it will come back thinking and understanding themselves and others in a very different, and positive way.

If you want to see how fast your body go, then run a 5km race. If you want to know how far your mind and spirit can go, then sign up for a Marathon.

Happy Running!

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