‘Believe you can run a marathon and you’re halfway there!’ (Felicity Lucky)
I am a first time marathon runner and I have just completed the London Marathon 2017. It was an amazing experience and an incredible thing to be a part of.
Some people may think that a marathon is no longer a challenge for me as a fitness professional, but running those types of distances is tough. 26.2 miles (42km) is an extraordinary distance and I take my hat off to anyone who has the determination and discipline to run this distance. This type of endurance event takes a huge toll on your body, including a fit one like mine.
During my training I learnt a lot of things about my body and my mind. Training for a long-distance endurance event means you’re training your head as much as your legs – maybe even more so. Here’s what I learnt.
Lesson One: Respect the distance no matter how fit you are
I have done several half marathons, but going beyond 13 miles is a different ball game. I consider myself a fairly fit person as I had taken part in various endurance events before. But never a Marathon, and hence, I learnt very quickly to respect the distance and what it requires from your body.
To respect the distance it’s all about consistency in your training, knowing when to ease up, and tapering in the last 3-4 weeks leading up to the marathon.
Lesson Two: ’Running is nothing more than a series of arguments between the part of your brain that wants to stop and the part that want to keep going’
It is true long distance running is 10% training and 90% in your mind and surprisingly that’s the attraction for me and possibly for most marathon runners. How do you control your mind? I have developed a few coping mechanisms to keep me going on a long run. So, for example, I don’t think too much about the distance. I run mile by mile and set myself small goals and I don’t think too far ahead.
The other thing I like to do is to think of the distance in miles but count in kilometers. 26.2 mile sounds is obviously the same as 42km but I like to count in kilometres as they come and go quicker. My running watch is set to kilometres, so, every time I run 1km my watch vibrates and I know I am a bit closer to the finishing line.
Lesson Three: managing injury
During my longest run I developed iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS), which is painful. Going downstairs especially was difficult. Anyway, I was told not to run until the pain had disappeared and then start slowly again. I followed the advice and didn’t do any running or jumping. I still workout though by focusing on the upper body. About 10 days later I did a short 5km run and I felt a light tenderness in my knee but nothing major. I then ran 14 miles on a Sunday and was pretty pain free, which was amazing. What helped my speedy recovery was ,of course, resting my knee but I also made sure I supported my body with the right diet based on my DNA results.
At this stage of the training this could have had quite a negative impact on my mind with regards to training (or lack of rather). After all, I didn’t do any running for 10 days but instead of letting it get me down I focused on my recovery and not on my lack of running. I listened to my body.
Lesson Four: Taking a break from your training schedule can be a good thing
My injury forced me to rest. When I then got back to running, I felt really refreshed both mentally and physically. Having had to take a break was actually a good thing.
So close to the marathon some people do get anxious and wonder whether they trained enough for the event and if there is anything more they could do the last 3 weeks leading up to the marathon. At this stage the fitness levels are not going to change much and if you are experiencing a few niggles it’s best to rest and keep fit by either swimming or some light weight. It is more important to be fit for the start line than tired, over-trained and potentially injured.
Lesson Five: Nutrition before and after for recovery
Running a marathon really highlights how important nutrition is. I never thought about food as much as I have done prior to my long runs. I really had to find out what works best for me and my stomach / digestive processes. As a result I played around with my breakfast on long runs and various snacks to keep me going. In addition, eating the right sort of food after a long run is equally important to help your body recover. You need a nutritional plan as much as a training plan.
Let’s finish on this quote:
‘Now if you are going to win any battle you have to do one thing. You have to make the mind run the body. Never let the body tell the mind what to do. The body will always give up. It is always tired morning, noon, and night. But the body is never tired if the mind is not tired. When you were younger the mind could make you dance all night, and the body was never tired…You’ve always got to make the mind take over and keep going.’ (George S. Patton, U.S. Army General and 1912 Olympian)
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Antonia Bannasch is a performance coach and co-founder of Bodyshot Performance Limited. Bodyshot is a health and fitness consultancy that helps busy professionals get more energy by removing the guesswork around their health, fitness and nutrition. Visit www.bodyshotperformance.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org to register your interest in our services and connect with us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.