preparing for a marathon: my experience, tips and ideas

finally, the race week has come. the event starts at 9 am on sunday so there are a few days left. a few days of eating, resting and barely running. the whole preparation has been already done and all workouts during the last 7 days will add just an infinitesimal sprinkle of water to a barrel.

therefore it is the very time to sit down and look back at what has been done. in this article i will share my experiences and things that i have learned during the three months length preparation phase. i hope that it will be useful for someone who has just started or is thinking if this is worth trying.

some background

i started going in for sports on the 7th of october 2007 when my brother brought me to the local rowing club. back then i was a 14 years old weak and fat teenager who could not run for more than 3 minutes straight without having to stop and walk for a while. i hated running and it seemed like one of the hardest activities on earth. there was a tradition to run on wednesdays in the rowing club. therefore wednesday for me was the hardest day of the week back then.

IMG_3097
a medal from the very first marathon on 11th of september, 2016

since this happened 11 years ago, during the quite long period with a few short breaks i have covered some mileage. however it was very amateurish and nothing unusual. i used to jog from time to time just to maintain the overall fitness level.

in the summer of 2016 i decided to run the first marathon. preparation period was horrible: i went for a run only 15 times before the race. this was not the smartest decision i have ever taken in my life. and i could feel the consequences of this decision during the second half of that marathon – it felt like hell. however i managed to do it in under 4 hours and i was happy.

in conclusion it can be stated that on the one hand i am far away from being a professional runner but on the other compared to the very beginning back in 2007 i have improved quite a lot.

year 2018

at the very beginning of summer i decided to start a 100 days challenge that is related to changes in everyday routine, physical activity, nutrition habits and the improvement of overall wellbeing.

preparation for the marathon was one of the main goals of this challenge. i started at substantially high body fat (above 23%) weighting 89.5kg. combine these stats with the height of 177cm and chubiness appears as an inevitable result.

i thought that running combined with strength training and a disciplined nutrition will bring me to a brighter tomorrow: i will increase or at least maintain my strength level, improve the stamina and endurance, i will lose some fat and prepare my body and mind for the marathon race. indeed all of these have happened.

statistics and facts

the preparation period started on the 3rd of june, 2018. some summarising facts and figures will be given below.

  • starting weight – 89.5kg
  • 98 days between the first run and the marathon race.
  • 45 runs in total have been done. this turns out into a run each 2.18 days.
  • 40 runs were done outside and 5 times a treadmill was used.
  • 3 runs out of these 40 were rainy while the rest were dry.
  • 25 runs have been done on an empty stomach.
  • 20 runs have been performed with some food in advance.
  • 18,260kcal consumed as pre-workout. in average that would be 913kcal per jog.
  • 3130kcal consumed during runs (the longer ones).
  • 9 runs were started at approx. 4am.
  • 17 runs were started at approx. 5am.
  • 7 runs were started at approx. 6am.
  • the rest 12 runs were started after 6am but no later than 1pm.
  • 809.55km have been covered in total. each run was approx. 18km length in average.
  • 1 full marathon was completed (3 hours and 47 minutes).
  • 8 half marathons were completed (1 hour 41 minute 13 seconds being the fastest)
  • 74 hours 21 minute and 29 seconds have been spent running.
  • 10.89km/h is the simple (i.e. not time/distance weighted) average pace.
  • the latter is equivalent to 5:31min/km.
  • 146 is the simple average heart rate (beats per minute) of all activities combined.
  • last week’s weight – 84kg.

insights, tips and ideas

after gathering the whole data set i can share a few insights and tips that were useful for me.

1. heart rate

first of all, please acquire a heart rate monitor. for me running without it is the same as running with my eyes closed. this tool is far more than a nice to have gadget. it is not necessary to spend above 300$ on that super smart watch if you are just an amateur runner. i bought a simple sigma sports watch for approximately 50$. it lacks gps and therefore does not show the pace or the distance. however i do always bring a smartphone with me to take some pictures and the runkeeper app (together with dozens of other applications) does this perfectly.

the most important characteristic that this watch shows is the number of times one’s heart beats in one minute. by following this integer one can understand a lot about his or her physical condition and strength of the heart. pulse reflects how your body feels under certain physical exertion. it is easy to track running progress by investigating the heart rate as well.

especially if you are new to running the sports watch then in my opinion is simply mandatory. it might reveal very important information about your heart which might be crucial in the future development of your fitness.

and now goes the rest.

2. consistency, consistency and… consistency

in my opinion that is the most important factor in the whole preparation phase. 42 kilometers is a considerably long distance to run and therefore the body (and especially the mind) needs to be trained well before insisting on performance and results from it.

this aspect of marathon training is indeed one of the most beautiful. it simply does not happen overnight: nobody can drop off twenty seconds per kilometer or increase the distance by 50% each time they exercise: this will come with time but only if certain consistent path is followed.

Screen Shot 2018-09-05 at 20.28.47.png
a graph showing the average pace of each activity

the figure above shows the development of the average pace over time. the black curve connects dots that represent the average pace of each training activity and the grey dashed line shows the linear trend.

it is easy to observe that the actual average pace of my runs fluctuated a lot from better to worse while the long term “progress line” is clearly aimed upwards. that is the best illustration for consistency which i have mentioned before.

keep doing the right thing and success will have no other option than to simply show up.

how is this achieved?

it is very important to develop a certain training routine. for example i decided to go jogging four times a week: on each odd day of the week.

the next step after creating some kind of schedule is to stick to it. literally. no matter if it is raining, if you do not feel like doing that or if there is no motivation to go outside. just go and run these kilometers. this will build up the physical base and most importantly it will strenghten the mind and increase its ability to cope with uncomfortable conditions.

3. leave the ego at home

start slowly. listen to your body and check your heart rate monitor. do not push it to death every time you run. yes, running fast is extremely fun, inspiring and reminds scenes from rocky. however, save this for high intensity interval training sessions, tempo running or the race day when these resources will actually be necessary.

personally i have always tried to ignore the pace as much as possible and mainly concentrate on the heart rate. the aim was to jog in approximately 60-75% of the maximum heart rate range the majority of time. if this required to run at 9 kilometers per hour or even below that i would just do that and ignore the fact that someone might run faster.

the amazing outcome will appear if you are patient enough. this happened for me as well. i noticed that as time passes i manage to run faster and faster but keep the heart rate at the same primary level.

to illustrate i can give an example. the very first run was done at an average pace of 9.07km/h or equivalently 6:37min/km. the average heart rate was 149. however one of the last runs that i have done was at 12.07km/h (4:58min/km) and 145 respectively. the heart has improved significantly since the very beginning. of course the fact that i have lost over 5 kg also contributes.

i think that following the heart rate and not exceeding it for too long and too often simply gives an opportunity for the body to adapt swiftly to the increasing volume while also managing to rest sufficiently at the same time.

4. add the distance slowly

again – do not rush. things will come, just be patient. while preparing for the marathon it is important to gradually add more and more volume to your runs. it is not necessary to run a marathon every time you put on a pair of running shoes.

personally i have started at approximately 10km jog. this might be too much for a person who is completely new in running. but in such case the whole preparation should be much longer than three months as in my case. as mentioned before i have been jogging from time to time for quite a while and therefore the body could adapt faster.

therefore just pick any distance that is doable for you and constantly cope with it. slowly. you will not notice how fast the body will adapt and you will become able to add more and more kilometers.

Screen Shot 2018-09-05 at 20.37.13.png
distance ran over time and the moving average of 14 days

the figure above shows the development of my running distance over time. it is obvious that at the inception the distance is low and later it starts increasing. the two week window length moving average supports this as well. it even looks like the peak in running distance was achieved somewhere at the middle of the whole training phase.

5. do not forget to train strength

strength training together with running fast and doing any other activity that increases the heart rate above 75% of the maximum should not be ignored as well.

personally i believe that if a person is not a professional athlete then he or she can train the body in many possible ways. as an example besides running on odd week days i used to visit the gym on even week days and perform heavy and intense strength training sessions.

i understood that this will not make me neither a professional marathon runner nor a bodybuilder. however i thought that such variety of physical exercise will definitely do no harm and will be beneficial in some aspects.

IMG_1133
me after the last set of deadlifts

it is amazing to observe that despite progress in running i could also observe an increase in strength. even squats that demand great performance of legs have been improving over time.

this makes me believe that endurance and strength training can actually be harmonised and carried hand in hand without separating them and building a great wall of china between one and the other.

6. use your brain

exactly. try to optimise the movement in order to make it as efficient as possible. this will let your muscles perform better.

personally i have spent some time investigating different types and techniques of running. things like step length and frequency and similar stuff can greatly increase the performance once thought about.

i used to just run. however once i started to search for a movement pattern that would be optimal and would make it easier. i found out that increasing the step frequency for me increased the average pace significantly without any significant additional energy requirement. also the position of hips, shoulders and the movement of arms are very important aspects.

there are a few general principles. however each person should find out what is the best for him or her and apply the technique.

conclusion

the article appears to be far away from a kind of giving certain advices and telling what to do exactly. many things have left uncovered: how often one should run, how often should one breathe, what to eat, when to eat, what shoes to wear, where to run and hundreds of other questions.

this has been done on purpose. i believe that the most important thing is to have in mind the main fundamental concepts. after that step one can experiment, think and derive its own methods of achieving things.

so this has been my way of training. i used to follow my heart, be consistent, patient and slow. i have also tried to think of and test many different strategies and techniques.

once such qualities are incorporated in your life – once you will definitely cross the finish line.

remigijus
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