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How to Get Ready For a Marathon

The main aims of preparing for a marathon is to maintain a standard power output throughout the 42 kilometers distance. Substantial psychological and physical preparedness is required. However, the success of someone in the event depends on a host of environmental, psychological, and physiological factors. A standard level marathon demands the aptitude to accomplish at a high fraction with a high aerobic capacity for a time. A complex interaction of the musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, metabolic, and pulmonary systems is very crucial in competing in a marathon. There have been many details on how to prepare and run a marathon. Therefore, it is crucial to outline all the physical, physiological, and psychological demands that are needed in preparing and running the 42 kilometers race. 

Prior to commencing resistance training, it is important to first obtain the necessary training protocols in order to prescribe the accurate loads and progresses (Damsted et al, 2018). There are several kinematic variables in the movement of legs. An athlete must familiarize with the change of the whole distance something that is enhanced by the standardized movement of legs, testing different protocols, using the appropriate warm ups, progressive load increments, trial numbers, and the standardization of bar placement and squat depth. Through the use of linear positioning during squad tests, it is easy to provide a fast, efficient, and reliable means of weighing important information such as power and velocity, force, and any other program prescription that can enhance efficiency. 

Exercise prescription training is very crucial in the preparation of a marathon (Eddy, 2018). It is very significant in the adaptation of the race effectively and safely. It is a training that should be employed three weeks before the marathon with the aim of increasing intensity, the frequency of duration, and improving tolerance. Under the training, general functional body exercises such as weight loss are done to improve musculoskeletal conditions, muscular endurance, and motor coordination. At this stage, athletes work on their psychological state by altering their training circuits, parameters, and protocols in order to elicit perfect HR responses. Short running intervals may also be incorporated to improve resistance training. 

After completing the initial conditioning training, a heavy strength cycle that should last between four and eight weeks is necessary (Damsted et al, 2018). It should be performed at an interval of two or three days a week. However, it is essential to consider performing this training with low repetitions of heavy loads that have been derived from the recommended strength assessment. These exercises should also encompass multi-joint movements including deadlifts, squats, and lunges to help develop the neural alterations that assist muscles that are highly involved in running movements. Eccentric and explosive training protocols that involve hanging cleans (jump squats), an eccentric load, gait development should also be orchestrated at the later stages of the exercise (Eddy, 2018). Through these methods, it is necessary to improve muscle power factors. There is evidence that a two days of explosive training within a period of eight weeks is essential for athletes to gain the desired power to maintain their strength. Low-intensity plyometric training is also essential at this phase for enhancing body mechanisms. 

While preparing for a marathon, it is also important to advance on plyometric training through hopping, jumping, and skipping. This is done mainly to improve on endurance performance. Highly trained and experienced athletes perform endurance training at this stage for at least one or two sessions on a weekly basis over a period of two months (Duncan, 2019). After completing the plyometric training, high-intensity plyometric training is initiated with the purpose of propelling the athletes to a competition phase. It is also a training that is specially designed to improve the athlete’s physical performance. It is recommended that athletes should adopt a function resistance training that incorporates sleds, vests, sand, mud, and hills. It is a training that should utilize a certain competition velocity coordinated with reduced running volume. At the base phase of a training session, SIT and HIT strategies are used as additional training. However, either of the SIT and HIT training might be used since they produce similar metabolic rates. Reduction volumes are highly recommended for SIT training. These training should take at least four to six weeks depending on the capability of an athlete. SIT protocols include 30 to 40 bouts of running with one to two minutes of recovery times. Owing to the complexity of this training, a six-week long training is recommended with a reduced ATP to enhance the control skeletal and metabolic changes. Also, since it is complex training, it should be introduced almost two months before the primary race since it is made for adaptation and retesting purposes. 

There are crucial bodily factors in marathon performance such as metabolic and cardiovascular alterations. Both improve the performance of an athlete by 2 to 8 percent respectively for professional runners (Duncan, 2019). The training also improves muscle fibers and single fibres adaption, thus contributing enormously to the running performance of a person. However, the last two weeks towards the marathon, the intensity of this training should be reduced by 25 percent to pave the way for physiological alterations in the training. It is also crucial when preparing for a marathon to do your training in conditions that mirror the weather conditions and the terrain of the final marathon scene. This can be achieved by training in a specialized gym, where different weather and climatic conditions may be induced to produce different climatic effects. The training should also take into account several near and long runs, which may be similar to that of the final distance of the marathon. Confidence training may be orchestrated depending on the athlete since it could assist an athlete in holding the last breath in a race. Confidence training also helps the athlete/ marathoner on how to psychologically deal or handle negativity in the running track.

The importance of stretching while preparing for a marathon cannot be understated. It is considered one of the routine programs in marathon training. Stretching prevents muscular aches, cramping, and pains (Komi&Nicol, 2010). It also decreases the chances of muscle injury during training and even during the marathon. It also enhances the efficiency of movements. There are many basic types of stretches that should be observed while training for a marathon. A hamstring stretch is orchestrated without possibly placing stress on someone’s neck or back.It is done while someone lies on the floor or wall then stretchingthe leg upwards. This exercise is crucial in strengthening one’s arm string. Liotibial band stretch provides strength to the ITB muscle which is significant during racing (Leon et al, 2012). The lower back flexion stretch is very important in strengthening the lower back which provides a good posture for an athlete while running. Neck stretch is also good in enhancing a good posture while running in a marathon. It involves swilling and bending one’s neck forward, sideways, and backwards. Chest stretch which involves squeezing one’s shoulder towards the chest is important in enhancing a good posture while running in a long race like the marathon.

Training programs should involve consulting the physician about one’s health. This is because marathon running has a significant risk of injury, unlike the neighborhood jogs. This will also involve starting running shorter races such as 5km, 10km and half marathon. This presents an excellent way for an individual to train both physically and mentally. An injury may result due to embarking on a marathon too soon. The best method should, therefore, involve starting early and regularly training for three or more times and week. This will involve consistent running for 30km or more in preparation for the marathon (Noakes, 2012). Most marathon training plans take between 12 to 20 weeks which period can be used to make the body more used to the marathon to avoid injury. You can also track your training progress and health through fitness wearable and Smartphone apps. The person will record the time and the distance of the running. This helps one predict their finishing time and learn how to improve their running for the actual event. According to many professionals, it is advisable to run at a slower pace than an individual would want to do during the actual event (Carter et al. 2016). 

One should halt their training session two or three days before the race day. One may feel nervous and may choose to train to settle their mood, but it will end up burning up its glycogen reserves. Spending too much time walking around or standing will also wear one out. One should engage in various activities for the one or two days before the marathon including very-slow jogging for 10 to 20 minutes to stretch one's legs and fulfillment that one has trained enough. One can also spend about 20 to 30 minutes cross training in such activities as yoga, weightlifting and so on (Carter et al. 2016). 

Resting and recovery days should also be involved in the training program. These include the relaxing days which are essential for the prevention of the brain burnout as well as allowing muscles to recover from taxing workouts. Running for kilometers repeatedly may lead to the eager and hopeful debut marathoner developing Achilles tendon injuries. An injury is the biggest enemy to a marathoner and rest is a perfect solution. Resting can include recovery sessions, one or two full days or easy weeks (Zinner, Christoph, and Billy, 2016). During the non-running day’s one can engage in other exercises including functional training and cross-training activities including walking, swimming, hiking, yoga, cycling, lifting weights among other activities which may be impactful to the running (Noakes, 2012). These workouts will allow an individual to improve one's condition while giving their legs a chance to relax. Between two to three weeks to the marathon, it is essential to significantly scale back on the overall mileage to let the body rest up for the big day. 

Hydration and body fueling are also essential aspects of training. Days before the race, one should drink plenty of water. This involves drinking half a gallon or 8-ounce glasses per day according to health experts. As an athlete one loses more water through sweating. According to Noakes (2012), a male and female athlete should drink 13 glasses (104 ounces) and 9 glasses (72 ounces) respectively. When one is properly hydrated, the urine should be light yellow. However, one should not drink too much because it may lead to overhydration which is as bad as dehydration. It is also advisable not try something new on the race day including carrying a hydration pack or bet along the race. Nevertheless, most marathons running include water and aid stations along the tracks. Caffeine and alcohol should be avoided because they interfere with an individual’s sleep as well as cause dehydration. 

Fueling is also an important factor because the human body can only store so much glycogen which is a major source of energy used during the running. Most runners often experience a phenomenon known as “hitting the wall” after the around 20-mile mark (Carter et al. 2016). The glycogen often gets depleted, and the muscles begin to tire and feel heavy. Although no amount of water can replace the depleted glycogen during the marathon, one should consume small amounts of carbohydrates to prevent one from “hitting the wall” effect. One can also consume some amounts of carbohydrates after running for an hour including an energy bar or a piece of fruit (Zinner, Christoph, and Billy, 2016). However, as we have seen above it is not advisable to try something new during the marathon itself, one should try out various things during training so that they can confidently apply during the race day.  

During the training period, the diet should be high in carbohydrates. In fact, carbohydrates should make 60-65% of the diet (Noakes, 2012). Carbohydrates help the body produce energy for the runner. Food rich in carbohydrates includes beans, potatoes, wheat, yam, apple, and pasta. The daily diet of a runner should consist of around two thousand five hundred calories. About 20% of the calories should come from proteins to repair the muscles and won out tissues during the workout. Foods rich in protein include legumes, chicken, beef, eggs, fish, dairy, and peanut butter. Also, calcium is essential for the runner’s body because of the intense punishment inflicted on the bones during the marathon. One should take about 2,000 grams of calcium during training (Zinner, Christoph, and Billy, 2016). Calcium-rich foods include cottage cheese, milk, broccoli, salmon and collard greens and yogurt. 

Eating more during training is very important because one is burning more calories than when resting. These calories need to be replaced by eating nutrient-rich food. Nevertheless, consumption will depend on the marathon runner’s size, gender, and intensity of the workout. According to SportMed (2012) article, running for one-mile burns around 100 calories although these figures may not be consistent for the 40 miles. The body reacts to the exercise by pumping out hormones that increase the runner’s appetite. This should involve the runner’s calculating how much they are burning out and consuming at the same time (Heikura, Stellingwerff & Burke, 2018). 

At least 90 minutes before the long run, the runner should eat a meal that is high in low GI carbohydrates, low in fat, and moderate in protein to give the body all the nutrients it needs (SportMed, 2012). This may include such foods as a chicken sandwich, bananas, an energy bar, porridge with fruits, peanut butter and fruit or a bagel. Just before the start of a long run, one should consider drinking a glass of water only. During the long runs, it is important that the runner replenish their carbohydrates stores after running for 90 minutes or more. This will involve consuming high GI carbohydrates foods including honey, bananas, oranges, isotonic drinks, energy gels or even dried fruits (Heikura, Stellingwerff & Burke, 2018). One should also remember to stay hydrated always by consuming plenty of fluids and electrolytes. However, one should not try new foods on race day. After running give the body 30 minutes window and then one can consume chocolate milk and plenty of water to replace the lost proteins (tissues) and fluids respectively.

Getting the right gear is also essential for the runner. This involves wearing shoes that professionals recommend fit. A bad choice of shoes can lead to injury. The pair of socks should also be approved and should have double layers to prevent the toes from blisters and muscle soreness. Monitoring the heart rate is also very important and should range from 50 to 85 percent or 200 minus an individual’s age (Carter et al. 2016). If the heart rate is beyond the standard rate it is important to slow down and catch breathe. All the running gear should be comfortable and not too restricting and should be used in training so that it will be convenient to apply during the actual race. 

Written By: Walaa Youssef (2019)

A professional commentary article submitted in the partial fulfillment of the requirement for the degree of Bachelors of Science In Exercise Science with a concentration in Exercise Physiology

Reference Cited

  • Carter, Leeja, John Coumbe-Lilley, and Brenton Anderson. "Strategies for Working with First Time Marathon Runners." Sport Journal (2016).
  • Damsted, C., Parner, E. T., Sørensen, H., Malisoux, L., Hulme, A., &Oestergaard, N. R. (2018). Preparing for Half-Marathon: The Association Between Changes in Weekly Running Distance and Running-Related Injuries—Does It Matter How the Running Is Scheduled?.Journal of Orthopaedic& Sports Physical Therapy, (0), 1-24.
  • Duncan, F. (2019). General Physical Preparation: The Big Rock of Fitness. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies.
  • Eddy, C. (2018). Saving for retirement, like the Comrades Marathon, is a long, steady game. Personal Finance Newsletter, 2018(451), 8-9.
  • Heikura, I. A., Stellingwerff, T., & Burke, L. M. (2018). Self-reported periodization of nutrition in elite female and male runners and race walkers. Frontiers in physiology, 9, 1732.
  • Noakes, T. D. "Commentary: role of hydration in health and exercise." Bmj 345 (2012): e4171.
  • SPORTMEDBC NEWSLETTER, (2012) https://sportmedbc.com/article/nutrition-tips-beginner-runners
  • Zinner, Christoph, and Billy Sperlich, eds. Marathon Running: Physiology, Psychology, Nutrition and Training Aspects. Springer, 2016
  • Komi, P. V., &Nicol, C. (2010). Stretch-shortening cycle of muscle function. Neuromuscular aspects of sport performance, 1st edn. Wiley-Blackwell, Chichester, 15-31.
  • Leon, C., Oh, H. J., &Rana, S. (2012). A purposeful dynamic stretching routine. Strategies, 25(5), 16-19.

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