How to prepare for a marathon
In a feat that will likely never be matched, Czech runner Emil Zátopek won all three distance running gold medals at the Olympic Games in Helsinki in 1952, capturing the 5,000m, the 10,000 m and – on his debut at the distance – the marathon.
Zátopek’s gasping and grimacing during races (if you’re not old enough to have seen him run in person, there is plenty of YouTube evidence) earned him the nickname “The Locomotive”, as well as more than a bit of ridicule from the press. To his critics, Zátopek responded, “It’s not gymnastics or ice skating, you know. You only get points for speed, not style.”
Running is the most fundamental of sporting activities – all you need is a pair of shoes (and on the right
Five tricks of motivation
- Set realistic goals
- Find a running partner
- Find new and interesting places to run on a regular basis
- Enter races as a way of measuring your progress, both against the clock and against others
- Reward yourself for the progress you’ve made (with an extra piece of pie, a new pair of running shoes, or a meal at a nice restaurant)
soft surfaces, you don’t even need shoes), shorts and a T-shirt. [In Scandinavia during the winter, a bit more clothing is advised]. You don’t need a watch, you don’t need a heart rate monitor, you don’t need a field or a track, and you don’t need teammates. Plus, if you do your sport for the weight loss benefits, there’s no better or more timeefficient way to burn calories than going for a run.
Amazingly for those of us who have been running forever, thousands of people get started running every day, and many of them have questions about the sport. What questions could they have possibly have? Running is so simple, we say to ourselves.
The questions, of course, are the same ones we veterans ask ourselves and one another every day ad nauseam, before, during and after training runs, at work, in bars, on planes… well, you get the idea.
‘There’s no better time-efficient way to burn calories than going for a run’
Newbies want to know what shoes they should buy, how far they should run, whether or not they should stretch and if so how much, how important interval training is, what they should eat and drink, how to motivate themselves when they just don’t feel like crawling out of bed and perhaps above all, how to run faster.
Once you decide to start running, you’ll find no shortage of opinions about what to wear, what to eat and how to train. You should experiment and see what works best for you – everyone’s physiology is different. Most importantly, though, drink plenty of fluids throughout the day, especially making sure you’re hydrated before you run, and eat enough carbohydrates and protein to keep your body fueled for the extra work it’s doing.
Finally, whether you’re just starting out or moving up in distance to a marathon or ultramarathon, increase your training workload gradually. If you’re just starting out, don’t be afraid to incorporate walking into your runs. Once you’re more experienced, don’t make the mistake (that everyone makes at some point) of thinking you can get away with doubling your mileage just because you decide to run the XYZ marathon in six weeks and aren’t quite as fit as you’d like to be.
Do this, and you’ll force me to discuss injuries. Yes, runners get injured. The best way to avoid injury is to avoid exercise and become a couch potato. If you do get injured, however, see a sports doctor or sports physiotherapist. The sooner you get a diagnosis and recommended course of treatment, the sooner you’ll be back on your feet again.
Is it the shoes?
Sure, Abebe Bikila won gold in the Olympic marathon in Rome in 1960 without shoes, but you’re not Abebe Bikila (since you probably don’t weigh less than 60kg and you probably don’t train on unpaved roads and paths in rural Ethiopia), so you need a pair.
The running shoe business is around 50 years old and during that time, manufacturers have been listening to customers and refining their technology, which means the brand matters less than finding a shoe that fits your foot.
The only way to do this is to test them out. Try them on, walk around, take a jog outside the shop if the salesperson will let you and keep searching until you find one that fits (with extra room in it so your toenails don’t bruise and for when your feet swell in the summer heat).
Buy new shoes every 500 to 800km, because shoes do wear out.
Is it the food?
Okay, let’s talk about weight loss. A major reason people start (and continue) to run is to lose weight. Runners can laugh at fad dieters because they know the real secret to weight loss – exercise. You don’t have to starve yourself or eat only alfalfa sprout sandwiches (not that there’s anything wrong with that). You can exercise regularly and eat healthy food.
A runner who weighs 65kg will burn approximately 65 calories for every kilometer he or she runs. If they run 50km each week, they’ll burn an extra 3,000+ calories, just about exactly what it takes to lose 500g of body fat.
Hand in hand with weight loss goes the question of nutrition. Do runners eat differently? Should they? Runners are a varied lot, and even at the championship level, there are all sorts of diets. At one extreme, ultrarunner Scott Jurek – three-time winner of the Spartathlon – is a vegan. At the other extreme… well, let me just pour myself another glass of red.
Is it the gadgets?
While it’s true you don’t need any gadgets to run, there are a lot of them out there that are fun to use and can provide you with motivating data about your training. I’m old school enough that I don’t listen to music (or podcasts) when I run, but I did buy myself a GPS watch that allows me to track my training (and embarrasses me out the door when I see too many holes in my training schedule).
Is it the goals?
Almost there. All you need now is training and for that you’ll need a plan. You’ll want to put together your running/health/life goals with your current schedule to come up with a running plan that allows you to achieve your objectives in all areas, whether that means getting fit, racing faster, losing weight, spending time with kids, or keeping your employer and spouse happy.
So what are your running goals? Are you running to lose weight? Quit smoking? Get away from work and family stress for at least half an hour each day? Complete a 5km, 10km or marathon? If you have a concrete goal, you’ll find it easier to develop as a runner. Your goal can be to finish a 5km or 10km race, to run a certain distance over the course of a week, anything really.
Once you’ve set a goal, your only worry is motivating yourself enough to achieve it. One great thing about running is that talent is no substitute for hard work. If you do the work, you’ll get results.
How do you stay motivated? The best way is to find a like-minded training partner, someone whose company you can tolerate (a best friend is even better) and whose ability is comparable to your own. Then make a date with them to go running. It’s a lot tougher to blow off a run if you know your partner is outside waiting for you.
A friend of mine told me that he committed himself to running as far as “the red house on the corner” whenever he went out for a winter run in the suburb of Copenhagen where he lived. It was only a few hundred meters away, and he found that once he’d reached the red house, he never turned back; he always continued on the run he had planned. Nice trick.
Text: Roberto De Vido