Marathon Survival Guide: Tips for running a marathon

Our best advice to help you get over that finish line

The London Marathon is fast approaching and you’ve been training hard for weeks. If you’ve stumbled onto this page, nerves might be kicking in and you’re looking for some last minute tips and tricks to help you get across that finish line in one piece. Well, fear not, as we have some great tips and advice on how to survive running a marathon.

So, whether it’s your first marathon or your fifth, we’ve answered some of the most commonly asked questions surrounding marathons including what to eat, how to speed up recovery and most importantly, why you should take some toilet roll with you on race day…

The day before the marathon

The day before your marathon, you should aim to complete a short, relaxed run to loosen up your muscles – no more than 3-4 miles ideally. Your last big meal should be one made up of carbs such as pasta, rice, beans, bread and fruit.

Don’t go too heavy on the meal – eating a large meal the night before a marathon can make you feel sluggish the next morning and may cause havoc with your bowels the next day.

Before the marathon

The morning of the marathon is important – follow our tips to make sure you’re in tip-top shape to give it your best shot.

What should I wear for the marathon?

You should wear your usual running clothes and shoes for the race. Wearing anything new can cause problems – those new shoes could cause blisters and if you don’t know whether that top will cause painful friction on your nips then we’d stick to the workout gear that you know and love.

What to eat before a marathon?

On the day of the marathon, you should get up in enough time for you to eat a small breakfast and have time to digest it. Even if it means getting up at an ungodly hour, (you can always go back to sleep after you’ve eaten) but getting some essential fuel inside you will pay off later. If you really can’t stomach any food, then at least have a gel and drink some energy drink before you set off. The general rule of thumb is to avoid trying anything new on the morning of the race and stick to foods you’ve eaten during your training.

Should I work out before running a marathon?

You should do a small warm up once you get to the start line, around 10-15 minutes before the gun is fired, but there’s no need to go wild here. You need to preserve your glycogen stores and keep your core body temperature down, so some gentle jogging and stretching should be the most you do.

During the marathon

How should I set my pace during the marathon?

Once you’ve set off, start at a pace that’s slower than what you’ve been achieving in your training. If you’re feeling pretty good by the 18-20mile mark then you can up the ante at this point, but you shouldn’t push yourself too hard before that, and especially before you’ve reached the halfway point.

How much water should I drink during the marathon?

You should take sports drinks or water from the first aid stations even early in the race when you’re still feeling good. Drinking early on in the race can help prevent dehydration and carbohydrate depletion later on in the race when you’re really going to need that boost. If you wait until you’re really thirsty to take in your first fluids, then dehydration or glycogen depletion may have already kicked in. Factors such as the weather will affect how much water you intake, but you should generally drink when you need it.

How can I avoid going to the toilet during a marathon?

You might have heard or experienced that during long distance running, your bowels can become a little bit disrupted, and you may have found that you sometimes have to stop mid-run with a sore stomach and overwhelming need to go right there and then. This is a common occurrence with runners but there are a couple of things you can do to help prevent it. Don’t experiment with new foods the night before, even if it’s in a bid to consume more high-energy foods. Try and go to the toilet before you set off; whether that’s at your house, hotel, en route to the race or using a port-a-loo at the race. They will have regular loos along the route for you to use if you really do get the urge to go, and we’d recommend carrying a bundle of tissues with you as well.

After the marathon

When you’ve crossed that finish line, don’t stop! You might want to collapse onto your knees, overwhelmed that you’ve actually finished, but you should cross the finish line and slow to a walk as this will allow your heart rate to slow down gradually.

What should I eat after running a marathon?

Eat a small snack after the race – think bananas, granola bars, nuts, pita bread and bagels – and wait until later in the day until you have your first big meal.

Once you’re feeling a bit more replenished you’ll want to change into some clean, dry clothes, as you’ll feel so much better for doing so.

What will help speed up my recovery after a marathon?

Taking a cold bath after your race can help reduce inflammation of your legs. Fill a tub up with lukewarm water, hop in and start adding ice cubes until it gets cold. It’s not the nicest thing in the world to go, but it will help combat the small tears in the muscle fibres in your legs, so it will be worth it. If you’re unsupervised or have never tried ice baths before don’t exceed 7-8 minutes, as overexposure to ice water can be dangerous! Avoid a hot bath or shower as it can damage your muscles further, so wait until later in the evening to enjoy one.

How soon can I go running again after I’ve run a marathon?

Whilst you might feel like you’ve bounced back after following these tips, we’d recommend that you avoid running the day after a marathon. Stick to gentle walking to keep those muscles moving and preventing them from seizing up. Swimming is also a good form of exercise to do as it’s a low impact exercise but You’ve put your body through one hell of a tough jaunt, so allow your body time to repair and make sure you are fully recovered before pounding the pavement again.

If you’re running the London Marathon this year then we wish you the best of luck!

Are you interested in taking up running? Then check out our beginners running tips where you can find solid advice from a fellow newbie runner. If you’re looking to get get some new running gear to get started on your journey, then why not check out some of the cashback offers from Nike, Adidas, Sports Direct and JD Sports.

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