On the last weekend in August, I was finally presented with the opportunity to become a marathon runner at the Adelaide Marathon Festival. This blog is a reflection on the race, the preparation, and what I now know about this beast!
To preface this blog, it should be noted that from a very young age I’ve been fascinated by the marathon. Not only the history of the event, but the speculation surrounding the best way to prepare, the best footwear and apparel to wear, and the best food and liquid to eat and drink along the way. So much can go wrong in 42km, and that’s why nailing it must be such a satisfying feeling. This time, I didn’t quiet achieve that, but I do feel proud of what I was able to achieve on the day, and I received a lot of valuable feedback (both reinforcing and corrective/ productive) from my first attempt! Therefore, the present blog aims to unpack my dos and don’ts for running a marathon!
Well, this is probably the main one! In preparation for the Gold Coast Marathon that never happened in July, I worked with my coach and training partner Riley through a series of marathon specific sessions. I felt extremely ready for that race, and it’s a shame that we didn’t get to put that training to the test. However, I do credit much of that preparation to the successes I had in Adelaide nearly 2 months later. The main point I will take away from this race is that I didn’t let the high mileage and incredible training weeks of other people on Strava deter me from my plan. Many training principles apply generally to anyone preparing for a marathon, but I believe what you do in between your three “main” training days is very individual. Therefore, my two takeaways are:
1. The long runs and the specific marathon sessions are essential. Nothing can compare to the day, but your legs need to have ached and moaned a little bit in training prior. Stay on your feet for the duration of your race where possible, and run reps at race pace under fatigue to practice the feeling!
2. In contrast, you need to rest between these big days. If doing double days after a full day’s work is a grind and just makes you more tired, then choose rest over an infatuation with an arbitrary number you found on someone else’s Strava weekly total! Comparison is the devil, and this is where you need to communicate with your coach about how you’re feeling personally. If you must service your exercise cravings more often than what suits you, then try yoga, foam rolling, or gym/ cross training. These were far more beneficial for me than an afternoon easy run that just looked good on Strava.
I am a regular stomach cramp victim. Unfortunately, the impulse decision to run this marathon meant that nutrition was what I was most nervous about on the day. I have had stomach cramp in shorter races before, and nearly been forced to pull out; I really feared what would happen if I suffered one in the marathon! The good news is that I didn’t. However, I did find myself severely depleted by 38km and have some frightening memories from late in the race. Therefore, my key takeaways for fuelling are:
1. See a nutrition expert and get a plan of attack for race week. I am low FODMAP for 48 hours prior to the race, and this fills me with confidence that my stomach has the best chance of functioning without hinderance at the level that I need it to on race day. Our stomachs are so individual, so don’t take general advice on this one!
2. practice your nutrition in training! I didn’t get to do this for a few reasons that were out of my control, but for the Gold Coast earlier in the year, I felt confident and ready to eat and drink my way to a fast marathon! There are many products on the market, and I think trial and error is perhaps the only way to truly know what works for you. However, this isn’t just about taking a gel with you on your long run at low intensity. Instead, you need to try eating at race pace/ heart rate because that’s a different skill! Furthermore, once you start to feel depleted it is too late; Fuel early, and fuel consistently!
Shoes and apparel!
Recently, I have not been aligned to a brand but have been fortunate enough to receive overwhelming support from the Running Company Adelaide who allow me to regularly service my shoe addiction. In Adelaide, I wore the Nike Alphafly and paired that with the Nike aeroswift singlet. My shorts were borrowed from Riley’s 2XU collection, and my socks were from Swiss brand On Running (although I’m also a big Feetures fan). But more to the point, these weren’t race morning decisions based on what I saw Eluid Kipchoge wearing on Instagram; I chose these because they performed well for me in training! Therefore:
1. Don’t save your shoes for race day! No matter how expensive your shoes were, the company did not collect moulds for your feet and shape an upper to perfectly contour your foot complexion. You might get a blister on your first wear, or the shoes may just not work for you! Similarly, you may chaff in your brand new singlet and short combination and you don’t want to get to 35km before you find these things out!
2. Having said the above, the market is flooded with options and I can appreciate that it is overwhelming. We have expert shoe stores in Adelaide including The Running Company, and past employers of mine over at Sportitude in Hindmarsh! I highly recommend using these resources, and perhaps merely being guided by your favourite professional runner on Instagram!
So you’ve done the work, you’ve completed the taper, you have your gels tucked in to your shorts and your carbon fibre racing shoes on your feet; you’re ready to run fast! That gun goes, and your mind is filled with endless possibilities about what incredible feat you might be ready to achieve today! Halfway goes by and you’re smiling and laughing to people on the side lines; this is too easy! At 25km you feel good, but your foot feels weird.. That’s ok, your team mate just gave you a huge cheer and you know that you can make them proud today. 35km arrives and that foot still hurts, and now there’s a weird pain in your other quad. Additionally, when did your arms get 4kg heavier? 40km: Just get me to that finish line!
1. On race day, fantasy is faced with reality. You’re probably carrying a niggle in to the race due to the demands of the preparation. It felt great this morning because of the taper week, but it has reared its ugly head right in the middle of the race. You need to stay positive somehow. Again, practice this in training, and see a professional for your mental health if need be! Having referenced Kipchoge earlier, he is perhaps the best example of this on race day. What was once thought to be a grimace on Eluid’s face, was found to be a smile late in his marathon races. He does this to reassure his body, and to trick his mind in to thinking he is somewhere else; in far less pain! The mind is a powerful muscle – don’t forget to train that too!
2. PACE YOURSELF! Yes, it will feel easy early, but easy becomes hard without much warning! Taper week will make you feel amazing, and the race day adrenaline will shoot you off the line. You have to be discipline and make sure you don’t ruin your race in the first 5km. The time you make up finishing strong will be much more significant than the time you are able to bank early if that leads to you blowing up!
Overall, I was fortunate enough to enjoy my first marathon! However, having spoken to seasoned marathoners in recent times, I have been told that the marathon is a persistent teacher; it will be a reliable reminder of what shortcuts and mistakes you have made in each preparation. I look forward to my next one, and what learnings that will bring with it!
Survival mode after Adelaide Marathon Festival