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Marathons: Setting Goals

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With a rapidly-growing list of marathons and fun runs that keep popping up almost every week in Singapore, it’ll only be a matter of time before leisure runners (and even non athletic types) will start taking part in one. But if you haven’t run a marathon (or long distance) before, there are things to keep in mind when preparing for one.

Training period

Realistically, training plans range from 12 to 20 weeks, but it depends on how often you already run. There are plenty of ways to train – you can go for a coach, read up online (or in a book), or get an app. Just be sure that you’re medically fit before training. Marathon training is a fine balance between pushing yourself, and then recovering properly. While feeling tired is normal, being immobile the next morning is not. Remember that injuries actually add more time to your training.

Commitment

Marathons are a long-term commitment, and there will be moments when you question your sanity. However, one of the best ways to remedy your insecurities is to have a training partner – ideally, they should also sign up with you, and train alongside you. A run buddy is invaluable, but so are running clubs or groups where you can find a group of people with similar goals or interests.

Setting a goal

No matter where your starting point, the primary goal before your first marathon should be to finish it. The 42km of running is a much bigger commitment than your 10km night runs, and there’s a cliche that the last km is the hardest. You should adapt and adjust your run time before injuries threaten, and not push yourself past your barrier, when your body may fall apart.

How long should your longest run in training be?

Rather than worry about distance, one should work to a maximum “time on feet”, whether it’s 10km, 24km or 42km. If you’re pushing further into unknown territory, you risk still-tired legs on race day. Recovery is crucial before the marathon, and most people do this 3-4 weeks before. Set your training to get the most miles with enough time ahead, and your race day will seem easy in comparison.

What to eat

How seriously you take your training nutrition depends on your goals. There have been runners who didn’t subscribe to convention, and there are those who concoct special drinks for the occasion.

The week before the big race, try and eat as healthy as you can – drink plenty of water, and sleep as much as possible. Around 2-3 days before the race, start carbo loading, because when we run, we burn carbohydrates and fats (of which we have plenty supply of, regardless of body shape). Carbs, in glycogen form, start to run out after about 90 minutes, so carbo loading ensures that your glycogen levels are at peak when you start. Make sure that on the morning of the run, you load up on tried and tested foods.

During the race, your glycogen will start depleting, and you’ll hit a ‘wall’ if you don’t top it up. Sports nutrition products – like gels, jellies, or drinks – are a convenient way to replace lost carbohydrates and protein (which is particularly important for your muscles). Find out what works for you, and don’t try out new things on race day.

Be the tortoise, not the hare

Once you’re at the starting line, the most important thing is to relax and take it easy. A common mistake is starting too fast, and while the first few kms may seen easy, there will be a point when it doesn’t. This is when you need to cope with the negativity in your head – remember the training you did, and block the negative voices. You can count in your head, adopt a mantra, or talk yourself through.

If you’re feeling good after 36km, then you may want to put pedal to the metal. A negative split – running the second half faster than the first – is one of the holy grails of marathon running.

Once you’ve crossed the finish line, you’ll realise that marathons can be addictive. You’ll find yourself weeks or months later, online, with credit card in hand, inexplicably entering another one.

You are a marathoner now.

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