Completed a half marathon or a few, achieved your personal best in a 10km, or looking for something new to brag about to the folk at the office? Whatever your reasons for considering tackling 42.2km, here are some things to think about before you enter.
You must enjoy running (far)
Don’t run a marathon because of pressure from family, friends or fellow runners. In South Africa, our culture of ultra-distance running sees many people belittle the achievements of running a strong 10, 15 or 21.1km and often even a marathon is seen only as a stepping stone to any of the major ultra marathons. Don’t fall for this – if you enjoy the ‘shorter’ races, stick to them and rather work on achieving personal bests in those. But…
Do you feel you are built for consistency rather than speed? Alternatively, you may feel you have reached a performance plateau at other distances and need a new challenge. In my own first marathon, way back when I was 19, I learned that I could continue at my 10km speed at the time for 42.2km, which meant that in the longer races I fared much better relative to the rest of the field. I also enjoyed the experience and social aspects of the marathon distance compared to shorter races where a lot of runners are unable to breathe, let alone talk, along the way.
Are you physically prepared to train for a marathon?
The prevailing Ethiopian training method entails a period of working on 10km speed until it is the best it can be, followed by a six-week lead-up to the race where that speed is maintained on shorter distances, but long runs are increased to over-distance (greater than marathon distance) training runs. This shows you don’t have to train for months, sacrificing all else, just to complete a marathon – less is more, and quality training always beats junk miles.
Although going from couch potato to marathoner in six weeks is not impossible, I’d suggest you start marathon training from a base of being able to run 3-4 days per week, averaging at least 30-40km per week. You should also be able to comfortably run 10km in under 1h10 and have completed at least one or two half marathons, preferably in under 2h30.
You must be injury-free (or at least injury-managed) before you increase your weekly and long-run mileage. Don’t ignore injuries and niggles – if they worsen with running, and persist for longer than two days, get diagnosed and treated by a qualified professional as soon as possible.
The general feeling amongst marathon regulars is that 4-5 days of running per week, including long runs of 21, 25 and 30-32km three to six weeks prior to a marathon, should suffice for a comfortable marathon finish. Where possible, I’d recommend scheduling one or more of those long training runs to coincide with local races. Race day conditions differ from those in training, so this gives an opportunity to test out your kit, eating plan, run-walk strategy, etc. Completing other races in the area also allows you to meet fellow runners of similar speed and ability, many of whom will likely be joining you on race day.
While not as physically taxing as ultra marathon training, you still need to eat healthily and boost your immune system with an extra multivitamin – don’t waste weeks of training because of illness or injury close to race day.
Are you mentally prepared to train for a marathon?
Although marathon training doesn’t have to be a process of months of obsession with long, slow distance training, as some people believe, it nevertheless requires hard work and sacrifice. Particularly for your first marathon, you need to be committed and strong-willed enough to turn down those last few beers or late hours out partying on a Friday or Saturday night, knowing that it will probably compromise your resolve and ability to head out for a quality long training run the following day.
Are you are mentally and physically prepared to complete a marathon?
The last 10-12km of a marathon involve screaming legs, questioning why you’re doing this and many iterations and variations of “Never again!”. Things can go wrong for seasoned professionals and novice back-of-the-packers alike, so you must be prepared to push through discomfort and unexpected problems, while maintaining your sense of humour and ability to smile for the cameras.
You can be sure that, irrespective of finish time, the bragging rights and medal to show off to friends, family and colleagues will be worth well worth every sacrifice. So, if you think you are up to the challenge, pick a marathon and enter now!
Written by Candyce Hall
A registered biokineticist in private practice in Hout Bay, Candyce has finished 10 Comrades and eight Two Oceans (by age 28). Her marathon PB is 2:55 and she’s blitzed a 38:23 for the 10km. She coaches and advises runners, from novices to professional athletes.
Originally published in the May/June 2013 issue.