If you’re training for a Spring marathon (like the amazing MK Marathon, have I mentioned I’m an ambassador, a 5 time finishing legend etc etc?!) then around now is when you’re likely to be trying a half marathon in preparation. If this is you first big event it can be a daunting experience.
Most training plans will incorporate several races in the run up, often a half marathon and then a 20 mile race. These are a good measure of your progress but also provide experience of the whole process of big scale races. You can turn up to parkrun moments before the start, throw your hoodie in a bush for later and set off. For big events the process of storing kit, collecting numbers and toilet queues, getting into start pens etc can take hours and be daunting to first timers. For this reasons it makes sense to pick a large scale half marathon in the lead up. Silverstone and Reading half in the spring are popular for those in the South of the UK. Neither is particularly a scenic or enjoyable event but give the appropriate size and feel of a big marathon event.
If you’re training for MK Marathon then the MK Festival of Running in early March offers HM and 20 mile options. Where possible try and pick a half marathon with a similar course and elevation gain (how much uphill you go) as your marathon. If you live in Norfolk and do all runs on the broads having never run up or down a hill, you’re going to struggle on race day if it’s a hilly course.
Preventing Piss Poor Performance – NOTHING NEW ON RACE DAY!
The key part of the HM is to not just to measure fitness but also test everything for the big day. You debut marathon should be ‘merely’ a matter of running a little further than you have before, hopefully at a slightly faster pace. Your morning routine, pre-race preparation, running kit and fuelling should all be proven and known before the day to avoid any surprises. Your first HM is the ideal time to prove to yourself you’ve got everything covered. Finishing your first marathon in agony from chaffing clothes and sporting bleeding nips is probably not what you envisaged when you stated this journey.
The early bird catches the worn. And avoids pooping in a bush.
Morning routines is the polite reference to making sure your body has woken up and done the necessary emptying before you hit the start. During training you’ll have learnt what it takes from waking up and how long before your digestion gets going. A good strong cup of coffee helps most get things moving then move onto breakfast to fill the void created. Ideally you’ll have tried a few different breakfasts to see what works for you, with a view to what’s going to be available on the big day. If you’re staying in a budget hotel you’re unlikely to manage a free range egg white omelette with pine nuts and fresh avocado and will have to make do with Weetabix and suspicious sausages. Typical preferences are bananas, porridge and cereal. Personally a cooked breakfast works well as good blend of fat, protein, carbs and stodge.
To avoid any last minute issues lay out your kit the night before. Pin the race number bib on your top, attach timing chip to shoes and visually check you have everything you need. That way if you wake up late you won’t be panicking and wondering where your left shoe is.
If everything has run smoothly on the morning you’re about to leave home/hotel wearing everything you need for the race with an extra layer on top for warmth, and carrying your drop bag with change of clothes for after. Your stomach is comfortably full, and you’ve emptied your guts. All that’s left is to turn up and run.
Fuelling (because eating and drinking is not a fancy term)
As you long runs have increased in distance you’ve likely needed to start taking on fuel to get you around the run. It’s worth checking what will be available on your marathon and hopefully find a HM with similar availability or bring along the same brand for your HM. You don’t want to find out at mile 18 of your debut event that the provided gels cause your breakfast to make a violent and noisy break for it from either (or both) ends. Gels in particular are very marmite. Some can down gel after gel, others get on well with only certain brands, some won’t be able to stomach in any form. Sports drinks tend to be less of an issue but still worth checking if able.
But why does my training programme stop at only 20 miles? A marathon is waaaaaayyyyyyy longer?
It’s common for programmes to build the long run distance gradually, then step back down for a week to allow legs to recover before stepping back up again. If it’s your first event you may only hit 20 miles once in training, or it may be limited to a time goal with no distance goal. The reason behind this is the further miles or time on feet would take a toll on your legs requiring recovery that would detract from further training and offer no real benefit.
Mentally this can be hard, knowing that the ‘little bit extra’ you’ll need to run on race day was considered an impressive run on fresh legs several months ago or possibly a distance you’d get the car out for. Trust the programme and trust the thousands of people who have followed the same path you’re on.
So you’re all set for your HM, go run it and remember to wipe the sweat/blood/snot/puke off your face for the finish line photo (who said running wasn’t glamorous?).