This gruelling, somewhat masochistic endurance sport is—oddly enough—quite popular. Our primer has everything you need to know to make it through race day without getting tripped up.
WHAT’S A MARATHON?
As the story goes, in 490 BC a Greek soldier ran from the town of Marathon to Athens (a distance of about 24 miles) to report that the army had defeated the Persians. He gave the news then collapsed and died – a reason many might use to argue against running marathons. When the Greeks revived the Olympics in 1896, they included a 24-mile run along this same route and called it a marathon. But for the 1908 London Olympics that distance just wasn’t far enough. It’s rumoured that the royal family wanted to watch the start of the event from Windsor Castle. So that’s where it began; it ended at the royal box in Olympic stadium, a total of 26.2 miles – now the sport’s official length.
WHAT CAN I EXPECT ON RACE DAY?
5 tips for a first-time marathoner
- Nothing. New. On. Race Day.
- Start your day with ‘The Elvis’: a plain bagel with peanut butter and banana (carbs, protein, and potassium – yum).
- Use the Portaloo before you start. Repeat for good measure.
- Never underestimate the power of a good playlist.
- Stop to high-five your friends in the crowd; a couple of seconds don’t matter much and you’ll likely run faster to and from them in order to impress.
A lot of really sweaty, really tired people. They’ll need your support! So don’t just stand there like a jerk and stare at all the self-proclaimed athletes slogging their way through the miles. Cheer! If a person has his name on his official race bib (the paper with his number on it) or t-shirt, yell it out. Noise-makers, megaphones, and handclapping are all appreciated too. Signs are even better. Some definite crowd pleasers: ‘Your feet hurt because you’re kicking so much ass’ and ‘Do it for the beer.’
You’ll probably also see at least one runner in a rhinoceros suit. Cheer for him harder; he is most certainly very hot. Other runners to look out for: Man in a tu-tu, woman (or man) in fairy wings and a tiara, girl who spent way to much time on her hair and make-up, and guy singing at the top of his lungs and off-key to the music on his iPod. You’ll be having more fun that the competitors. Not only are they fatigued, but they’ll likely have sore nipples (gentlemen: Band-aids are your friends; Vaseline even more so), blisters, cramps, and…they may have peed on themselves. Yes, it’s true, elite competitors will do this to avoid increasing their time with a Portaloo stop. However, if a runner is drinking the correct amount of fluids (about 125cl every water stop, which is about every one to three miles) and perspiring, he shouldn’t actually need to take a ‘break’ at all. Spectators: Go right ahead and keep enjoying that pint.
WHAT IF I WANT TO RUN A MARATHON?
Despite the fact that it takes the average pavement pounder more than four hours to complete one, they’re surprisingly popular. Anyone can run one so long as they train properly. Give yourself at least four months to prepare. Set aside time four to five days a week to work out. You’ll need to do at least one long run a week. Start with about six miles and add about one and a half more each week until you reach 19-21 miles; that run should happen three weeks before race day. On your other designated exercise days do a short run, cross-train, or practice yoga. The reward for all those tough training sessions? Pasta! A week before your race, change your diet to about 60 percent carbohydrates. This will ensure you have energy reserves your body can tap into late in the race. Steer away from cruciferous veggies and reduce your fiber intake – the last thing you want is to have to visit that Portaloo for a Number Two.
WHAT SHOULD I WEAR?
Layers. It will likely be chilly in the morning before the race starts, but – between the body heat generated as you take to the streets and the rise in temperature as the hours pass – you’ll want to strip down. Make sure everything you put on (including your unmentionables) is made of moisture-wicking material. Also, memorise this mantra: nothing new on race day. Only don clothes (including shoes and socks) that you’ve worn before and therefore know are comfortable and don’t chafe. You’ll want your sneaks to be not too old, not too new, but just right. Aim to have run 50 to 60 miles in the pair you’ll hoof it in on race day.
WHAT WILL THE RACE BE LIKE?
Awful. And awesome. It’s easy to start off strong and feed off the energy of the crowd. Beware of ‘bonking’ or ‘hitting the wall’ around mile 19. This is a distance beyond what you have likely run in training, so it’s hard to know how your body will react to the to lactic acid buildup, dehydration, and more. You may be tempted to walk. Fine if you must, but be prepared for comments from fans in the stands. Answer back with the retort, ‘how far have you run today?’ Whatever you do, don’t hop in the tube or into a cab. There are sensors every six miles or so, and if you don’t pass each, your results won’t count. The endorphins experienced once you finish are enough to erase the negative feelings. This is called ‘runner’s high’ and a side effect is the act of registering for another race soon afterwards. This is akin to women being excited for another pregnancy soon after labour and delivery.
MAXIMUM BLUFFING VALUE
The idiom ‘it’s a marathon, not a sprint’ is cliché, but true. Pace yourself. The way to do this: negative splits. Rather than going hard out of the starting gate or trotting along at the same speed for all 26.2 miles, aim to run the second half of the race faster than you ran the first. Ideally, this will leave you with enough gas in the tank to push yourself on the later miles. It’s a technique employed by many elite runners, perhaps even female world record holder Paula Radcliffe, who earned such a title by finishing the 2003 London Marathon in 2 hours, 15 minutes, and 25 seconds.
DO SAY ‘I’m just hoping to finish,’ unless this isn’t your first marathon, in which case you can state, ‘I’m gunning for a new PB’ (aka personal best).
DON’T SAY ‘You’re almost there!’ if you are cheering from a spot more than five miles from the finish.