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12 Tips for Running a Marathon

Running a marathon is the ultimate accomplishment for many runners and joggers whose goal is to stay fit or achieve a personal best, but it is also one of the most difficult fitness goal to achieve (up there with triathalons and Iron Man competitions).

Just running 42.2 kim (26.2 miles) and not hurting yourself is a physical accomplishment, as sports injuries are pretty common when running a marathon.

Regardless of your goals or completion times you need to be prepared. Running a marathon demands intense preparation in all aspects of one’s life, including training, diet, and sleep, and mental preparation. Here are 12 tips that will help any marathon runner reach their desired goals:

1. Plan well, and do so well in advance. A marathon is absolutely not something you just decide to do on a whim. It should take months of preparation. Even as much as six months or a year in advance, depending on your fitness level. Choose a marathon that is months away to work towards, and begin preparation immediately. Start logging your runs and times, starting with shorter runs (2-5 miles, depending on your endurance) during the week and longer runs on the weekend. Slowly work your way up as you build endurance.

2. Set reasonable goals. If you've never run a marathon before, don't think you'll go under-4 hours the first time out. Set goals that will push you, but that at the same time you can actually reach by keeping a log and seeing where your stamina and running capacity is well before the race begins.

3. Do practice Half Marathons. Once per month try running a half marathon and time yourself. Half marathons will give you a better idea of where you will fare when you finally do a full marathon.

4. Set Limits on your weekly running. Your goal should be to run 45 to 50 km (25 to 30 miles) per week. Basically 9 to 10 km (5 to 6 miles) fives times per week. The reason you want to limit yourself is to prevent injuries and stave off the effects of running addicition (which can lead to insomnia and a variety of health / mental problems including OCD). As your legs get stronger and you get significantly better endurance wise you can start increasing your amount of running to 90 to 100 km (55 to 60 miles), but avoid going over the 100 km per week limit. Running obscene amounts can lead to running addiction and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder - causing you to lose friends and alienate family members with your addiction. (Running addicts are known to avoid going to the funerals of loved ones because they'd rather be running, go running when on vacation when they should be relaxing, avoid friends/family, etc.)

5. Eat a low-fat, high carb diet. Carbohydrates are the fuel you will need to push through a marathon and for all training runs leading up to it. Make pasta and baked potatoes a staple in your diet. Keep your diet low-fat, but not no fat; focus on good fats, like those found in poultry and fish, are necessary for storing extra energy during your runs.

6. Drink lots of fluids. Carry a nalgene or similar water bottle and try to drink at least one, if not two throughout your day. During runs, stay hydrated by bringing a smaller water bottle. Don't overdo it though: drinking an excess of water will make you feel sick and can lead to cramps, dizziness, and nausea.

7. Incorporate other exercise into your routine. Some weight lifting—particularly with a concentration on the lower body—will help build up muscular endurance for races. Yoga is also extremely helpful to runners in that it helps stretch muscles and develops flexibility, but also is a time for meditation and stress relief.

8. Think you can. Mental preparation is key for helping push through when you hit the wall towards the end of a race. Learn to think positive and visualize success (especially completing a race) in the months leading up to the big event.

9. Develop a regimented sleep schedule. Sleep is necessary for stress relief, body repair, and for your general health and well-being. Be sure to get at least 8 hours every night. Tailor your sleeping patterns leading up to a race to match the hours you will be getting up for a race and going to bed before it. If you are suffering from insomnia it might be because you are running too much (or too close to bedtime). Change your routine so you run in the morning and avoid exercising 4 hours before your bedtime. During weekends or days off try to get naps too to speed up healing process.

10. Find a partner. Some people like running as a solitary endeavor, but most find the most success when running with a partner. You'll be able to push each other and support each other, particularly when the going gets tough. Don't expect to talk that much while running, if you are capable of talking when you should be breathing heavily then you really aren't pushing yourself that hard.

11. Taper leading up to the race. Don't push yourself harder than you ever have before or during a marathon. Instead, taper off how much running you do leading up to a race so your muscles have plenty of time to recover and are at full strength on marathon day. During the race remember that you might not finish the race due to exhaustion - it happens and its nothing to be ashamed of. You will do better next time.

12. Enjoy the experience. Don't get so caught up in how others are doing or get down on any lackluster runs to forget that running marathons is a truly enjoyable activity. During the marathon, take the time to take it all in—the scenery, the crowds, and especially your successes. Make memories that will last long after you cross the finish line.

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