Tom Mitchell is a serial runner, two-time ironman finisher and sub three-hour marathon man. We caught up with Tom for some insight on how to best prepare for marathon day…
1. In the immortal words of Baz Lurmann: Wear sunscreen…or more importantly, Vaseline!
Spring marathons have an inevitable habit of catching people out. You’ve done the dark runs, you’ve done the wet and wild windy runs; what you haven’t done are the 20c glorious sun runs. Wearing sun cream will help fend off any potential burning, itching and over-heating. Vaseline should be applied liberally to any offending ‘chaff’ zones. Armpits and nipples are particularly key. Nothing can quite prepare you for when you first see a fellow runner suffering from bleeding nips!
2. Sip don’t drink.
The body has an amazing ability to function off little fluids. The professionals, whizzing past may only grab a quick slurp of energy drink, although us mere mortals are some two or three hours behind them, the point is the same. It is normal to think you must drink every time there is a water station and to take the entire bottle some patient volunteer has just handed you. In reality, one or two sips are enough until the next point. Exceptions do apply: if it’s hot from the get go, make sure you take on fluids every 20 minutes or so, not lots, but enough to quench your thirst. Remember the rule…drink more, pee more. If you do decide to stop and drink regularly, you can expect to add an additional two minutes or so for a toilet stop.
3. Practice ‘the long slog’.
Most marathons follow a similar pattern; start in a city centre, wind your way to the outskirts, hit ‘the long slog’, back through a business park/finance centre and end in the city centre. The long slog typically features a closed off dual-carriageway or main road and can last from 3 – 10 miles straight depending where you’re running. In Amsterdam you’re made to jog out along the canal for 4 miles or so just so you can have a photo with a Windmill in the background…a cunning financial and marketing plan, not so good for your state of mind. It is hard to train for this bit of the race, but it helps to have at least one long training run where you do a good 10miles of mindless environments. This is where the ‘mental’ race takes place, typically taking you through the hard miles of 14 – 22. Self-talk, visualisation and chunking the race down to mini-goals will help you through. Keep running to the next lamp-post, count them down, to the next traffic light etc.
Much like drinking, nutrition can help make the difference between ‘runners-belly’ or running freely. Practice really will make perfect for this one. Make sure you have a good carby dinner the night before, nothing too outlandish or different from normal. I always find a small amount of spice ‘helps things along’, but make sure you’re comfortable. In the morning, you really don’t need much. Yogurt, porridge, cereal, toast, all good options once you’re up and getting ready. Half an hour before a banana can go a long way to helping. Whilst you may be craving a coffee, caffeine can have a mild laxative effect, especially if you add in pre-race nerves…which will be there of course! Along the run, again, don’t be tempted to try something new. There a multitude of energy gels and bars to choose from. I’d advise against the heavier bars in place of the gels, unless you’re planning to be out there for 4.5/5+ hours. Take your own is the best advice, you’ll know what has worked or not during training. But do make sure you’ve tested a range. Some are thick, some watery it’s each to their own here.
5. Final preparations.
You’ve done your training, you’ve tapered down and you’re ready to go. Yes you’ve had that injury that stopped you running for a week, that cold/flu which meant you missed a long run and you’re probably thinking a bit too much about that ‘niggle’ on the left knee, but you’re ready to go. Race day has come, here are my final and most important preparations. Go to the loo. Go before you leave your house. Go as soon as you reach the race zone/park. And go 10minutes before. Not drinking fluids after 15minutes to go will help you mentally, the constant battle of ‘do I need it, do I not?’. In reality you can always ‘will’ yourself. Pack a bin bag. Start lines are odd places. Either cold and damp or sweaty and hot. There is no middle ground here. Be prepared to inhale a LOT of human effervescence, my favourite is the guy clearly nursing an injury as you can smell his ‘deep heat’ muscle rub a mile off. A bin bag is essential to keep your body temperature up whilst waiting to shuffle to the start line. There are always bins along the way at the start of marathons for that purpose. Stick it on then ditch it. Crowd control. Nothing else can replicate crowds of strangers cheering you on; make sure you put your name somewhere on the race number and these kind words can lift any slump or dark mile on the race. Lastly, enjoy it…and start thinking about the next one: much like Pringles, once you pop, you can’t stop!