Breaking down the marathon

Although 26.2 miles is a daunting race length, breaking it down can help to prevent the race from breaking you first. For those that keep up with the running scene, you may be well aware of the new world record that was attained this past weekend in the marathon in Berlin by Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya. The previous record holder, Kenya’s Dennis Kimetto, set the record in 2014 with a time of two hours, two minutes and 58 seconds. Kipchoge beat his time by one minute 19 seconds, breaking the 2:02 barrier with a time of two hours, one minute and 39 seconds. To give this some perspective, running a two-hour marathon means holding right around 4:35-minute mile pace. So Kipchoge was running sub-five minute miles for 26.2 miles!

This is beyond impressive, but can be discouraging for the average runner. How is one able to accomplish such a feat? How was Kipchoge able to withstand the pain of running that fast for that long? These are the questions that many people wonder when looking at the best marathon athletes in the world. How long has someone been running, do their genes give them the upper hand, and what does their training look like? The fastest female time in the marathon was clocked at two hours, 15 minutes and 25 seconds in 2003 by Paula Radcliffe of Great Britain. Marathon times have gone down over the years, and that is due to several factors.

For one thing, simply more people run them (especially females). Improvement in running gear and technology such as shoes, hydration packs, nutrition and much more has also upped the ante. Although times are leveling out now, who’s to say humans won’t keep improving at this relentless sport? There’s a lot more you can do with 26.2 miles than 100 meters. The adaptations and additions to training could be endless. Leave it up to the exercise scientists of the world to have yet another breakthrough. For now, here are some tips to the amateur runner with not-so-amateur goals…

Training: What to do. Have a proper training progression. This is extremely difficult for many. While some struggle with keeping on top of their training and being religious about it, others struggle to be patient. You don’t want to fall on either end of the spectrum, but don’t expect to find a perfect balance at first either. It will be important to take into account your initial fitness level, your running experience and your body type. Little to no experience may require phoning a friend or even hiring a coach to help you lay out a training plan. Having it all mapped out before you start is a much more approachable way to go about training than trying to motivate yourself to run every day. Plan your mileage progression, plan your long runs, AND plan your rest days. You will need to reward yourself throughout the process, or the burnout will come sooner rather than later. Set reasonable goals. Don’t sell yourself short, but be realistic with where you are. Starting with small goals for your everyday training is a good place to start. Setting some lifestyle intentions or good habits for you may also be helpful. Eating right, prioritizing sleep and staying motivated are all vital to successful training. Find a running buddy (or buddies)! Having training partners to motivate you is a huge game-changer, especially for the longer runs. They can also double as someone to hold you accountable for those days you’d rather not throw on your running shoes at 6a.m. Starting is always the hardest part, but if you have someone to train with (even complain with!) it becomes more of a team effort.

Training: What not to do ..Only run. To be a good runner means a lot more than just getting out for a run every day. You need to be knowledgeable on the sport and be able to take care of your body properly. The biggest mistake people make is treating their body like it is only a runner. By this I mean that you need your body for a lot more than running, so it is important to treat it like so. DO NOT RUN THROUGH INJURIES. Many runners think that toughing it out is always the way to go. That’s how you get stronger, right? In some cases this might be true, i.e. muscle soreness or feeling sluggish. Of course you should push through these types of things because running IS hard. However when injuries arise, the worst thing you can do for yourself is continue to run on it. To prevent injuries, simply take steps each day to nurse the damage you have promoted (yes, technically you are damaging your body when you run) in order to promote proper adaptation. This includes stretching, icing, foam rolling (ouch), and getting proper sleep! These are all conducive to proper muscle recover.

Eating nutrient-rich foods is one other way to help you stay energized and feel good. For example, replenishing the glycogen stores in your muscles with carbohydrates is vital to getting your legs ready for your next run. Don’t forget your protein and healthy fats as well. Finally, it is important to incorporate some form of strength training into your schedule to work on muscle imbalances and overall sturdiness. Think about it – you are on one foot (alternating) for 26.2 miles, so you’d better be able to stand on one foot without tipping over. Otherwise, your body will compensate and put stress on things like your knees, hips and back when you run. When it comes down to it, you have to enjoy what you’re doing. If you don’t enjoy it, don’t force yourself to train for a marathon. There are plenty of other ways to incorporate running into your life, including shorter races (5k, 10k, half marathon). Staying fit and accomplishing significant goals is important, but finishing a marathon just to be able to say you did is not worth it. There are countless people who barely finish marathons who are not necessarily in the best shape of their life.

If you’re going to do it, do it right. Don’t rush into it or hurt yourself by attempting something your body is not ready to complete. Marathons are fulfilling and open up opportunities for reaching new limits – physically and mentally. It is also a great way to meet lots of great new people. Suffering together is one of the strongest bonding experiences their is. And what better way to suffer than run 26.2 miles? It is important to remember, however, that marathons are not the end-all-be-all to running. Whether you train for a 5k road race, a marathon or a 100-mile trail run, the process and the race make you a runner. You don’t have to be fast, and you don’t have to parallel what other people are doing. Everybody is different, and when it comes to running, it is extremely important to note that everybody is a different runner. Optimal training holds a unique definition for everyone because our bodies all have different needs and limits. Go after your own goals and do what works for you in order to get there.

In conclusion, if you’re going to train for a marathon or any other running race, remember to be patient and listen to your body. Be mentally tough and push through hard runs and workouts, but never run through an injury. Make the time for running, but don’t neglect things like sleep or social interaction. The best way to sum up training is this: find a balance between the insanity that is running and your own sanity. Happy running!

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