Whether you are a new runner, or you’ve been running for years, the nerves leading up to a marathon can be tough to deal with but being prepared can give you the confidence you need to outperform on the big day. John Vinson, who has run over 100 marathons across 6 continents — Antarctica in 2021 will mark all seven continents — has graciously shared everything you need to know about preparing for and running a marathon. With this extensive experience, John Vinson knows all the tips and tricks it takes to perform at your highest level on marathon day.
Stretch, and then Stretch Some More
As with any other fitness routine, running requires commitment and discipline. While everyone is different, you will need to realize your own capacity and stick to a schedule that is comfortable for you. One of the most important things you can do to protect yourself in the days and weeks leading up to a marathon, is ensure you stretch. The biggest advantage of stretching lies in what it is able to do for your run, which is increase your overall speed, sharpen your agility, and strengthen your staying power. You might want to consider adding yoga into your workout regiment, as it strengthens and tones all major muscle groups, increases flexibility and posture. John Vinson explains that when it comes to performing in the marathon, you do not need to stretch before you hit the road, as it will decrease power, and overall performance. If you really feel you need to stretch, he suggests jogging or walking for five to ten minutes before to warm those muscles up and to get blood flowing.
Rest & Recover
While it may seem counterintuitive, rest and recovery are a major component to your success in a marathon. Setting aside days where you don’t run will help your muscles recover from the taxing workouts and help prevent mental burnout. One of the worst-case scenarios in the days leading up to a marathon is injury, and the best protection against that risk is rest. John Vinson suggests on the weeks leading up to your marathon, to scale back significantly on overall mileage and difficulty, to let your body rest up for the big day. When you run, you create microscopic tears in your muscle fibers, which your body responds to by rebuilding your muscles stronger — the catch is that this response only happens with time off. Depending on the length and intensity of your run, you may need about 36 to 48 hours to rest and recover. Without it, the body has no opportunity to rebuild and strengthen muscles; they just continue to break down.
Nutrition & Hydration
Nutrition and hydration will be a fundamental part of your journey towards completing a marathon. John Vinson explains that you will want to hydrate really well in the days leading up to your race day, drinking a big glass of water before you go to bed the night before race day, and drink another one first thing in the morning. In the days before the race you should make sure your fuel stores (muscle glycogen) are full. Very high muscle glycogen levels can be achieved by just eating more carbohydrates, which does not mean overeating, just making sure more of your calories are coming from carbohydrates at the cost of some fat.
Get Proper Running Shoes
One thing that most people will tell you is that you need the appropriate gear to run your race, especially appropriate shoes. Your feet need to be treated with as much care as possible, so John Vinson suggests spending time getting fitted at a speciality store. These shoes might set you back a couple hundred dollars but will be well worth it to avoid the potential problems from running in the wrong shoes. You need more stability for doing longer distances, and you do not want to risk injuring yourself over having the wrong equipment. When it comes to shorts, shirts, hats and water bottles, you don’t necessarily need to build up a collection of high-tech gear, but breathable material might help keep you cool on your run. You may also want to consider having a few small water bottles on hand, so you can hydrate as needed on the run, and will not need to stop at the busy hydration stations during the marathon.
Create a Plan
Lastly, John Vinson, the king of running marathons, suggests making a plan. Marking the marathon date on your calendar will allow you to plan your training regimen backwards. Training for a marathon can easily consume 10 or more hours of your week, and it can be useful to plot all of your long runs into some type of training log. Some planning will help you see the bigger picture, and will let you know ahead of signing up for the marathon whether it is possible within the confines of your schedule (you may want to start with a half marathon if time doesn’t allow it!).