Whether you’re a beginner or a pro, put your running shoes on and prep yourself for marathons around the world with these expert tips and tricks. By Magandeep Singh
I used to be a social runner, the kind that goes to a park to do a short trot regularly, but no more. There is no desire or passion to go any further or longer. It used to be my idea of
fitness—a two-kilometre jog followed by a two-kilometre walk. I used to be done in half
an hour. Then, I signed up for a half marathon on sheer whim. I should have seen the signs—early onset of a mid-life crisis. I didn’t watch out, and a few years later, I was travelling all over the world to run every half marathon I could squeeze in. Shortly after, I had stumbled and cursed my way through my first full marathon. It was the worst thing I did, the most emotionally wrecking activity I indulged in, and yet it was among the most defining moments of my life. Still is. So, how does one do it? How does one go from sitting on a couch and watching Netflix buffer episode after episode to crossing the finish line at the 42-kilometre mark in a matter of months?
Well, for one, it takes determination. Then comes the preparation, the perseverance, and eventually, the pain and pleasure of it all. Here are five things you need to keep in mind as you train your way to your first marathon.
Let’s start with the gear. Shorts, tees, and socks are the basics. To this, add a cap and a pair of good sunglasses. I would go with any of the top brands for apparel—Nike, Reebok, ASICS, Adidas, Puma—and Oakley is a popular and safe choice for sunglasses. Then comes the main course: the shoes. Frankly, there’s no one right pair. I love On as a brand, and use many of their models. But that said, I would also like to have a Hoka One One or Altra Running (with their maximalist cushioning style) in my cupboard, as well as some run-flats (in which the difference between the stack height at the toe and the heel isn’t too stark). Reebok has launched Flexweave, which could be a good pair to try out, as could Nike’s new and first proprietary foam technology, React. Adidas Boost, in all its variants, is good, as is Puma’s Ignite technology. The general trend nowadays is to opt for shoes with knit uppers, and most brands will soon have something on off er in that space. ASICS and Mizuno are both from Japan and have a very run-focussed line-up; both these brands enjoy much goodwill among seasoned marathoners. That said, a shoe can only make you as fast as your muscles will allow. Also, since no two feet are alike (not even your own two!), try different brands. It’s only time and a few purchases that will help you zero down on what works best for you.
Next, start by signing up with a good trainer and getting him/her to make you a training plan. Ensure that you have enough time; trying to conquer a marathon from scratch in just a few days is not advisable. Depending on your level of fitness and general physical activity, a trainer will be able to create a plan to increase the training load over the weeks and gear you up for race day without—pun intended—running you into any injuries. Nakul Butta from All in Running, Gagan Arora from Kosmic Fitness (kosmicfitness.com), and Shashank Pundir’s Run Academy (runas.biz) are some great reference points. Apart from these, Adidas, ASICS, Reebok, and Nike run their own (free) clubs in most cities, and these are great places to meet runners of all calibers and experience. Running and interacting with such a group is a great way to keep the commitment flowing and the motivation flying. A good training plan incorporates short-tempo runs, interval training, cardio, weight, and strength training, and also long, slow runs.
Once you have training covered, you need to plan your hydration. It isn’t enough to plan to not dehydrate; over-hydration can also become an issue. Either case can impede your journey to the finish line, if not make you abort your mission, often on a stretcher in the back of an emergency vehicle. So, one needs to plan when to drink, and how much to drink. The best methods advise you to drink little, but often. They also require you not to confine yourself to just water, but also to include electrolytes in your drinks. All that sweating takes away precious minerals, and if you don’t replenish them in a timely manner, you could end up a cramped mess a few metres short of the finish line.
RACE DAY PREP:
I like to do dress rehearsals for the big day. I may not run the entire track, but I do run a part of it months in advance. From a few days before, as my training regimen starts to taper down to allow the body some down time, I start running the race mentally. In my head, I see myself starting, crossing the checkpoints, and at various parts of the race, until I am finally there, crossing the end mark. I race through it all over and over. The positive reinforcement definitely helps on the final day. Also, what I wear on race day is gear that I have tried and tested many times over. ‘Nothing new’ is not just a superstition with races. It is the strategy.
Remember, a marathon is a massive distance to cover on foot. The daunting nature of the exercise, often combined with the exasperation that people around you might put you through, won’t make the miles any easier. But, as the popular adage by the famed Olympian Emil ‘The Human Locomotive’ Zatopek goes, “If you want to run, run a mile. But if you want to experience a different life, run a marathon.” I don’t know what epiphany awaits you at the end of your first marathon; mine just propelled me into the world of running.