In 2015 Lynne completed her first marathon (Howgills 26 Trail Marathon) in May and later in the year she successfully finished her first ultra race (the 55km off-road Long Tour of Bradwell (LTOB)). In the weeks and months following each she spent a fair amount of time considering how each had gone, what went well and where she could improve. With only two races over 25 miles under her belt she’s no expert, but she does have a few secret strategies to share with you. We hope they help you with race preparations!
These are Lynne’s 5 top tips when preparing for your first marathon or ultra race:
1. Ensure your fitness is adequate
Is your body prepared for 26.2 miles? Do you know how you will react after 20 miles? If your longest run is 20 miles, how do you really know what you’ll feel like at 24, 25 and approaching the finish line? Those tough training sessions (think long drawn out hill reps or many sessions in the gym doing deadlifts) were not only preparing your physical fitness, but your mental resilience for the points in the race when it’s tough and you just want to sit down.
2. Confidence in your skills
If navigation is involved, get good at it and trust your own interpretation of the route rather than following others blindly – on LTOB I saw two people do just this to their detriment – they had to retrace their steps by about a kilometer uphill. Not what you want when you’ve another 3 hours to run. Same goes for running: you’ve done the training, now trust you know what to do.
3. Practice, practice, practice
I spent a good amount of time going out on runs with all my race kit, ensuring I knew where each item was in the bag, what fluid system worked best for me, what food my digestion would deal with etc. You only know what works for you by repeatedly doing it – so there’s no point going out two weeks before your event with a new type of food and hoping it will be ok, that’s too late. Nutrition and hydration strategies can take many many runs to nail.
Mental preparation comes in two forms, mentioned earlier is the resilience that’s built through challenging training sessions, but you can also prepare by using your imagination. Personally I do this by recceing the route, particularly if I don’t know it, taking pictures at various points for reminders later. There’s also lots of time spent looking at the route map, elevation profile and following the route with online mapping systems. Each time I go over the route it’s a trial run for the event. I know what surfaces I’ll be running on, where there’s a cluster of stiles to negotiate, where the ascents are (and how steep – will I eat there?), what aspects of the route will drain me physically and mentally.
5. Post-race plan
It’s easy to get so focused on the main event that the day comes and goes and you’re left pondering what’s next. My top tip is to have a period of recovery in the diary (including a celebratory meal planned and a massage booked in) and your next goal pencilled in. Even if you don’t have a specific event in the diary, know that after X-weeks you’ll be back into your regular training with focus. After the LTOB I knew I still had two races to compete in for our club championships. That kept me focused and back to training after a decent period of recovery.
If you’d like to get some help getting ready for your first marathon or ultra, and would like to put a little focus into your training get in touch. We can offer you personalised training sessions and weekly plans as part of our Personal Training service. The way we work with people isn’t about punishing gym sessions – we put all of the above into you so you step onto the start line knowing you’ll enjoy the event.