As the legend goes, the Greek war messenger, Pheidippides, ran from the Battlefield of Marathon in Greece to Athens to deliver the wonderful news of the victory of the Greeks against the Persians at Marathon. Tragically, Pheidippides died only seconds after delivering the news to his fellow Greeks. Now, the accuracy of the legend may be widely debated, but Pheidippides has entered the Greek folklore and indeed that of the world on the whole. And since the run has been pegged to be a major race in different parts of the world, and also an Olympic event, running a marathon comes up more than once in a year!
A marathon race requires the participant to run 26.2 miles. So, it goes without saying that the marathon is an unusually long race and requires optimal fitness levels, both mental and physical, which can take months to achieve.
A few caveats though. As wondrous as the human body is with all those exceptional cases, it is not advisable for people of an advancing age, with no prior running or jogging experience to participate in a marathon, or even train for it. Even people with heart-related illnesses are better off not running this event. While it is alright to participate all for the fun of it, participating to win it may not be an achievable ideal. After all, safety comes first!
But for all those who are completely dedicated to the task of participating and completing a marathon, here are some helpful tips.
Start Training Now
Even if you have run races before, or you are a sportsperson, or any normal fit person, you have to start training for the marathon well in advance. This is a completely different kind of race, which tests the stamina of the runner on a different level altogether! When you start training, you need to train with long runs rather than short bursts of fast runs. Hence, running a marathon requires different types of training. Start with 2-3 miles and slowly increase the number of miles you run every other week. Don't focus on the time at this stage. Just focus on completing the run.
You might have to completely overhaul your diet plan, unless of course you follow the ideal diet already. It may be a good idea to try losing those extra pounds 6 months before the race. After all, less weight means you'll be running with lesser baggage than usual, which will make it a lot easier. But 6 months before the race and onwards, you need to follow a diet plan which ensures that you have the energy to train for running such a long race.
And energy means a lot of carbohydrate foods. Do not try and cut the calorie consumption during this period, because running the marathon will require a lot of energy that a lo-carb diet will not be able to provide. The diet will also have to be well balanced, which focuses on replenish and repair after the training sessions; and nourish before them.
This is a very important part in the training as well as on the race-day. During the training, the race rehearsals and the race itself, your body will be depleted of its water resources to a whole new level. Your body will need the water and electrolytes to keep functioning normally, since runners lose a lot of it through sweating. Overhydration, which is a new concern at recent marathons, is related to drinking lots of water during the race or training for it. Overhydration leads to dilution of sodium, which can lead to seizures and vomiting. Hence, a personalized consumption schedule for water consumption should be made according to the person's weight, sweat-rate, gender, and the climate outside.
Ideally, you should be able to run the marathon at least a month before the actual date. You should have your training schedule in place. Also, strategize the run like where to run fast and where to conserve energy. Different people have different strategies; some like to go faster during a slight climb, and others like to accelerate in the long straight sectors of the race. Your strategy really depends on what you can do and where you can accelerate with best the results. So, you need to plan that out as well by practicing. Time yourself, identify the areas where you're not doing too well, and learn to overcome those.
In 2005, the average time to complete a marathon was 4 hours 32 minutes for men, and 5 hours 6 minutes for women. Elite marathoners complete it in under 3 hours consistently.
The training for the marathon and the half marathon is similar. It is recommended to have a group of other participants with you who can motivate you and compete with you too.