My Marathon Experience

About 10 months ago at a friend’s engagement party over a couple of champagnes I somehow got dragged into a pinkie-promise between three of us to each complete our first Marathon this year! Thus began my journey to Melbourne Marathon 2014.


So how did I prepare myself for the 42.195 km I was going to run on October the 12th 2014? Making the decision to participate at the very end of February I had seven and a half months, which I broke down into monthly increments so that the task ahead didn’t seem so daunting.


Training: Having a reasonable base line fitness and completing a 90 km bike ride as part of a team at the Busselton Half Ironman in May 2014 meant that the first half of the year was consumed mainly with training on the bike. After the event I allowed my body a month to recover and enjoy some (well deserved) down time before I got stuck into my run training in early June. This gave me about 4 months to mentally and physically prepare myself for this 42.195km run. I tried to keep things simple! For the first couple of months my training my weeks looked something like this:

Monday – 7 km run (to work) Tuesday – Rest day Wednesday – 7 km run (to work) Thursday –2 km swim Friday – Rest day Saturday – Yoga or Pilates Sunday – long run building from 10kms with an extra 1-2 km each weekend until I reached 25kms in late August


In early September, I was very fortunate to cross paths with a colleague who unknown to me was a previous multiple marathon finisher with some coaching experience. That’s when things started to get interesting. Ramping up the runs to four a week, including both a long and short interval session, plus progressing my Sunday run up towards 34km two weeks out from race day allowed me to increase my pace, mentally prepare myself for what to expect over long distances and try out different fuel options for race day. This leads me to my next part of race day preparation: Nutrition.


Nutrition: Having participated in endurance events previously I did have a bit of an idea about what I might consume during my run. However, in triathlons I usually would have the leisure of consuming the majority of my calories on the ride, all conveniently carried on my bike. This meant I was going to have to work out the best way to carry what I wanted during the race and test out what caused the least gut discomfort. I knew there was going to be hydration stations along the way but I prefer to choose my own nutrition and not rely on someone handing me a cup every 5 km or so!!


This is what I ended up settling on as my race day nutrition plan: 3 x 160 ml water bottles kept in my nutrition belt 1 with raspberry Gatorade, 1 with lemon/lime Gatorade, 1 with good old H2O. These were to sip on as desired and refill with water at hydration stations once empty. I also planned to carry 1 banana, 1 Turkish delight cut into three slices, and 4 Endura gels (my gel of choice). These were to be consumed at 45 minute intervals throughout the race. Nutrition is definitely NOT a one size fits all and whatever you choose, you should trial during long training runs on multiple occasions.


General rule: aim for 30-60 g carbohydrates and start to consume fluid early in the event and regularly throughout to maintain hydration and prevent gut discomfort (Burke and Deakin 2010). It is best for your fuel choices to be simple carbohydrates which can be easily absorbed and minimise gut issues/discomfort.


A common question is whether or not to “carb load”. For an event where you are going to ask your body to perform at a high level for an extended amount of time I would say yes. It is important that your bodies glycogen stores (what you will draw upon for energy during your race) are topped up as much as possible. As I was travelling from Perth to Melbourne for the event it was important that I planned out how I was going to achieve this away from my normal environment while maintaining my dietary requirements (gluten free/vegetarian). I opted to stay in a self-catered apartment to make this slightly easier as we didn’t have to dine out for every single meal.


This is roughly what my intake looked like leading up to the event from Thursday to Saturday:

Breakfast: cereal + yoghurt + fruit with a glass of juice or chocolate milk Morning tea: muesli bar + banana Lunch: sushi or gluten free burger + soft drink Afternoon tea: low fat yoghurt + fruit

Always good to put everything you need out the night before to avoid any last minute panics!

Dinner: gluten free pasta or risotto or Japanese with plenty of rice + soft drink Supper: creamed rice or fruit and custard or ice-cream

(Aiming for approx. 8g/kg/body weight of carbohydrates per day)

With my glycogen stores all toped up I was ready to race!


Race Day:

4:30am: Wake up call. With plenty of nerves and my stomach doing somersaults I made sure I gave myself plenty of time to have breakfast in a nice relaxed environment. Trying to remain as calm as possible I made my 2 x toast with honey and banana and sat down for a good 10 minutes to eat them nice and slowly. I kept my pre-race breakfasts relatively light to minimise gut discomfort. If you can stomach it, a slightly higher carbohydrate load would be beneficial to keep those glycogen stores topped up! 6:00am: Set off to the start line. With a 15 minute walk to the start line you would think I could have given myself a bit more of a sleep in. However, I wanted to make sure I had enough time to get there, have one last toilet stop, soak up the atmosphere and get into place in my race start group. 6:30am: another banana! 6:58am: Extremely excited!!!! 7:00am: The gun goes and we’re off.


The next 4 hours was a bit of a blur but from what I remember it went something like this…

With the Melbourne streets all the way out to St Kilda lined with spectators, volunteers and race officials we made our way along a beautiful course with the blessing of ideal race weather. I managed to stick relatively well to my nutrition plan taking on either a banana, gel or slice of Turkish delight every 40-45 minutes and sipping my way through about 8 of my 160 mL water bottles in total after refilling while running past a few hydration stations in the second half of the course (probably not quite enough fluid in total but nothing ever goes 100% to plan). I felt strong along the way, sticking to the pace my trainer had recommended, increasing speed in the last 15 km. It was amazing, running along with the 6000+ other crazy people who though it would be a really good idea to sign up for an event which would mentally and physically test them, not racing against each other, but with each other, giving encouraging words as you ran past other competitors we all made our crazy way to the finish line.

Big thumbs up at the 20 km mark


Results & My Goal:


- 4 hours would be amazing

- 4 hours 12 minutes would be great (10km/hour pace)

Did I make it? Well almost. My final official time was 4 hours 2 minutes and 4 seconds. However, my trustee Garmin said that I ran 42.75km so when it ticked over to the 42.195km mark I was at 3 hours, 59 minutes and 47 seconds, so in my eyes I reached my goal and either way could not be happier.


Key points

Training:

  • Have a plan and get some professional input if you can

  • Include interval sessions to improve your pace

  • Build up the distance steadily in training to minimise risk of injury

  • If you get a “niggle” get it checked out to avoid over use/stress injuries

Nutrition:

  • Practice, practice, practice!

  • Carry what you need or train with what’s going to be available on race day.

  • Aim to consume approx. 30-60 g carbohydrates every hour

  • Keep well hydrated by having small/regular fluid intake

Race day:

  • Allow plenty of time for breakfast and getting to the start line

  • Stick to your planned race pace (it’s easy to get caught up in the event atmosphere and end up setting off too fast and running out of steam later on)

  • Stick to your nutrition and hydration plan

  • Enjoy yourself!


All of this would not have been possible without the support from my family, partner and friends, assistance from Martin my trainer, Chris from WA Health Group for his physiotherapy skills in preventing my body from falling apart and Christy from Treat 360 Massage for relieving some of the aches and pains which came with the longer training runs. Last but not least a big thanks to Sam and Emma for talking me into making a promise to do a marathon! In case you were wondering, they also completed there’s, Sam at the City to Surf in August and Emma at the Busselton marathon which happened to fall on the same day as Melbourne. I won’t say that was my last marathon but I think I will give myself a bit of a break before I start planning for the next event to tick off my list… a full Ironman!


Reference: Burke, L. and V. Deakin. 2010. Clinical Sports Nutrition 4th edition. McGraw-Hill Australia: North Ryde

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