If you want to run, run a mile. If you want to experience a different life, run a marathon.
– Emil Zatopek, 1952 Olympic Marathon gold medalist
The marathon may not be just a test of physical endurance. In today’s world where work, family and other mundane factors take over our lives running a marathon brings back the competitive edge and perhaps appeals to our primal instincts by pitting us against ourselves. The physical and psychological barriers one overcomes during those 42 km are several.
Before you start
The first thing anyone taking up running should do is consult their doctor and get the clearance to take up a physical activity. Typically people with diabetes, blood pressure, hypertension, other heart conditions must take some precautions before taking up running, since running is an intense cardio-vascular activity. Obesity is another condition which places significant pressure on one’s joints for example, in addition to putting a greater load on the heart. While there are enough runners with one or more of these conditions, it is best to check with one’s doctor before taking up running
Wearing the right stuff
One of the key elements of preparation for a race or even training is wearing appropriate clothing/shoes. Clothing made of special fabric which wicks away sweat are now the norm amongst runners of all hues. A running shoe appropriate to one’s foot type as well as suited for one’s gait with cushioning is usually preferred. The beginner is better off consulting someone experienced on what to wear. Additionally, one must also consider wearing a cap and sunscreen to prevent long term damage to the skin, both during training and on race-day, when the sun is out.
Nutrition is another important part of training and not just for race-day. While one must consume enough food to account for the energy expended during the run, one must also assess one’s calorie intake to understand whether one is consuming less than one’s recommended dietary intake or more and act accordingly. Typically it is recommended that one’s diet must be a healthy mix of carbohydrates, proteins and vitamins (typically from fresh fruits and vegetables). Vegetarians in particular must make special efforts to ensure they get adequate protein in their diet. Further, it is usually advised to consume some food which is protein-rich within the first 30 minutes after exercise, thus maximizing its absorption into one’s body as well as aid recovery
Finally, one must not forget the value of nutrition and recovery which play a significant role in shaping one’s health and fitness. It is not possible for one to perform at one’s best on race-day without eating healthy as well as not getting the required amount of sleep and rest during one’s training.
Although it is true that people who have participated in sports when they were younger may find it easier to begin/resume running since their body is used to some physical activity, anyone who has not run for over a month should start slowly. Just because you have run a marathon 2 years ago does not mean your body is geared to run even a half marathon today. The thumb-rule among experienced runners is to not usually ramp up more than 10% total mileage from week to week. Even professional athletes rarely ramp up by more than that much. That is why typically, their training periods are usually 12 weeks or longer for any given race. And these ride on the back of months and years of regular training. What this means is that if you have run a total mileage around 10 km in a week over 3-4 days, the next week you should not run more a total of more than 11-12 km. This is to ensure your body has adequate time to recover from the exertion.
If you’ve never run before, you should start by walking for 15 minutes every day. Follow this routine for a week and gradually start running for 2 minutes after 10 minute walks. You can increase the running duration by a minute a day till you can run continuously for 10 minutes. In 2 weeks you should be able to able to walk 10 minutes, follow it up with a 10 minute run and walk 10 minutes after the run. After a month one should start running for at least 15-30 minutes. This is where you start thinking of something more ambitious like a 5 km race. If you are unable to do this in say a month, you could take two or even three months to build yourself up gradually to do the same. Patience is a virtue which most distance runner possess. It is also advisable to follow a routine of strengthening of key muscle groups (hamstring, quadriceps, calf, core, glutes) not only in order to improve one’s running but also to stay injury free.