Cheat Sheet

Running a Marathon For Dummies

To be the best you can at running a marathon, you need to start by making sure you’re running with proper form. When you have your technique down, you can start thinking about training for the marathon, including the important concept of alternating your pace during workouts. As race day draws near, you’ll want to practice tapering — a reduction in your training to help you recover and stay fresh. And when marathon morning arrives, make sure you remember everything by marking off items on your checklist.

Tips for Improving Your Marathon Running Technique

Having a good form is critical if you run marathons, or you risk injury. Whether you run marathons or just run for fun or fitness, these tips can improve your running form.

  • Land with your feet directly under your hips.

  • Don’t overstride by landing sharply with your heel and your leg out in front of your body. This causes you to decelerate.

  • Make a conscious effort to run as lightly as possible, springing off the ground with each step.

  • Place your foot on the ground directly underneath your hips so that you “roll” into the next stride. Your foot should already be moving backward relative to the ground as it lands so that you have a smooth transition into the next step.

  • Run tall, with your hips directly over your legs.

  • Keep your elbows bent at 90 degrees or slightly less. When your arms flare open, you lengthen your levers, which makes swinging your arms more difficult.

  • Don’t allow your arms to cross over the midline of your chest. Direct all your effort into moving your body forward; when your arms cross your chest, your torso starts twisting and you add undesirable sideways movement.

  • Keep the palms of your hands facing your body and cup your hands like you’re gently holding a potato chip. Relax your hands and arms so you don’t create tension in your upper body.

  • Swing your arms with quick, compact movements. Your legs do what your arms do, so quick arms means quick legs.

  • To run faster, increase the cadence of your arms, but keep the movements controlled and compact.

Pacing Guidelines for Marathon Training Workouts

When you train for a marathon, every workout you do has a specific pace associated with it so you gain the most value from it. Use these pacing guidelines for your workouts.

Recreational runners should follow these guidelines for tempo runs and intervals:

  • Tempo runs (runs at your tempo pace, which corresponds to your fastest sustainable aerobic pace)

    • About 10 to 15 seconds per mile slower than the pace you run for a 5K race

    • Equal or very close to the pace you run for a 10K race (if you’re slower than about 53:00 for 10K, your tempo pace will be slightly faster than 10K race pace)

    • 80 to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate. You can determine your max heart rate by running a mile on a track (usually four laps on an outdoor track) while wearing a heart rate monitor and running each lap faster than the one before it so that you’re running all-out over the last lap.

  • Intervals (periods of hard running interspersed with recovery periods)

    • Between mile and 2-mile (3K) race pace

    • About 20 to 25 seconds per mile faster than 5K race pace

    • About 40 to 45 seconds per mile faster than 10K race pace

    • 95 to 100 percent of max heart rate

Competitive and highly trained runners should follow these guidelines for tempo runs and intervals:

  • Tempo runs

    • About 25 to 30 seconds per mile slower than 5K race pace

    • About 15 to 20 seconds per mile slower than 10K race pace

    • 85 to 90 percent of max heart rate

  • Intervals

    • Equal or very close to 2-mile (3K) race pace

    • About 10 to 15 seconds per mile faster than 5K race pace

    • About 25 to 30 seconds per mile faster than 10K race pace

    • 95 to 100 percent of max heart rate

Tapering Tips for the Marathon

Tapering, which is a reduction in your marathon training, enables you to recover from the training you’ve completed so that you’re fresh and ready to go on race day. Follow these tapering guidelines before your marathon:

  • Reduce your running volume but maintain the intensity with tempo runs and interval workouts.

  • Don’t try any new workouts.

  • Increase how much carbohydrate you eat to at least 70 percent of your calories over the final week before your marathon.

  • Stay hydrated by drinking enough water and sports drinks that your urine is a pale yellow color.

For a 3-week taper, reduce your peak weekly mileage by

  • 30 percent the first week

  • 50 percent the second week

  • 65 percent the week of the marathon (not counting the marathon itself)

Making a Marathon Day Checklist

As one coach used to say, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Plan for running a successful marathon with this checklist of things you don’t want to forget on marathon race day:

  • Eat a small breakfast containing 300 to 400 calories of carbohydrate and protein 1.5 to 2 hours before the start.

  • Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! Drink 16 ounces of water or a sports drink 2 hours before the start and keep sipping until about 15 minutes before the start.

  • Check your gear at the start.

  • Go to the bathroom.

  • Warm up only a little to get rid of pre-race jitters. Walk or jog for about a half-mile and do some dynamic stretching exercises, moving your legs through their range of motion.

  • Apply BodyGlide to inner thighs, nipples, and below armpits to prevent chafing.

  • Pin your race number to your shirt.

  • Stick a couple of energy gels in your shorts pocket.

  • Attach your timing chip to your shoe.

  • Double knot your shoes.

  • Find your pace group at the start.

  • Remind yourself to have fun.

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