Alex Parren, Personal Trainer, Ultra Runner and Content Writer for Sundried, tells us all about how to run your marathon PB…
Marathon distance is a difficult beast to tame. Running a 5k PB is easy – just run as hard as you can for as long as you can! But the marathon deserves more respect, and you need to nail not only your training but also your hydration and nutrition in order to run at your best and achieve the result you want. Having taken more than an hour off my marathon time over the past few years, I know what it takes to run a solid PB. Here are my top tips.
Follow a proper training plan and commit
Marathon training requires dedication, commitment, and planning. Especially if you’re looking to achieve a PB, you can’t just turn up on the day and hope for the best. Find a proper training plan and stick to it – including any cross training, strength training and rest – as these are just as important as the miles under your belt.
You also need to be realistic about how much time you can commit over the course of your training cycle. If you have a busy work, family and/or social life, you need to determine your priorities in advance. Is it likely you’ll keep skipping your weekend long runs because of family and friends? Will you be running tired miles in the dark after work? Make sure you’re honest with yourself about the amount of commitment you’re able to give so that you can manage your expectations. I was severely under-trained when I ran my first marathon because I skipped so many training sessions, so it’s worth doing it right.
Improve your fitness
It may seem obvious, but you need to make sure your fitness is up to scratch on race day in order to run a solid PB. It can be difficult finding the balance between undertraining and overtraining when it comes to marathon distance, but this is where a proper training plan will help – my personal recommendation is Hal Higdon’s range of plans.
One of the best ways to achieve a surefire marathon PB is to be able to run at your target pace fairly comfortably. This means working on heart rate training throughout your training cycle so that you are at a point where you can maintain a good pace without going over your lactate threshold. That may work for 5k and 10k, but for marathon distance you’ll want to be able to run comfortably.
Nail your hydration and nutrition strategy
This is possibly the most important point on this list as getting your nutrition and hydration wrong on the day could spell disaster, no matter how hard you’ve trained or how many miles you’ve run. A lot of European city marathons like London, Paris, Manchester, and Brighton take place in early spring, which means you’ll be doing the bulk of your training throughout winter. Make sure you adjust your strategy for race day temperatures so there aren’t any surprises. One of the biggest mistakes I made in my first marathon was under-hydrating because race day was very hot, but I’d been training throughout one of the coldest winters in years and wasn’t used to drinking as much during my runs.
Use trial and error in your training and find what works best for you when it comes to nutrition. Most runners use gels, but some find ‘real food’ works better for them. It’s also important to check what sort of nutrition and hydration will be available at the aid stations on race day, as you don’t want to risk gastric issues from taking something your body isn’t used to. If you usually do your long training runs with a hydration bag, practice running through simulated aid stations and grabbing water in your training, as running a marathon with a hydration bag isn’t really conducive to achieving a good time.
Read race reports and choose your race wisely
If you are running a marathon purely to get a PB, it pays to choose the race wisely. You’re less likely to run a PB on a hot, hilly course than you are on a flat course in cooler temperatures. Some of the best city marathons for PBs are Berlin and Asterdam because they are so flat, plus Berlin traditionally takes place in the autumn which means it should be somewhat cooler.
Read race reports from runners who have done the race previously to see if there is anything you can plan for, such as any sneaky inclines or busy parts of the course. Some of the best advice you will get will be from runners who have been there, done that, and got the t-shirt (literally).
Be well prepared
For 5k, 10k, and even half marathon distance, you could turn up on the day and hope for the best and still get a reasonable result. But if you try that for a marathon PB, chances are you’ll hit the wall and be unsuccessful. Don’t leave anything to chance and prepare as much as you can. The old adage that of ‘nothing new on race day’ rings true, meaning no new clothes, food, or drink.
You’ll want to get to that start line feeling as calm and prepared as possible, so check the weather in the weeks before the race, research the course, and plan where you are going to see your friends and family. This is a big one as you don’t want to get distracted looking for them, but it can really help to have them at a point on the course where you may need that extra boost. The more relaxed and happy you feel at the start line, the better your chances of running well and achieving that PB.
For those interested, we also have ‘Spotify’s top playlists and podcasts for those running The London Marathon‘. Perfect for all marathons and all long runs.