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Running a marathon? Use your head!

Running a marathon? Use your head!

In the UK, there are more marathon races in April and May than at any other time of the year.

Crazed, mud-splattered competitions with “tough” in the title may be all the rage but a marathon is a slog that wholly deserves the epic badge.

For all those road warriors about to undertake the mighty challenge, this week’s countdown column is dedicated to you! If you are more of a 10k-er or are attempting the half, this advice is still good food for thought, so read on.


People often experience gastrointestinal problems during the marathon such as feeling sick or needing the toilet because they are running at a higher intensity than they’re used to in training and then take energy gels or drinks that they haven’t practised with in training.

To help minimise the risk of this, now’s the time to make sure you’ve tried the drink or gel you’ll be using during the race in a few high-intensity training sessions. Other than that, just eat as you have been during training so far. No exotic new cuisines.


What you eat in the three to four days before the race makes a real difference to how well prepared you are to cover 26.2 miles without running out of fuel. By eating a carbohydrate-rich diet you can maximise the amount of glycogen (stored carbohydrate) in your muscles.

Because you should be taking it easy with your training by now, there’s no need to eat loads more than you have been in your training, as you won’t be burning it all off. But do try to ensure that you eat regularly, get most of your energy from carbohydrate and have some lean protein at most meals.

Also, keep an eye on the colour of your urine – it should be clear and pale. If it is dark, you need to drink more fluids. Drinking small amounts regularly throughout the day is better for keeping you hydrated than drinking large amounts in one go.


Choose a meal that you’re used to eating and have a decent plateful. Super-sizing your pre-race grub is the general consensus but stressing your digestion can interfere with sleep, so I suggest having a decent dinner and building in an additional pre-sleep snack instead.

Any sensible person would know to avoid booze the night before the marathon but I do know one bloke who ran the London Marathon with a hangover. Not clever and not recommended.


The aim is to start the race hydrated so you should regularly sip fluids in the hours before. Have as big a breakfast as you can manage, ideally 3-4 hours before the race. Again, the most important thing is that the breakfast is something you’re used to eating before you run.

Caffeine can help boost running performance, but don’t be tempted to take an energy drink/gel that contains caffeine unless you’re already used to it. If you normally have tea or coffee in the morning, have just one or two cups.


It’s a good idea to check out in advance what’s going to be available at the race itself. What type of sports drinks or gels are supplied? Are you going to use those or bring your own? And take note of what mile-marker drinks are available.

During the marathon, aim to drink mainly sports drinks, as this will keep you hydrated but will also provide carbohydrate to help maintain your energy levels and electrolytes to replace the sodium you lose in sweat. Around 400-800ml/hour is generally recommended, but focus on drinking regularly, just as much as you need to quench your thirst, rather than trying to drink a specific amount. Drinking too much is just as dangerous as not drinking enough.

Saying that, all runners develop individual idiosyncrasies. Mine was an obsession with little licorice bears that provided a nice energy boost alongside a masochistic pleasure from biting their heads off. Hey, don’t judge me. When your legs hurt so much, any little distraction technique is worth it.


You’ll have burned 2,500-3,000kcal during the race and taken in nowhere near this amount, even if you did have a huge breakfast and a drink at every station. Consume the post-race drinks and snacks as these can help with recovery. When night falls and the achievement finally sinks in, ignore all the rules and celebrate in style!