Peter Maher presents his blueprint for taking on the marathon challenge (Irish Runner May 2010)Cork City Marathon Image

1) COMMITMENT: It might seem obvious, but this is a cornerstone for running a successful marathon. You will be a different person within a few short weeks of stepping out on your marathon challenge. You will eat, sleep and socialise in a completely different way because of the demands running a marathon will put on you. Giving up some of the old ways will be difficult at first, but in time the running will become your drug of choice. You will never be the same person again after running a marathon. It’s a great journey.

2) BE FLEXIBLE: Don’t just don’t clone a training programme from the internet and say that’s the one for me. You must find out and be aware of what works for you. Talk to experienced marathoners and get some professional advice if necessary. Test yourself, but don’t stress yourself.

3) FIND RUNNING BUDDIES: This is a great way to keep your commitment up. Run with several people at a dedicated time and place. When it becomes a ritual, you will not want to let the group down.

4) LOOK AT THE BIG PICTURE: Marathon training is a complete package for the body and mind – not just a physical grind towards the big run on the horizon. Educate yourself about nutrition, hydration, stretching, shoes, injury prevention, recovery and psychology of marathon running. Train in holistic manner, enjoy your training – it should never be drudgery. The principle I use to gauge whether it’s going well is to ask am I bringing vigour to my running. If you don’t have a sense of vigour, you are possibly doing 2much, 2soon, 2fast.

5) RESPECT: The first time marathoner can often be fearful about the challenge ahead, but fear is counter-productive and will drain your efforts. Instead, cultivate an attitude of respect for the distance. Even today, I respect the distance. With the respect for the distance and all it entails, you can win.

6) LISTEN TO YOUR BODY: Don’t slavishly follow the schedule when you feel low, and if you do feel low look at the ‘2’ rules I mentioned earlier. They are a great way of monitoring the awareness component. And remember, all runners fail on the ‘2’ rules at some time.

7) BEWARE OF MIND GAMES: There are times that your mind will try and convince you that the run today is not on. I deal with this by putting the gear on and running easy for five to ten minutes to see how I feel. More often than not, you will find you are moving great and enjoying the experience once the O2 penetrates the lungs and the body begins to cleanse the stress of the day. However, if you still feel poorly after a mile or so, then call it a day.

8) NO SHORTCUTS: Paul Poce, my coach from my Toronto Olympic days, always emphasised that there are no short cuts to success in a marathon. The long runs must be done. One important point here is that it’s very important to run long but easy. The more consistent you are on completing long runs, the better your chance of winning the eventual battle.

9) DRINK, DRINK, DRINK: The build-up to the Cork and Dublin marathons comes at a great time when the weather is on the up and one feels more inclined to avail of the longer and warmer days. But be very aware of dehydration as you build. The extra mileage and heat can lead to dehydration which is one of the main causes of injuries I see in marathoners. Drink before, during and after your runs. I recommend two litres of water daily while building for a marathon.

10) LESS IS MORE: A major flaw in most marathon schedules is the emphasis on excessive mileage that often leads to over-use injuries. The awareness factor is once again the key here: you need to push yourself to the red line of discomfort but not beyond it. It’s better to err on the side of being under-trained than burnt out. Nobody likes eating burnt cake.

11) STRETCH AND STRETCH AGAIN: I would go further than just stretching before and after training. Your body will thank you if you make a habit of stretching outside of training. On days off it’s really good to add a stretch out to assist in the body’s recovery. Keeping the muscles, tendons loose and relaxed not only aids in the recovery, but enhances stride and gait alignment and performance.

12) FEED THE BEAST: It’s very important to refuel the body asap after training. Studies suggest that the window of best opportunity is within 20 minutes of finishing your long or fast workout. Apart from loading up with the right carbs and proteins, a balance of food that takes the body towards alkalinity will further enhance your recovery.

13) ENJOY THE JOURNEY: Completing a marathon is a great achievement, but remember that joy and fun are part of the deal too. Get the most out of the experience by developing a lightness of spirit about training and the journey you are on. Otherwise, running will become a chore and you will slip into the dreaded drudgery and staleness of over-training.