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Preparing for a Marathon

In many ways, preparing for a marathon or a half marathon is the same as preparing for a 5K or 10K.  When getting ready for any running event, the focus is always on hydration and nutrition.  The difference comes in when you start prepping and what and how much you eat.  The reasoning is simple; the longer the race the earlier you need to start preparing and adding in the right kind of calories.

What to do before a marathon:
  Three to four days before a race, begin adding two to four cups more water per day than you would normally drink.  In total, men need to consume approximately 13 cups per day and women need to consume 9 cups per day when preparing for a long run. 

Being dehydrated at the start of a race can lead to poor performance, so carry that water bottle with you everywhere you go in the days leading up to the race.  It’s probably also a good idea to limit drinks that will dehydrate you like caffeinated soda, coffee and alcohol. 

About four hours before the marathon start, drink an additional one to two cups of water every hour until one hour prior to the race  and then another cup 15 minutes before the race start.

Eat: If you’re able, eat a full meal of low glycemic index carbohydrates, protein and fat (i.e, oatmeal and eggs) about 3 to 4 hours before the race start.  In the 15 to 30 minutes right before the race, eat something light like peanut butter or a piece of fruit that will give you a boost of energy and stick with you but will not weigh you down.

During the marathon:
Hydrate: Take advantage of those water stations!  During the race, be sure to hydrate every 15 to 30 minutes with water, sports drink or a carbohydrate source (at least 25 grams). 

Listen to Your Body: Spring in Raleigh means warmer temperatures and often pollen!  These two factors can put even the most fine-tuned body under additional respiratory stress.  If at any time you feel dizzy, have cramps, are nauseous or feel faint slow down to a stop and take a break.  And, never be embarrassed to try intervals of jogging and walking.

After the marathon:
After the race, you’ll want to replace the fluid you sweated out during the race, so be sure to drink plenty of water. You may also want to consider drinking a sports drink like Gatorade.

Eat: Ingest a snack that has a 3 to 1 carbohydrate to protein ratio that will get into your system quickly (i.e., bagel with cream cheese, fruit and peanut butter).  Bananas and apples also help you replenish your electrolytes.  Every 1 to 2 hours after the race, you’ll want to continue eating mixed meals with a 3 to 1 or 4 to 1 carbohydrate to protein ratio to replenish your body.

Celebrate: Running a marathon or a half marathon is no small feat.  Make sure to take some time to celebrate your accomplishments!

Hailee Wingfield, MA, CISSN, ACSM EP-C, GFI, AHC, is a Fitness Specialist with WakeMed Healthworks.