In the weeks leading up to the 2020 Little Rock Marathon, it’s more important than ever to practice a safe and effective exercise routine, get plenty of rest, and maintain a diet that will fuel your body without weighing it down. With proper preparation, you’ll be able to minimize the chance of injury and use your training to your full potential on March 1st.
Read on for an overview of the marathon training process with advice from blogger Tia Stone, a 3-time winner of the Little Rock Marathon.
Long-Term Marathon Training
Preparing to run a marathon takes months of dedication and training. Therefore, we do not recommend running in the 2020 Little Rock Marathon if you have not been training up to this point. If that’s the case, don’t be discouraged—now is the perfect time to learn how to train for marathons so you will be prepared for races in the future!
The length of time it will take for you to train for a marathon depends on your current activity level. “A common myth I hear about marathon training is how much time it will take,” says Stone. “If you are already used to training for half-marathons or other distances, you can train for a marathon. Yes, you have to plan out your schedule and there are a few longer runs, but it is very doable.”
In August 2019, the Little Rock Marathon began an official training program that was free to anyone registered to run in the 2020 race. If you didn’t take advantage of the free training this year, be sure to look into it next year—having access to trainers and sports medicine specialists can help prevent injuries, improve your results, and prepare you for a successful run.
Feeling intimidated about training for your very first marathon? Stone uses a quote from Amelia Earhart to inspire her when she begins a new training cycle: “The most effective way to do it is to do it.”
“Just start where you are! Start easy and make it work with your schedule,” she explains. “I found my first marathon training online for free. Find a plan that fits your race goal and take it one day at a time.”
Regardless of how far you are in your marathon journey, some training essentials for any safe and successful endurance run include:
- Starting with short runs, including sprints, then building to longer distances over a period of weeks
- Weight training to improve muscles performance
- Focusing on core strength
- Eating a balanced diet rich in protein and fiber
- Stretching before and after every run and exercise routine to minimize the chance of injury
What You Need to Do—and Not Do
Properly preparing for the Little Rock Marathon is especially crucial in the last few weeks. During this final phase, don’t make the mistake many novices do of continuing to run full marathon distances as practice. If you’ve been training and conditioning your body for months, your strength, endurance, and muscle memory will all continue to perform even if you lessen your routine a bit. In fact, by giving your body a chance to recover and rest, you give it the chance to perform even better on race day.
Most experts agree that you should do a final practice run of about 20 miles two or three weeks before the event. During this run, be sure to follow the strategy you plan to use for the actual marathon: wear the same shoes and clothing, eat the same meal the night before, and have the same breakfast you plan to eat on the morning of the race.
After you’ve completed this final trial run, dial back your exercise. That doesn’t mean you should become a couch potato—this can lead to injuries on the day of the marathon. Instead, focus on specific types of exercise that will keep your body working strong and hard while allowing it to get a much-needed break. Do short, intense exercise sessions of about a half-hour each and continue with core conditioning. Do not add new or more intense training, as you could develop injuries or inflammation that will put you out of commission for the Little Rock Marathon when the time comes.
Rest and Body Care
Although you should always get plenty of sleep when you’re training for any endurance event, it’s particularly important in the last two weeks before a marathon. Sleep allows your body to restore itself from intensive training, repairing cells and muscles.
Seven to nine hours of sleep is optimal, but your body will likely tell you what you need. For example, if you’ve been getting up early to train, your body clock may continue to rouse you in the early morning. This means you should go to bed earlier to make sure you’re getting enough rest.
This is also an excellent time to use yoga or Pilates to keep your body limber and your muscles stretched and supple. If you practice a regular routine of yoga or Pilates, you’ll be less likely to develop muscle strains or cramps. Sports massage is also an excellent way to prepare. Rather than thinking of massage as an indulgence, consider it part of your marathon training: it promotes circulation, soothes muscles, and improves your frame of mind while relaxing away any kinks.
The Last 24 Hours
The night before and the morning of the race are critical to ensuring all your marathon training pays off. Your last meal on the day before the marathon is the time to “carbo load” to make sure you have enough fuel to take you through the entire distance.
Not sure how to load up on carbs? Complex carbohydrates are what you’re looking for, not simple carbs that burn off quickly (think sweet potatoes, quinoa, and black beans instead of pasta and bread). Add in some lean protein such as chicken or tofu. Keep in mind that carbo-loading doesn’t mean stuffing yourself. Eat a good meal, but don’t overdo it—you don’t want to be sluggish tomorrow!
Sleep is essential, but nerves can make it challenging to fall asleep the night before a marathon. Try to do something relaxing before bed that doesn’t over-stimulate you. Avoid a lot of screen time, as blue light from screens can make it difficult to sleep. Hydrate well before going to bed and turn in early.
The Morning of the Marathon
Race day will dawn bright and early. Start with two full glasses of water to get hydrated. Have a good breakfast with foods such as fresh fruit, eggs, and oats to give you sustained energy.
Prep your body before leaving for the starting line. Apply a thin layer of petroleum jelly to your body and feet—wherever your skin will experience lots of rubbing over the next several hours. This helps prevent hot spots that could lead to blisters or broken skin. Band-Aids are also a good way to prevent chafing and raw, painful skin in sensitive areas of the body. As you dress, double-check your shoelaces and clothing to make sure everything is in good repair.
Before the race, do some stretches to make sure you’re limber and your muscles are warmed up. Bring a water bottle with you with some kind of sports drink in it. You don’t want to drink too much at once, but small sips will give you the electrolytes and salt you’ll need as you run. Make sure you take the time to hydrate periodically throughout the marathon.
“If I could give one piece of advice to any marathon runner, it would be to enjoy the process!” says Stone. “Yes, the race is special, but all the days and miles it took to reach the starting line is part of the marathon experience. Soak it all in! When you look back at your marathon, you will remember all the work you put into it and what you accomplished in the journey.”
Injury Prevention & Management
While these tips help reduce the chance of getting hurt while preparing for or participating in the Little Rock Marathon, there is always a chance of sports-related orthopedic injury. If you are injured, Arkansas Surgical Hospital can help you recover safely. Contact us at (877) 918-7020 for help scheduling an appointment.
About Tia Stone: Blogger Tia Stone has raced in 26 marathons since 2010. She has run the Little Rock Marathon five times, winning it in 2016, 2017, and 2018. To learn more about Tia, visit her blog, Arkansas Runner Mom.