A marathon is a gruelling 42.2km ordeal that should only be undertaken by those who are physically and mentally prepared after months of training. Of course, with this year’s Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon taking place on January 21, it’s too late for us to tell you what you should have done, so we’re instead focusing on how you should prepare in the days that lie ahead.
To talk us through tactics, training and general tips, we spoke to a man who knows the Dubai Marathon better than anyone – Malcolm Murphy of the Dubai Creek Striders, 62 years old and veteran of 12 marathons.
The week before
You’ve done the hard work, now it’s time to relax. This is described as the ‘tapering period’, where runners cut back on long distances to allow their body to recover from the mileage they have accumulated in training. ‘My plan is complete rest the week before a marathon,’ says Malcolm.’ My last run would be 15km at marathon pace the Friday before the race, and possibly a 5km run on the Monday or Tuesday.’
The night before
It’s often assumed that the evening before the race should be dedicated to scoffing carbs. Carbohydrates are stored in the muscles as glycogen, which is then burned as fuel during the race. According to Malcolm, however, carb-loading (consuming lots of pasta and/or potatoes) should begin a few days before the race. ‘I’ll start [carb-loading] on Wednesday night, then continue during lunch and dinner on Thursday.’ However, it’s important not to overeat the night before, lest you wake up on race day bloated or, worse, find yourself caught short mid-race.
Eating isn’t the only concern for runners the night before a marathon – getting a good night’s sleep is essential. This, says Malcolm, is just a matter of getting an early night. The Dubai Marathon starts at 7am, meaning runners will need to be up early anyway, so it’s best to hit the hay at the earliest possible hour. Before you do, however, sort out the little things – have your kit laid out with your number pre-pinned to the front of your vest and make sure your timing chip is securely fastened to your laces. The last thing you need is to be fiddling around with these things minutes before the start gun.
For his pre-marathon breakfast, Malcolm drinks sugary tea with jam and toast – his regular pre-run meal. He says it’s best to stick to the food your body is used to and not to try anything new. However, don’t drink too much caffeine as it can dehydrate you – instead drink plenty of water two hours before the race and top up 15 minutes prior to running. Also remember that carb-loading is over, so don’t weigh yourself down with a heavy breakfast before the race – a bowl of muesli, skimmed milk and sliced banana will provide sufficient fibre, carbohydrate and glucose to stand you in good stead for the event.
Anything else? ‘Make sure you have Vaseline in your tog bag and make sure you put it on!’ warns Malcolm. And he means everywhere: between the toes, down the side of your feet, under the waistband of your shorts, nipples and armpits. This will prevent chafing. Once you’ve greased up, arrive at the race venue an hour before the start. This will give you time to stretch, warm up, deposit your bag and soak up the atmosphere.
Some people run a marathon just to finish it, others run to achieve personal bests. Still, whatever you want from the marathon, it’s sensible to pace yourself from start to finish. ‘Many runners say that you don’t reach half way until you’ve got the last 10km to go,’ advises Malcolm. ‘You should aim to do the second 21km quicker than the first – this is termed “negative splits”. The biggest danger for new runners is to get carried away at the start with the excitement and go too fast in the first 10km – you will pay dearly for it in the last 10km.’ Runners should also keep hydrated throughout. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty. Instead, keep sipping water provided at various points throughout the route.
The Dubai Marathon
Every marathon is different, so what should runners expect from the Dubai race? ‘The current route [along Beach Road] is really boring, but it’s flat,’ says Malcolm, meaning that while there’s not much to look at, it is a fast course and serious runners will look to Dubai to get their personal best. ‘I much preferred the old route through Deira,’ continues Malcolm. ‘But I understand there could well be a new one for 2012!’ Until then, however, the pros will be looking to take advantage of Dubai’s flat, straight course, not only to achieve their own PBs, but to break the world record and scoop the US$1 million prize money for doing so. It shouldn’t be any surprise that the Dubai Marathon offers the biggest monetary incentive for breaking the marathon world record, though, to date, no one has managed to do so yet. Could 2011 be the year?
The 2011 Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon is on January 21 at 7am, starting at Dubai Media City. Online registration is open until January 14. For further details, including a route map, see www.dubaimarathon.org