Training for a marathon means more than just putting in the miles! Mental preparation, nutrition and a varied training plan is equally important.
With the Manchester Marathon quickly approaching, we sat down with marathon runner and Barry’s trainer, Amy Hughes.
In 2014, she broke the world-record for the number of marathons ran on consecutive days, with a total of 53 – surpassing the previous woman’s record of 17 and men’s record of 52.
Whether you’re thinking about running your first marathon or your 21st, it’s worth listening to what she has to say.
Here’s how the conversation went…
What inspired you to take on the record-breaking challenge?
Well believe it or not, I used to hate sport all the way through school and then I started running in college in order to get fit because I was too embarrassed to go to a gym – so that’s where it all stemmed from. When I did my first run, I probably didn’t even do half a mile, but I loved every minute of it and then started doing it more and more and eventually got into marathons. And when I was training to be a PT, I noticed a lot of girls were in the same position as me, so really my main drive behind it was to inspire other people – especially young girls and get as many people involved as possible. So, I travelled around the UK and did a marathon in each city with the aim of getting people engaged – and it gradually built more and more momentum.
The charity element was also a big one – we ended up raising over £53,000 for the Isabelle Lottie Foundation which was set up after my friend’s daughter was diagnosed with a brain tumour.
What advice would you give to people who were planning to run a marathon?
It’s really important to make sure you’ve got a good training plan that works for you, because at the end of the day, everybody is different. Sometimes people can get too attached to advice, but I’m a big believer in listening to your body. People often panic if they must take time off to let an injury heal, but it’s all about being sensible and doing what you can when you can do it.
Everyone’s body is different, so it’s important to experiment and find out what works best for you. Especially when it comes to nutrition – some people will run after a full meal and some will run on an empty stomach. In your training, it is important to test things out and then replicate what works best on race day, so you know what to expect and there aren’t any unpleasant surprises.
It’s also essential to enjoy your training, which might sound silly, but some people get too caught up in it and then it becomes a chore. You need to mix it up and give your body a break.
I couldn’t recommend Barry’s more highly as it’s a great way to change it up. It’s important for runners to do something other than just run. Conditioning and HIIT workouts are imperative to build-up strength and power in order to withstand the continual pounding that comes with long distance running. Strength training is equally as important as running, which is why Barry’s is the perfect combination. If you don’t develop your muscles and joints, it’s going to be even more of a challenge and you’ll likely get injured. One long run per week should suffice, if you are combining that with different types of training too.
My last tip would be to make sure you recover properly after the race – get a good meal in, keep moving, have a sports massage and maybe take some time off…
How would you mentally prepare for a run?
Mental preparation is difficult as they say long distance running is actually 80% mental, but again different strategies work for different people. For me, running for a charity really spurs me a long, especially if it’s personal – so that’s always in the back of my mind.
Do you have any nutrition tips?
Nutrition is key. Prior to your run, make sure you test a variety of food options and figure out exactly what is most effective. Carbohydrates are essential for fuelling your body and maintaining energy. It’s important to increase your carbohydrate intake moderately in the days before your race to fill up your glycogen stores. So, plenty of brown pasta, rice, quinoa and make sure you get enough protein in your system too. However, I’d strongly advise you not to run on a full breakfast – I’ve done that before, and it isn’t very pleasant. Nutrition isn’t rocket science – it’s about being sensible, because you know what’s good and bad for you. Stick to a balanced diet and fuel your body with healthy and nutritious foods – bananas, peanut butter on toast, porridge, eggs. Listen to your body – if you’re feeling hungry, tired or faint during a run or Barry’s class, then you know you’re not eating enough and you need more calories – just make sure it’s more of the good stuff, like your proteins, your basic carbs. Isotonic drinks are also good for energy. Gels work for some people too, but I personally don’t like using them. It’s recommended you take a gel every 6 miles or so, but on a run, I’d rather take Jelly Babies, Percy Pigs, flapjacks and that kind of thing. But trial and test everything!
In terms of recovery, protein is key, so bars and shakes can be beneficial post-race – like the ones we serve after a class from the Fuel Bar at Barry’s. But if these don’t do it for you can get the source from elsewhere, but if you’re on the go or in a rush, shakes are an easy way to replenish those calories lost and the protein needed for effective recovery.
How important is having the right equipment?
I get asked this all the time and having a good pair of running trainers is so important, but make sure you do your research. Everyone’s running style is slightly different and everyone’s feet are different, so get them tested. A pair of trainers could be great for me, but bad for you – you’ve got pronation, neutral and supination, so make sure you find the fit that suits your running style. I’d say getting your feet examined is my number one tip – places like Up and Running will get you up on a treadmill and tell you what shoe will work best for you. For me Brooks and New Balance work well so I’d recommend those, but everyone is different. A bad pair of trainers will likely just result in injury, so it’s good to see somebody who knows what they’re talking about.
Do you have any advice during the race with regards to the mental and physical battle?
Pace yourself – especially if it’s your first marathon. It’s very easy to get excited in that environment, with the crowd and spectators cheering you along. If you’ve done your training, you’ll know what pace you’re capable of and what you’re aiming for, so be disciplined and stick to that and try not to get too excited at the start. I’ve done that so many times and regretted it further into the race. Also, I’d say just enjoy it – obviously it depends what you’re doing it for really. If you’re focus is getting a PB, that’s fine, but if it’s your first time and just want to get through it – enjoy yourself. Don’t get too stressed about your time, just soak up the atmosphere because the crowds are amazing – especially in Manchester. If you’re also passionate about what you’re running for, it should make it much easier, as it keeps you going. Make sure you breakdown the race – if you’re struggling, just think about getting through the next mile, which is nothing in the grand scheme. When you get to that mile, focus on the next mile or the next few miles. Different coping strategies work for different people, some people might break it down into mile blocks, others might just go out and run the whole thing without thinking twice. For me, I just think about the short term when I’m tired or I’m flagging to get through the next segment. Music is also a good one to keep you distracted, but I also quite like turning my music off when I see crowds as that spurs me a long.
Hydration is also so important, so eat and drink lots in the days leading up, and it will make the race feel a whole lot easier. Ultimately if you’ve prepared and you’ve done the training, you’ll be fine – just make sure you taper your running two weeks before by reducing your distances to take the load off your legs, so you’re fresh on the day.
You might not think it but running a marathon can be enjoyable. There’s so much to see on course, crowds cheering your name, children handing out sweets and high fives, music to keep you going – and much more! Make all that training worthwhile and be proud of what you’re achieving. The great thing about running is that it gives everybody something different – an opportunity to clear your head and blow off some steam or socialise with many like-minded people. It’s important to find your reason before you take on a marathon. For me, it’s to inspire people, raise awareness and clear my head.