So, you have completed many weeks and even months of walking training to build up to walking 20 miles as your longest walk. It doesn’t matter how long it’s taken to get here but you must have completed at least a 20 mile walk 2-3 weeks before the main event.
SET YOUR APPROXIMATE FINISH TIME
Even though you may have the goal just to finish the marathon, it is a good idea to set a goal for your approximate finish time. This will help you judge the pace to walk your training sessions. Another idea to help you from this point is to know where you are at now: measure a one mile walking route. Then time your self walking that route at a comfortable pace for you. That will give you an idea of your per mile pace. Check yourself once a month to see how you have progressed.
Using this as a rule of thumb, use your “Easy Days” to do a slow to moderate (comfortable) paced walk. Use this as an “active” rest day. This is a great time to practice technique and form.
A Medium Distance walk should be at the same approximate speed as you will use during the marathon. For instance, if your goal is to finish in approximately 6 1/2 hours (which is the speed most walking marathons set), that’s a marathon pace of about 15 minute miles. Hence, during your training, on the “Medium Days” you should walk the mileage indicated at the 15 minute mile pace. (For those who are really interested in speed, they can supplement their “medium” days by doing some intermittent interval training).
Don’t forget your “Cross Training Days” where you do Pilates, Yoga, perhaps swimming or cycling. This is important to do to avoid mental burnout as well as to work the muscles in a different way so you will have a more balanced conditioning, thus avoiding injury.
“TAPERING OFF” 3 WEEKS BEFORE THE BIG DAY
Tapering is reducing your long mileage in the two or even three weeks before a distance event, especially the marathon. Tapering is the recommended plan to be ready for race day.
How to do Tapering
The longest-mileage day in training for a marathon should be done three weeks before the event. That longest-mileage day should be 20 miles.
After the longest-mileage day, you reduce your mileage to half of the race distance for your long-mileage day in the three weeks before the marathon. You will walk no more than 10-12 miles.
Why Do You Taper for the Marathon?
When you give your body three weeks to heal and repair after the longest mileage day your ensure you are in race-ready condition on race day. The long mileage day will put stress on your body and can cause damage.
By taking three weeks at lower mileage, you give the body’s energy systems a chance to fully restore. You allow the muscles to repair and rebuild.
The long-mileage day followed by the taper also gives time to fully heal up any foot blisters. When they are fully healed, they are also toughened and less likely to blister on race day. Blisters can be a big issue for some people.
Sleep During the Taper
Racers should try to get full nights of sleep during the tapering period. Your body does its best repair work during sleep. You’ve put in long mileage, now put in long pillow time so your body can do the restorative work and build your muscles and energy systems. If you are going to be traveling to your race, try to arrive more than one night in advance so you can get a couple of days of sleep and rest.
Crosstraining During the Taper
While reduced mileage may make you antsy to do more speed work or to work on strength training, it is wise to stay with moderate intensity exercise only and not work on building more muscle. The taper is needed so you will be in top form on race day.
Getting nutrition, fluids and energy snacks right during marathon training and on race day is essential to making it to the finish line. Let’s look at the diet you should be using during the weeks of training and how to eat and drink right on your long training walks as well as race day.
Marathon Diet and Nutrition Plan
With your increased mileage during your training, you will be burning more calories and need proper nutrition to build muscles and capillaries to nourish those muscles.
Will I Lose Weight During Marathon Training?
This is not a time to go on any extreme, unbalanced diet. However, now is a good time for those who are overweight to start on a balanced, mildly calorie restricted diet, or to maintain their present balanced diet with no increase in calories or portions.
In both cases, walkers should see a slow and steady loss of fat and conversion of it to healthy muscle, bone, and lean tissue. In 18 weeks of marathon training, you could lose 15 pounds of excess fat just from the training mileage – IF you do not increase the amount you are eating and were maintaining your weight at the time you started.
For those who are within a few pounds of their ideal weight, listen to your body’s cues as you increase your training distance. If you discover yourself losing weight and feeling worn out and tired, you should think of increasing your portions of a balanced diet, or adding balanced snacks to your daily routine.
Carbohydrates are an Endurance Athlete’s Friend
The body needs available carbohydrates to burn on your long distance walking days. Low carb/high protein diets are not recommended for distance athletes. On your long distance training days you may become dehydrated, which stresses the kidneys, and those on a high protein diet are already stressing their kidneys with the byproducts of breaking down protein for energy.
Stick with the traditional balanced diet of 15-20% protein, 30% fat, and 50-55% carbohydrate.
Eat a variety of foods to ensure you get the micronutrients that can’t be packaged in a pill. Try new vegetables and fruits. If you are restricting your calories, take a simple multivitamin each day to guard against deficiencies.
Do not start popping supplements. Most of the extra vitamins pass out in your urine, and again you don’t want to stress your kidneys. Excess fat-soluble vitamins and some minerals are stored in the body and can build up to toxic levels. You do not need any supplements that promise to build muscle.
Endurance sports use long, lean muscles, not bulk. You are not looking for explosive strength, but muscles that can perform steadily for hours.
Energy Snacks for Your Long Training Days
You will need to replenish energy to make it through a long training day of 10 miles or more. This is a good opportunity to see which energy snacks you tolerate best. It’s also smart to research what will be provided on the marathon course and to train with those.
Carbo-Loading Before the Race
For three days before the marathon, and perhaps before your longest training days, eat high-carbohydrate meals such as pasta.
This brings the glycogen level in your tissues to its maximum so you have more available during the walk.
Nothing New Right Before the Marathon
Most importantly, do not change your diet significantly in the week before the marathon. Practice good eating habits in the prior months and increase your favourite complex carbohydrate the three days before the event.
What to Drink During Marathon Training and on Race Day
How’s your urine? You have to keep drinking enough water during an endurance walk to keep your urine light yellow and flush exercise toxins out of your body.
On all of your training walks, as well as your long distance walks, you need to stay hydrated. Drink a large glass (16 oz.) of water an hour before going on a walk.
The excess water then gets passed before you start your walk. Every 15 minutes to half an hour during your walk, depending on the temperature and the amount you sweat, drink another cup of water. When you finish your walk, end with a big glass of water, and have some salty snacks to replace body salt lost through sweat. If your urine is dark yellow after your walk, you haven’t been drinking enough. If it is straw yellow you have been drinking the right amount.
Hyponatremia and Dehydration
Marathon medical directors guidelines tell endurance walkers and runners to let their thirst determine when and how much to drink. More people are obedient to the drinking guidelines and so dehydration is becoming less common, while marathon directors have seen growing numbers of cases of hyponatremia – washing out of body salts by sweat and drinking plain water rather than electrolyte-containing sports drinks.
To tell whether you are drinking too much or too little water, weigh yourself immediately before and after your long walks. Gaining weight is a sign of drinking too much plain water – adjust your drinking to switch more to sports drinks to replace salts, or eat salty pretzels on your walk and drink a bit less plain water.
Losing weight is a sign of dehydration – you are not drinking enough. Use your long training walks to get this right.
Caffeine: Lay off of caffeine before your walks. Not only does it make you have to urinate more often, it removes too much water from your system. If you are a coffee addict, cut back before your walk and treat yourself after you have had a good 16 oz. of water after your walk.
Carrying Water: Part of your walking gear should be a water carrier. Fill your water bottle and take it along to guarantee that you have enough water while walking.
Sports Drinks: Sports drinks and electrolyte replacement drinks can be used after walking for more than an hour and sweating. These replace the salt lost by sweating and also are sweetened to give you a jolt of sugar – the energy you need during an endurance event.
Hydration During the Marathon
During a marathon, you will generally be offered water and an energy drink such as Gatorade.
Some events use electrolyte drinks that don’t have sugars – you need to know that so you can have some energy snacks with you as you still need those carbs during the event. Know your event and how these are spaced, so you won’t drink too little and be caught thirsty between stations, or too much and get into overload.
Do not drink anything new on the day of the marathon. During your workout walks, practice by drinking the same energy drink you know will be offered at the marathon. This way you will know if it tends to upset your stomach.
It is also unwise to use high-caffeine energy drinks during a marathon.
A high dose of caffeine can lead to dehydration.
What to Eat for Energy Snacks for Marathon Training and Race Day
Marathon walkers have an advantage over runners – their bodies are able to replenish their energy from food and drink during the marathon. Most marathon walkers discover that they need to eat while on the course. The body burns off all available fuel, and turns to burning whatever else is available. To stay in the race, simple carbohydrate is needed.
Try Out All Marathon Fueling Snacks on Your Long Training Walks First
At every race expo you see the booths for various energy gels and energy bars, each one claiming to be the best. By then it is too late to decide what to take along – the marathon is the next day, and you need to obey the “nothing new on race day” rule.
If you think you will want to use a snack or energy gel during a race, be sure to try it out on your longer distance training days. Otherwise you may discover that it upsets your stomach during the race, a bad time to discover anything new! You will also find that most sugary snacks need to be washed down with plenty of water, so plan your water stops or the amount you carry accordingly.
So, hopefully, this has given you some idea of how to prepare for your Walking Marathon.
As always, if you have any questions or comments, do let me know. I’d love to hear of your success if you have walked a marathon or any top tips that you’d like to pass on.