Marathon Top Tips

Running your first marathon at York this Sunday? Starting to feel a bit nervous? Imagining you’re coming down with all sorts of ailments, aches and pains? Wishing you’d trained more and eaten less cake over the last few months? Don’t worry – this is all perfectly normal! It’s sometimes known as ‘maranoia’ or ‘tapermania’ and we all get it – even those of us who’ve been through this a few times. When I stood on the start line of my first marathon in 2013 I had no idea whether I’d make it to the finish; but I did, and you probably will too. Running your first marathon is a huge learning curve, and there are lots of things I know now that I wish I’d known then. It would have made things a bit easier, although running marathons never gets easy! So although I’d never claim to be an expert, I have a few tips that might help if you’re a first-timer. I’ve learned some of them the hard way, so maybe you won’t have to!

Taper

 

Hopefully your training has gone well, – but if you’re behind for any reason, don’t try to make up for it this week; it’s too late to reap any fitness gains now. The best thing you can do is just have a couple of short, gentle runs to keep your legs turning so you’re as fresh as possible on the day. If you have to readjust your time goal due to missed training, so be it – there will always be other marathons.

Eat a healthy diet this week to fuel your efforts. Personally I like to eat more protein, fruit and veg at the start of the week, then more carbs and less fibre in the last two or three days. I find if I eat too much fibrous stuff it can have (ahem) digestive repercussions, so I stick to very simple foods in the last couple of days, with no fruit other than bananas. I’ve only ever had the runner’s trots once, in Berlin, but I never want to go there again! But that’s just me – obviously everyone’s body is different. On a similar theme, keep off the booze if you want to perform at your best. The effects of alcohol can still be felt by your body a few days after drinking, so even if you don’t feel hungover it can still be making running harder than it needs to be. You can celebrate when you’ve crossed that finish line!

Get plenty of sleep. Most of us with busy lives never really get enough, but catching a few early nights this week will help your body to prepare for the effort ahead. You might not sleep well the night before the race if you’re nervous, so it’s good to get a few extra hours’ kip in the bank.

Sort out your race day logistics well in advance. The last thing you want on marathon morning is to be stressed by having to organise things at the very last minute. Make your transport arrangements, and if you’re planning to meet up with people at the race finish (which may be a bit chaotic) settle on an actual meeting point. Also, lay out all your kit the night before so you aren’t running around looking for things in the morning. Make a list if it helps. And don’t forget to fill in the back of your race number!

Carb loading the day before the marathon is important, but you don’t need to go crazy with it. It’s more about changing the composition of your meals than eating loads more than usual. Eating steadily throughout the day is better than having a massive pile of pasta for your evening meal. Here’s how I would normally prepare for a marathon food-wise.

Day before: toast or bagel for breakfast with peanut butter and Nutella; banana for elevenses; fish finger sandwich on white bread for lunch (nice, light protein); cake for afternoon snack, pasta with tomato sauce and just a bit of chicken for dinner and maybe a small pudding. This is certainly not a day when you want to be feeling hungry. If I feel I need an extra snack I like pretzels, as they are carby and salty, but not fatty. In general, just aim to eat plenty of carb-rich foods, but not to the point where you feel stuffed. I’ll also have an electrolyte drink at some point, especially if the weather forecast is warm, in order to try and prevent cramp, which I suffered from once in a marathon.

Marathon day: as soon as I get up I have a pint of electrolyte drink to get me well hydrated. My breakfast is always porridge with maple syrup, because I find porridge much easier to digest that wheat-based things. If I’m away from home I take instant porridge pots. I have breakfast at least two hours before the start, preferably a bit more, as I like to make sure I have plenty of time to visit the loo in a number two fashion(!) before I leave the house. If you’re reading this I’m sure you’ll appreciate how important this is! I also have a coffee. After my breakfast I don’t drink anything else until about ten minutes before the start of the race. I’ve found this is the best way to avoid having to stop for a wee en route. I think if you’re constantly sipping on drinks in the hour or so before the start you’ll need to stop and go to the loo at some point; but if you have a drink just before you set off you’ll sweat it out instead of storing it in your bladder. There’s always plenty of water on the course anyway. About an hour before the start I might have a very small snack like a tiny banana, depending on how I feel.

Having a fuelling strategy during the race is important if you’re going to avoid hitting the dreaded wall. Obviously everyone has their own favourite energy products, and you will hopefully have been practising with them in training. Your muscles can store enough fuel to keep them going for about an hour and a half, so you’re going to need to take on more energy before you run out. I like to start about an hour into the marathon. My favourite fuel is Clif Shot Bloks, mainly because I find them easier to carry and deal with on the run than gels. As a general rule of thumb, you should aim to take on a gram of carb for every kilo of your body weight per hour. So, for example, if you weigh 65kg you’ll need to take on 65g of carb per hour. This sound boring, but it’s very effective. The first time I ever bothered to actually work out how much fuel I should be taking on during a marathon I took about ten minutes off my PB, so it’s definitely worth doing the maths! All energy products will tell you how much carb they contain on the pack. An important point to note is that taking extra gels etc is not a subsitute for lack of training. If you take on more stuff than your stomach can process you’ll just end up feeling sick.

Lastly, stick to your race plan. At the beginning of a marathon you should be both trained and rested, so you’ll feel great. It’s tempting to set off like a greyhound, but if you do you’ll pay for it later – as I did in the first York Marathon, when I ended up with a stitch at mile 18 that wouldn’t go away, meaning I had to jog/walk the last six miles. If you feel really good at about mile 24 – which, to be honest, is doubtful – feel free to go for it in the last couple of miles.

Please remember all of this isn’t gospel – it’s all just what works for me. What works for you may be different, but the above advice might be worth a go if you don’t have a clue – as I didn’t the first time I ran a marathon! I hope some of it has been helpful to first-timers anyway. Feel free to add your own top tips below. Best of luck if you’re running at York this Sunday – do come and say hi if you see me!

York Mara

Product Review – Keep Me Going Breakfast Cereal

I love breakfast. It might even be my favourite meal of the day. I love it so much I sometimes have two breakfasts when marathon training is at its peak! But I’m not a big fan of breakfast cereals, mainly because they generally aren’t very healthy. I like porridge and muesli (with Greek yoghurt), especially as you can always ‘pimp’ those to make them more nutritious, but most cereals are made from highly refined carbs and contain added sugar; sometimes, unbelievably, more than 30%. Not only does this give them a very high glycaemic index (GI), but they don’t keep you satisfied for very long. I once checked in my local supermarket to see which cereals didn’t have any added sugar, and it pretty much came down to Shredded Wheat. So when I was offered the chance to test a new breakfast cereal claiming to be much healthier than the norm I was very interested to try it. Apparently two years of research has gone into the development of new Keep Me Going from Freedom Cereals. Its aim is to be a wholegrain cereal with a low GI plus added health benefits that actually tastes good!

KMG Pack

 

You certainly can’t argue with the health credentials of Keep Me Going. It’s composed mainly of whole grain barley, oat flour and rye, so is wheat-free (for those who are concerned about that sort of thing). It also has added vitamins and minerals, including chromium (which helps to balance blood sugar), magnesium and biotin. I was particularly pleased to see the magnesium content, as many people are deficient in this important mineral, which can cause fatigue. I usually take a magnesium supplement myself when I’m marathon training. Even the salt used in it is a special low-sodium sea salt. Yes, it does contain some sugar, but far less than most cereals, and this is probably offset to some extent by its low GI of 50 (compared, for example, to a GI of 82 for cornflakes). If a food has a low GI it releases its energy more slowly, so keeps you satisfied for longer. Out of interest, here’s how Keep Me Going compares nutritionally to some other popular cereals.

There’s lots more information here on the Keep Me Going website if you want to explore this further. Here’s what it looks like out of the pack.

But what does it taste like? Actually it’s surprisingly tasty in a malty sort of way. The texture is quite crunchy, but not too hard. I liked it. And does it really keep you going? I tested it by having it for breakfast on a morning when I knew I’d be really busy and probably wouldn’t get a chance to have elevenses, and it was probably about four hours before I began to feel peckish again. I wouldn’t say it kept me as full as, say, muesli and Greek yoghurt, but it certainly contains a lot less fat than that. If you’re trying to moderate your fat intake it’s probably a decent option for breakfast.

A lot of people seem to give their kids cereal for breakfast – probably because it’s quick and easy on a school morning – and the manufacturers of Keep Me Going have gone to some trouble to try and make the product appeal to children. Each pack contains some trading cards that can be used to play a Top Trumps type of game based on countries of the world, and you can go onto the Keep Me Going website to download a world map and mark the countries you’ve collected. There’s also a secret code cracking game to play.

I wouldn’t say Keep Me Going is a cereal children would choose for themselves, but if you’re the sort of family that already eats quite healthily I’d say they’d probably enjoy it. Weaning kids off the likes of Coco Pops or Frosties might be more of a challenge!

 At the moment Keep Me Going is available via Ocado, priced at £2.65 for a 375g pack. Not cheap, but it is made with top quality ingredients. Apparently there’s a high protein version called Keep Me Strong in the pipeline, so it will be interesting to see how that turns out.

Does anyone else have any thoughts on breakfast cereals? What are your favourites and why? I’d be interested to know.

 

Introducing Nature’s Sunshine

If you’re reading this chances are that, like me, you’re interested in healthy living and try to eat well most of the time. In an ideal world we’d get all the nutrients we need from our food; but sometimes we aren’t always able to manage that. Busy lifestyles and the occasional need for extra or special nutritional requirements mean that supplements can sometimes be a good idea. For this reason I wanted to track down a good range of supplements and other nutritional products that I could offer to clients – and use myself – if necessary. After much research into different brands I’ve settled on Nature’s Sunshine because I’m satisfied that they are top quality, and they are also organically formulated wherever possible. As well as a range of supplements for everyday nutrition, Nature’s Sunshine also offers a variety of sports and fitness products that may be of use to those of us with an active lifestyle.

People sometimes ask me if I take supplements myself. I obviously prefer to get my nutrition from my diet if possible, but even a healthy diet is rarely perfect, so I occasionally take the following.

  • If I’ve had a day when I haven’t eaten any foods with omega fats, I take an omega supplement.
  • When marathon training I take a magnesium supplement, as this helps with recovery.
  • After a long run I take an antioxidant, as hard training can suppress the immune system.
  • If I feel a cold coming on I take echinacea and vitamin C to help fight it off!

The Nature’s Sunshine range has over a hundred products. Some of the ones I like best are:

I could go on! Of course supplements are never a substitute for healthy eating; but there are time when we need a little extra help. You can browse or buy any of the Nature’s Sunshine products here on my website, and also take a lifestyle test to see which supplements might be of benefit to you personally. Feel free to contact me if you’d like any information or advice.


 

New Year, New Me? No Thanks!

Hands up who’s feeling a bit rubbish after the festive break? I certainly am. I like to think I’m a pretty healthy eater most of the time, but the Christmas holidays are a hard test of anyone’s resolve! Christmas dinner itself isn’t really the problem; at the end of the day that’s just a roast dinner with a few pigs in blankets on the side. It’s all the other food that causes the problem… and the booze, of course! You could just say no to all of it, and I’m sure a few very disciplined people do; but everywhere you go at Christmas and New Year people want to feed you, and it’s usually hard to refuse! Things I’ve indulged in include mince pies, After Eights, trifle, Bailey’s, Pringles and wine. Plus I’ve been for a couple of meals at people’s houses where they’ve been to a lot of trouble and it would be rude to say no. I’m sure most of you will have had a similar couple of weeks. The only thing that’s counted in my favour is that I haven’t stopped runnning – even with a bit of a hangover on a couple of occasions!

The question is, what do we do to get rid of this horrible, bloaty feeling and lose the couple of pounds we’ve all probably put on? The media are currently full of the usual ‘new year, new you’ stuff they always pump out just after Christmas. This mostly seems to focus on articles about radical, expensive detoxes and abstaining from everything. ‘Give yourself a good purge and you will magically become a bright, shiny, thin new person’ is the general message. There will also be a mad rush of people joining gyms in January, planning to go five times a week for ever. But the reality is that most people will only stick to their new regimes for a couple of weeks – or maybe a month – before they revert to their old ways. The change is just too radical to be sustainable. The truth is that a few simple changes will soon have you feeling a lot better – and you’ll save a lot of money too! You don’t need to be a whole new you, just a slightly better version of the current you. So here’s what I recommend for a ‘New Year, Slightly Better You’ approach.

·         First thing, there’s no need to ‘detox’ with special powders, juices or pills. Your liver and kidneys are fantastic organs and can actually cope with an awful lot. Unless you’ve been drinking a bottle of vodka a day they’ll deal with your festive excess just fine. Having said that, there’s no harm in giving them a bit of a rest from processing huge amounts of booze and rich food for a little while.

·         Stop eating junk now. You may have leftover goodies or foodie gifts such as Christmas cake or boxes of chocolate/biscuits lying around the house. Put them away somewhere out of sight, take them into work, offer them to visitors or give them away. Most chocolates have really long use-by dates, so you could always regift them at some point! Some things, like cheese or panettone, freeze really well. Don’t feel you have to hoover up all the ‘bad’ things in the house before you can start being good.

·         Focus on eating simple, healthy, unprocessed foods. Things like chicken, fish, pulses, vegetables and Greek yoghurt. Snack on fruit and nuts instead of biscuits and crisps. You know the score here really, so I won’t ramble on about it.

·         Drink lots of water. You may well be quite dehydrated after two weeks of boozing and scoffing sugary/salty foods. If you don’t normally drink plenty of water you’ll be surprised what a difference this makes to how good you feel.

·         Do some exercise. If you usually do exercise but have lapsed over the holidays, get back on it. If you don’t, start now but be kind to yourself. No need to crush it in the gym. Go for a long walk on a lovely sunny, frosty day. Have a kickabout in the park with your kids. Go to a yoga or Pilates class. Get that bike out of the garage and have a gentle pedal for half an hour. The more of this kind of thing you do, the more you’ll want to do, I promise.

·         Get plenty of sleep. Most of us don’t get enough. Go to bed a bit earlier than usual. Your body will repair and restore itself while you snooze.

That’s all you need to do. That’s what I’ll be doing. In a couple of weeks we’ll all be feeling much better. And if you really want to go to the gym, wait until February – it’ll be a lot quieter then 🙂

 

Marathon Nutrition – Tapering and Race Day

Those spring marathons are really creeping up on us now aren’t they? It doesn’t seem like two minutes since I entered the Manchester Marathon and now it’s just over two weeks away! And for those of you doing the Virgin London Marathon it’s even closer…

So, we’re all tapering now. It’s a funny time, when you kind of feel you should still be training at full pelt but actually need to cut down and focus on recovery so you’re fresh for the big day. Nutrition plays a really important part in this, fuelling up the body for the challenge ahead. For the moment you should still be following the guidelines in my previous marathon nutrition post, maybe just cutting down a bit on the amounts you’ve been eating now you’re not burning as many calories. It’s certainly not a time for dieting though!

But what about the week leading up to race day? Here are a few foodie pointers.

Eat good, nutritious food in the week before the race – lean protein, good carbs, fruits and veggies. Just like a car, your body will perform much better on high grade fuel. Try to avoid alcohol and junk food – it will make a bigger difference than you might think.

Three days before the event start to fuel yourself up on good carbohydrates such as wholemeal pasta and bread, beans, pulses and brown or basmati rice. There’s no need to eat loads more than usual, just adjust the proportions of your meals to include more carbs and less protein. These carbs will provide your muscles with most of the energy they’ll be using as you run.

On Saturday, switch to simple carbohydrates. I would never normally recommend these, but this is a special case, as you may not have enough time to properly digest wholemeal stuff before the race. Eat carb-based meals and snacks today – pasta with tomato sauce is a favourite, but also consider rice, potatoes and bread, with maybe a little light protein such as chicken or fish. Avoid anything too fatty or fibrous, as these types of food could make you feel heavy or bloated for the run. Don’t have a massive evening meal, which may still be hanging around in your system on Sunday morning, but spread your intake throughout the day.

On marathon morning you’ll need a breakfast that will provide you with some good energy but not take too long to digest. Different things work better for different bodies; hopefully you will have experimented in training. Many people favour white toast or porridge with something sweet on top like honey or jam. My personal favourite is porridge with maple syrup, as my system seems to digest oats much more quickly than wheat. Have breakfast at least two hours before the race so that it has time to leave your stomach before the start. About an hour before kick-off have a light snack such as a small banana or an energy bar if you feel hungry.

Consider carrying some energy gels with you to take during the race. Your body will probably have used up most of its own energy stores after about an hour and a half, so supplementing with an energy product should prevent you from ‘bonking’ (running out of steam) by giving you a boost. If you are going to use gels it’s really important to make sure you test them out before race day just in case they don’t agree with you. On my recent long runs I’ve been experimenting with Clif products, which are being given out at Manchester, and they seem pretty good.

Hydration is obviously very important, especially if the weather is going to be warm (ha!). In the week before the race make sure you drink plenty of water. There is no set correct amount, as everyone’s body is different, but try to keep it at a level where your wee is a very pale straw colour, almost clear. Don’t overdo it on the morning of the race! The best way to avoid having to go for a wee en route is to stop drinking about an hour before the start, then you have time to go to the loo and get rid of any excess before you set off. If you must have a drink before the start, do it just before the gun, then by the time you need to get rid of any excess fluid you’ll be sweating!

I hope everyone enjoys their taper! Please feel free to share any of your race day nutrition tips.

Marathon Nutrition for Beginners

Quite a few people have been asking me recently whether I’ve changed my diet since I started training for the Manchester Marathon, or what they should eat for marathon training. I don’t pretend to be a sports nutritionist, but I have done quite a bit of reading on the subject and learned a lot about it! I usually have a pretty healthy diet anyway but have made a couple of adjustments over the last few weeks.

The main tweak I’ve made to my diet is to think more about eating certain foods on certain days or at certain times… not in an obsessive kind of way, but basically eating carb-based meals before runs (especially long ones) for energy and protein-based ones afterwards to help with recovery. So, for example, if I’m running late morning (my preferred time) I’ll probably have porridge for breakfast, then a lunch with plenty of protein afterwards – favourites recently have been sardines/mackerel/eggs/beans/peanut butter on toast (not all at once!) or salad with tuna, avocado or mixed beans. Recently I’ve had a bit of a thing for Morrison’s tinned Mackerel in Spicy Tomato Sauce, it’s really tasty! If for some reason I can’t run til later on in the day I’ll probably have some homemade soup and a wholemeal roll for lunch beforehand, then a protein-based dinner including something like salmon, chicken or red meat afterwards. On a Saturday evening I usually have pasta, then for Sunday breakfast some porridge or toast to fuel me up for the long run – and ideally a roast dinner later! You get the idea. I think this has really helped me, certainly energy-wise.

I’ve also been trying to ensure that I get enough iron, as this is really important for distance runners – especially women, who need more iron anyway. I’ve been eating red meat once a week, am snacking occasionally on dried apricots and have become slightly obsessed with spinach, especially in curry!

 After long run it’s important to refuel quickly and well, so when I get home I usually make up my own chocolate recovery drink of whole milk, a banana and some cocoa, whizzed up with my hand blender; this is a combination of carbs and protein that can be absorbed really easily and get to work on refuelling and recovery very quickly. Chocolate milk is supposed to be really good for recovery and the cocoa in this does make it taste great! If I’ve had a shorter run or been cross-training I just eat a banana.

On days when I’ve done a hard or long run I’ve noticed that I’ve definitely been feeling hungrier than usual. Usually I don’t really feel the need to eat anything after dinner, but one Sunday night recently I woke up at 3am feeling so hungry I had to get up and eat something! So now on some days I have a bit of supper and don’t feel guilty about it. And before you start thinking how smug and perfect I am, I also have weaknesses! On long run days I do allow myself the odd treat like a bit of cake (usually homemade) or a couple of glasses of red wine.

I could go on about this sort of thing til the cows come home, but if you want to read about it in more detail I highly recommend Anita Bean’s Complete Guide to Sports Nutrition. A brand new edition of this has just come out and I’m very tempted to buy it as mine is a few years old now.

Anyway, here are my top nutritional tips for beginners training for a marathon, although they could probably apply to anybody doing any endurance exercise. At the risk of stating the obvious, you should already be eating a healthy, balanced diet – and this is certainly not the time to be following faddy regimes such as Atkins or Dukan or trying to shed the pounds. If you need to lose weight, you will!

Try to focus your eating on lean protein, good carbs, pulses, nuts and lots of fruit and veggies. This doesn’t have to be expensive – look out for special offers in the shops and plan meals around them.

Ditch the junk as much as possible – takeaways, bad carbs, booze and refined sugary things won’t do you any favours performance-wise. Think of your body as a performance car that needs quality refuelling!

Fats are essential for joint care and injury prevention, especially those found in foods such as nuts, seeds, oily fish and avocadoes. Make yourself a super salad dressing; mine contains flaxseed, olive and walnut oils, plus organic cider vinegar, herbs and mustard – fab!

Drink plenty of water, especially after runs. Even in cold weather you still sweat quite a bit.

Make sure you get some dairy in your diet – running is hard on the bones! If you’re vegan you might want to consider taking a calcium supplement.

Don’t be afraid to eat a bit more than usual as the mileage increases – you’re definitely burning more calories – but make sure it’s quality food.

If you’re a woman or a vegetarian (or both!), consider taking an iron supplement.

Hard training can suppress your immune system, leaving you prone to infection, so make sure you get plenty of antioxidants in your diet to boost it. A variety of brightly-coloured fruit and veg really help with this (and a bit of dark chocolate too!).

Hope this helps a bit. I’d love to know what you think and hear your own top tips for marathon nutrition and refuelling. I’ll write another post about fuelling up for and getting through race day closer to the time. Happy training!