As the Wilmington Marathon approaches, everyday runners might find themselves wondering how they might take on a big race someday. Running 26 miles is no light task. From diet to training, there’s a lot of things that can go wrong. With advice from Ana Zeller, nutrition program coordinator and registered dietitian at Novant Health New Hanover Regional Medical Center, and Morgan Heffernan, physical therapist at Novant Health New Hanover Regional Medical Center, here’s how to do it right.

And be sure not to miss the two runner-friendly recipes at the end.

1. What should I eat before the race?

“A common issue that runners have during long races is that they hit a wall about 2 to 3 hours in. And this is because our body only has a limited capacity to store the optimal source of fuel during those races,” Zeller said.

Make sure to fuel up with plenty of carbohydrates and electrolytes. On the morning of the race, stick with what you’re used to for breakfast – go for something simple like a bagel or a breakfast bar you know you tolerate well. During the race, gels, powders or sports drinks can serve as a great source of both carbohydrates and electrolytes but the choice is more a personal preference. Remember, plan it out and don't try anything for the first time on the day of the race.

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2. How should I train in cold weather?

Heffernan said she always finds it useful to warm up for 10 to 15 minutes in her house or garage before going out for a cold-weather run. This helps to bring your core temperature up before going out into those frigid temps and makes the first couple of miles more comfortable.

A good warmup should include dynamic movements to warm up the hips, knees and ankles as well as a short bout of jogging to get the heart rate up. Exercises like hurdle steps, calf raises and boxer shuffles are all great ideas. Make sure to avoid static-hold stretching until the end of your workout.

When it comes to gear, cover your ears, hands and keep your torso warm with a vest or a jacket. If you're running somewhere where you can lose layers as you go, do that to prevent overheating.

3. Are there any exercises I can be doing to prevent injuries?

Flexibility and strength training are important for every athlete but especially marathoners. Every training run, you're putting your body through thousands of steps. Because of this, it's important to maintain good muscle and joint flexibility to keep up your lower half and core body strength.

“Remember, it's crucial that you incorporate these types of exercises gradually to prevent injury rather than cause it,” said Heffernan. Try exercises like squats, lunges, deadlifts and planks to maintain good core and lower body strength. Flexibility training like yoga and Pilates will keep your body ready for that next workout.

4. Should I be training on the beach?

“I get that question a lot,” Heffernan said. “When it comes to activities like running, or really any activity for that matter, the body does not like drastic change.” While training, running on various surfaces like sand, requires more effort from the muscles of the lower body to stabilize you, specifically the calves and the feet. However, it's a lot easier on the joints of the low back hips and knees in contrast to the impact hard surfaces like pavement have on the body.
That being said, running on a variety of surfaces is a great way to keep your body agile, making you a more well-rounded athlete. Always remember, it's important to incorporate these types of training at a gradual rate and add road runs into your training to prepare you for the marathon.

5. I’m vegan, what should I be eating?

If you’re plant-based, make sure you’re eating a balanced diet while training for your marathon. First, make sure that you're eating enough food and regularly throughout the day. You can do this by tracking your food for a day or two to see how much you're getting if you're low energy, increase carbohydrates with foods like quinoa, brown rice, fruits and vegetables. Second, make sure you're getting adequate protein. Eat things like edamame, tofu, and some plant-based protein powders to feel your best on race day.

6. KT taping – what is it? Do I need it?

Kinesiotape is a supplement to training – injury prevention, a recovery aide and it helps reduce pain when applied to problem areas. The elastic nature of the tape creates tension over muscle or a tendon to either aid in its contraction, inhibit its use or to reduce pressure on an area that may be painful.

“KT taping is great for minor aches and pains you may be experiencing. Remember, you never want to try something brand-new on race day so if you're trying taping for the first time, or if you want to be taped at the expo, I'd recommend going on a short "shake out run" afterward to see if you even find it helpful.” Heffernan said, “Patterns that encourage or inhibit use of a muscle tend to require an assessment by a trained professional so I would recommend working with a physical therapist to determine if it's right for you.”

Two recipes: Homemade sports drink and recovery smoothie

Recovery smoothie: Give yourself a pat on the back with all the nutrients you need to replenish after a long run. Try this all-in-one recipe packed with protein, carbohydrates, healthy fats and leafy greens – your body will thank you.

Author: Ana Zeller

  • 1 frozen banana
  • 1 1/2 cups frozen blueberries, strawberries or blackberries
  • 1 cup plain whole milk Greek yogurt OR 1 scoop ( about 20 grams) of vanilla (no sugar added) protein powder
  • 1 handful of spinach
  • 1 tablespoon hemp or chia seeds
  • Juice from 1/2 of a lemon, about 2 tablespoon
  • 1 1/2 cups coconut water or almond milk
  • 1/2 to 2 teaspoons of turmeric powder (adjust based on your taste preferences)
  • Optional: for added sweetness: 1 to 2 tablespoon honey or maple syrup OR 1 to 2 packets of stevia

Healthy “Gatorade”—this homemade sports drink recipe is kind on your wallet and your body. Get the electrolytes you need without all the sugar.