Marathon Man

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Long-distance runner Ryan Hall shares his tips on going the distance in the marathon.

Even as a professional long-distance runner I used to view a marathon as an insurmountable mountain peak – something that was to be admired from afar but not to be challenged.

Now that I have run six marathons, including the 2008 Olympic marathon in Beijing, and the London, New York City, and Boston marathons, I have a new perspective on the metaphorical mountain peak. I have absolute respect for the enormity of a marathon, while recognising that it also offers the ultimate thrilling and fulfilling experience to those who are bold enough to take on the challenge.

I believe that, other than those with physical injuries or illness, anyone can undertake the life-changing challenge of training for, and finishing, a marathon. Here are a few tips that I have learnt on my journey that I hope will empower you on yours. One of the most important characteristics of a marathon runner is patience. My coach, Terrence Mahon, reminds me at the beginning of every training session that we are starting from scratch.
When beginning your training, start with a very manageable distance. Run only as far as you enjoy running; the first couple of weeks are not the time to challenge yourself. A good starting point is to begin with 30-minute runs, and over a couple of weeks build to 60 minutes.

Nutrition is one of the most important aspects of training effectively. For 48 weeks of the year I try to eat natural, unprocessed, wholesome foods. I don’t completely give up all the sweets that I enjoy in the off-season after a marathon, but I eat them sparingly, opting instead for more nutrient-dense calories. My basic nutrition plan is to never go more than 3 to 4 hours without eating.
In each of my meals and snacks I try to include wholesome carbohydrates, healthy fats, and protein. Before the big marathon day, rather than eating a huge bowl of pasta in the evening, I try to spread my carbohydrate intake out over 5 to 6 meals and snacks.
Planning is a big part of not only succeeding in the marathon, but also in making running the marathon a pleasurable experience. I recommend picking a marathon that gives you plenty of time to work from your current fitness to achieving your goal. Also, consider choosing an event that excites you. Perhaps it’s a destination marathon, such as Paris or Rome, or maybe a fast course to achieve that elusive Boston marathon qualifier, such as London, Chicago, or Rotterdam.

However, I find that the greatest source of motivation in my training and racing is running for a cause. I remember being at mile 17 at the 2009 ING New York City Marathon, falling off the lead pack, when the thought of dropping out crossed my mind. I realised immediately that dropping out was not an option because I had pledged my prize money to the Hall Steps Foundation (, a charity that my wife and I had started a couple of months earlier to combat global poverty. With this thought in mind, I was able to rally from 9th place to finishing 4th. While I hadn’t run as well as I had wanted to, I had pushed myself harder than I thought I could, finished the race, and, most importantly, helped others in need.

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