In a marathon, as in life, it helps to break a big goal into smaller ones. After 101 marathons, Josh Liebman has this tactic down.
“First I focus on getting to mile 9 because that’s almost 10 — double digits. Then I work on getting past the half marathon,” explained Liebman, 41, director of Team Footworks, a Miami-based training program that preps more than 700 locals for long-distance running events each year. “One step past that marker and I think, ‘I’m more than halfway there.’ Then I get to 16, and I say, ‘It’s only 10 more.’ At mile 18, I’m two-thirds of the way there.
“Once I get to mile 20 — a nice, round number — I start to count backwards,” he said. “And when I get to mile 26 … I sprint.”
More than 20,000 people will employ a similar mind game and other mental strategies Sunday morning when the Miami Marathon and Miami Half-Marathon kick off in front of AmericanAirlines Arena.
Training for a marathon (26.2 miles) and a half-marathon (13.1 miles) ideally should be over several months, but the home stretch — the week before the race — is a pivotal time to pay close attention to diet and training, say nutritionists and exercise physiologists. It’s key to finishing strong.
WEEK OF MARATHON
“People need to listen to their bodies” is a cliche, but one that Tony Musto, director of fitness and wellness programs at University of Miami, preaches.
In other words: Don’t overtrain.
“Marathon training programs are usually 16 to 20 weeks of slow, progressive training. Sometimes people get impatient and think they should hike up their mileage, especially the days before, but that increases your risk of injury,” said Musto, an exercise physiologist who has a Ph.D. in the subject.
Nutritionist Rachel Scherdin recommends rest in the five days leading up to a marathon to replenish the body’s energy reserves.
“During marathon training muscles never really have a chance to fully reload with glycogen carbohydrates,” which are the body’s readily mobilized storage of energy. Rest allows this natural process to take place.
A rule of thumb is eating three grams of carbohydrates per pound of body weight during the five-day period before the race, says Scherdin, a USA Triathlon certified coach and triathlon competitor.
“Carbohydrates are the most important macronutrient for preparing the body for a strenuous activity like a marathon,” she explained. “[They] should help fill up glycogen stores to help you power through a tough workout.”
DAYS BEFORE MARATHON
The two days before a marathon are the most crucial, nutrition-wise, according to Musto.
“Typically that’s when we start hounding our players,” said Musto, whose job description with UM also includes “sports nutrition specialist” for the Miami Hurricanes athletic teams.
For best results, Musto also suggests eliminating alcohol and caffeine, which are dehydrating. To determine whether you’re properly hydrated, Scherdin recommends checking urine color. Clear urine is good. Bronze-colored urine, or darker, however, is not. To adjust, drink more water, more consistently.
On the day before the marathon, Musto said runners should really dig into carbs.
“I’m not suggesting you pig out,” he said. “But make sure to include a serving of carbs with each meal.”
Indulge in pancakes for breakfast, for example, but skip the butter because fat — even healthy fats, which are found in avocados, peanut butter and almonds — are hard to digest. They should be eliminated from a runner’s diet at least 24 hours prior to the marathon.
For lunch, reach for a sandwich and some fruit. At dinnertime, eat a sweet potato or whole wheat pasta, and keep protein at a minimum because, like fat, it’s tough to digest.
“You don’t want anything in your gut because then it’s useless to you,” Musto explained.
Liebman, marathon vet and Team Footworks director, urges runners, especially first-timers, to get a good night’s sleep despite pre-marathon jitters.
“The marathon is coming. It’s happening. There’s nothing you can do,” he said. “So don’t fret. Rest.”
DAY OF MARATHON
Some may be tempted to skip breakfast before the marathon to avoid feeling weighed down. However, Scherdin advises against running on an empty stomach. Eating before a marathon, she said, is critical and bears a number of benefits.
“A pre-race meal supplies extra carbs to top off glycogen stores, especially in the liver, which will help steady blood sugar levels during the race,” she said. “[Eating before a workout] provides more energy … protects muscles and increases muscle growth.”
Scherdin suggests a high-carb, low-protein and low-fiber snack, like a bagel, before the event.
The challenge, however, is knowing how much food you can handle before a workout, which varies person to person, she said.
“Some people can eat a full meal as little as an hour before a workout, while some others who have sensitive stomachs have to wait 3 to 4 hours.”
As for hydration, Scherdin said runners should aim to drink between 14 and 24 ounces of water two to three hours before the marathon begins.
And though Liebman lives by the slogan, “It would be a stretch for me to stretch,” he said, he recommends “active warm-ups,” like high kicks and jumping jacks, to prepare muscles for the miles of running ahead.
DURING THE MARATHON
“When else is the old adage, ‘It’s a marathon, not a sprint,’ more true than during a marathon?” Liebman said.
The key, he says, is to pace yourself.
Musto also encourages first-timers to slow down if necessary.
“Don’t be afraid to walk and regroup,” he said.
Staying hydrated during the marathon’s 26.2-mile stretch, or the 13.1 miles that comprise the half-marathon, is essential.
Sports drinks, like Gatorade, Powerade and the like, have gotten a bad rap from nutritionists in recent years because of their high sugar content. However, Musto insists they are useful in getting through strenuous endurance workouts.
“During a marathon, you’re burning excess calories, and you probably need that sugar to keep going,” he explained. “So sports drinks kill two birds with one stone because they replenish electrolytes, and they also supply you with fuel to keep you going.”
GU energy gels — pronounced “goo” — are an alternate source of running fuel that some marathoners swear by.
GU and its off-brand counterparts give athletes an energy boost in the form of tiny gel packs that fit right in their pockets, making them both useful and portable.
But they are not always properly used, or even necessary, Musto said.
“Common mistake with those is that people take them after the fact. The point of GU is to keep sugar levels from going too low,” he explained. “They’re more a preventive supplement than they are a recovery supplement.”
You want them about an hour into the race, and maybe every hour thereafter, if at all.
“If you’re properly trained for the race, and you’ve had the proper nutrition ahead of time and you’re drinking sports drinks throughout the race, you can get through it without the goo,” Musto said. “Part of training is that your muscles learn to hold onto more fuel.”
“[GU] may supply some physiological benefit — they’re a strong dose of sugar — but they’re more psychological.”
After crossing the finish line it may be tempting to languish on the nearest patch of grass, but don’t.
“Do not stop all of a sudden,” Musto said. “Continue to walk to get a good cool down and keep blood flowing,”
Make sure to replenish carbohydrates, in fluid or solid form, within 30 minutes of finishing. Bagels and bananas, ubiquitous at marathons, are good options.
Chocolate milk, a schoolyard favorite, is a popular post-workout drink. According to Musto, it contains an “almost perfect” carb-to-protein ratio for muscle recovery — about 3:1. However, its dairy content makes it less than perfect for some, as not all can stomach lactose, much less after a strenuous run of 13.1 miles or 26.2 miles.
Nutrition and fitness experts suggest good ol’ fashioned water to rehydrate. Coconut water, which contains soreness-fighting potassium, is effective, too.
Meanwhile, some runners opt for a celebratory beer or mimosa after the race.
“Alcohol probably helps to ease the pain,” Musto said.
A recent study in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise also reports that beer, though only the nonalcoholic variety, reduces inflammation and the risk of developing respiratory infections after marathons, which are punishing to the body’s immune system.
Scientific evidence aside, Liebman sticks to the alcoholic variety himself.
“Yeah, I go for a beer,” he said. “There’s water in that.”
MIAMI MARATHON AND HALF-MARATHON
To register for the Miami Marathon and half-marathon, visit www.themiamimarathon.com
- Marathon registration fee: $170
- Half-marathon registration fee: $150
The marathon and half-marathon will begin at 6 a.m. Sunday in front of the AmericanAirlines Arena, 601 Biscayne Blvd., Miami