On Sunday, 19 April I took part in the Asics Greater Manchester Marathon. It was my fourth marathon so I was confident I could manage the distance. But having finished my last one (London, last year) in 4 hours, 2 minutes, I was desperate to slip under the 4-hour mark. The pressure was on.
I’m not one for a strict diet. While training I just aim for a healthy, balanced diet. I’m a Nutribullet fan and I’ll have a green smoothie three or four days a week. My current favourite recipe is a big handful of kale, half an apple, a handful of frozen mango and pineapple chunks, and a scoop each of Aduna Baobab Superfruit Powder and BetterYou Total Nutrition Superfood. I try to keep added sugar to a minimum and never touch sugary or sports drinks. After a run something like coconut water is naturally isotonic – or I’ll have milk for hydration plus a protein hit..
The week before the marathon there are lots of theories about what you should and shouldn’t eat. Some people believe in a few days of carb depletion (reducing or eliminating carbohydrates from the diet), then loading up on them two to three days before race day. Personally, I just stick to my normal diet – taking care not to overindulge as by this stage of your training you’re ‘tapering’ and so running far fewer miles. I avoid alcohol and focus on hydrating well and getting early nights. I’m someone who eats quite a high-carbohydrate diet anyway (I love bread, I love cereal, I love pasta, I love rice). So I have no real need to add in extra in the days leading up to a marathon. And the last thing you want to do is stuff yourself so you feel heavy and sluggish.
The day before
My pre-race menus have become something of a superstition. The day before I’ll have my main meal at lunchtime: Jamie Oliver’s mushroom risotto, with added chicken. I’ll have something lighter for dinner – this year it was half a jacket potato with salad and hummus. And I carry a water bottle around with me all day and probably drink about 2 litres, plus cups of black and herbal tea.
On the day
On race morning, I have two cups of tea (always drunk from my ‘lucky’ running mug, a souvenir from another race). I eat a normal-size bowl of porridge, made with almond milk and topped with cinnamon, a sliced banana and a cereal topping mix of milled linseeds, sunflower seed, pumpkin seeds, goji berries and chia (it’s made by Crownfield and available at Lidl – I love it). I’ll have that two to three hours before the race. This year, I also tried a shot of beetroot juice (Beet It Sport), which is supposed to help with oxygen efficiency. I’ll take a 500ml bottle of water to the race and another banana – but make sure I’m finished with both an hour before the start. You often spend a lot of time queuing for Portaloos before a race, so the last thing you want to do is keep filling up your bladder – or get a stitch from eating too late.
During the race
During a marathon it’s best to drink to thirst – too much can be as dangerous as to little. I just have a few sips at each water station (usually about every three miles). You do need to take on extra fuel over that distance. Some people have carbohydrate energy drinks, others like real food – pieces of fruit or flapjack, say – while others go for sweets like jelly babies or jelly beans. What works for me are carbohydrate gels. I use SIS Go Gels every five miles or so and find them palatable and easy to digest.
Beyond the finish line
After the race it can be hard to stomach food for a while. I might nibble on a banana or have some sort of milk drink, and of course top up my water levels. I’ll have a proper meal as soon as I feel like it. This year at Manchester there were MyProtein shakes and non-alcoholic Erdinger lagers being handed out in the finish area. I managed one of the former but didn’t fancy a lager on top of it. It wasn’t long before hunger set in, though – it had been a long time since breakfast. So I met up with fellow runners for a well-deserved burger and chips. Well, if you can’t indulge after racing 26.2 miles, when can you?
As for the race itself, I had a fantastic one. I’m pleased to report I came in safely under my target of four hours – clocking a finish time of 3:52:21 and a 10-minute personal best (PB). I’m delighted – and will be repeating the same, successful nutrition, hydration and training plan for my next attempt, at the Berlin marathon in September. I’m also really pleased for my friend Maya Farah (pictured with me above), who ran her first ever marathon in 4:43:42.
Manchester was a brilliantly organised, fast and flat marathon with great support and entertainment along the route. I’d recommend it for first timers as much as experienced runners chasing PBs. To register for next year’s Greater Manchester Marathon, visit www.greatermanchestermarathon.com.