The ultimate marathon runner’s performance guide.
“If you want to be elite, and to be the best, you really need to learn from the best.”
Brendan Murphy, Northern Ireland’s fastest Marathon runner in 2016 is giving us an opportunity to do just that. Learn from the best!
In an exclusive interview with Performancetreanor.com he has gone in depth about how to run the best Marathon you can. Get a pen and paper at the ready!
Create a Positive Environment Around the Event Itself:
“My number one marathon tip would be to enjoy it. Enjoy all the training and everything leading up to it. If you don’t it’s an awful long time to be miserable and to be unhappy. So, if you’re not enjoying it, my advice would be not to do it because you’re putting your body through pain.”
Following on from this point, you must offer yourself some ‘carrots’ along the way so you don’t burn yourself out.
“Marathon training is tough, it is sore and you really need to enjoy it. To help you enjoy it I recommend rewarding yourself because you are pushing your body. You’re punishing it. Look after it!
“Ease up every so often and treat yourself. Take some time out. Longer gains are realised through knowing when to take a break.”
Such rest periods are hugely important to recharge your batteries. Try to keep your training life separate to the other elements of life. Attempt to prevent it impinging on these other elements too much or it could hinder enjoyment of the training itself.
“Some people take Marathon running too seriously and focus on it at the expense of everything else around them like family, leisure time and so on. Paula Radcliffe talked about 3 spheres. Her training, her family life and her work life. You should always have these three globes rotating at the same time.”
Don’t neglect those that are close to you. It’s a support system on which we always rely. Try to ensure your support system is filled with the right people who have your best interests at heart.
“The support is much more necessary when you’re not at competition. It’s the early mornings, late sessions and having people to encourage you through them.”
Knowing when and how to rest are vital factors of optimal performance which can help reduce injury. Brendan has some top tips on keeping fighting fit.
Minimise Injury Risk:
“There are things you can do to minimise injury risk like:
- Recovery is so, so important. When I wasn’t running I was relaxing, I was chilling out. I was off my feet, sitting down. Even sleeping, I was having afternoon naps. Siestas I call them. It obviously worked!
- Stretching and cross-training are very important. I mean cross training in the sense of doing other activities like swimming in the pool. Unfortunately, a lot of marathon runners only do running. So, when they get injured they find it difficult to transfer over to another sport and cross-train. Because of my background as a triathlete, my view is anytime on the bike or in the pool is still valuable time.
- Regular sports massages to relax the muscles a bit.
- Diet. Make sure you are eating the right food. And with marathon running you can afford to eat a little bit more, so just making sure your body is always well fuelled.
- Be sensible. Every session can’t be hard. If you drive a car flat out every day, it’s going to wear it down. It’s the same with your body. Trusting your own body and that the people around you know what’s best for you is important. At times, my coach said, ‘I want you to do this’ and I did not agree with it. However, I trusted him and went along with it.”
Don’t Become a Slave to the Clock:
“A lot of athletes become slaves to times and tracking performances. It’s obviously a good indicator of where you’re at, but most experienced athletes know it’s more down to how you feel.
“If I wake up and am not feeling my best, it wouldn’t be wise to drive towards beating times as I could end up injured or depleted of energy.
“Don’t get me wrong, time measurement should be used as it’s a good indication of progress. However, it’s important to gauge when to push for that better time based on how you feel. If you’re feeling good then push on. If not, it’s best to lay off.”
Having said this, we must beware of the other extreme. Rumination and procrastination disguised as a break. Soon this will take over and may well end your marathon aspirations if not nipped in the bud early on.
Strict Time Management:
“Social media can be a huge thief of your time so beware of this and other time wasters. Planning things out and being ruthless is important. When you train on your own there is a danger of putting it back until it’s too late and then cancelling. So, you need to decide a time and stick to it.”
A sensible approach to training needs to be paired with a healthy diet to help the drive for optimal performance.
Aptly put by the man himself:
“Your body is like a car, it needs the right fuel. If you put the right fuel into it, it will go much further. If you put the wrong fuel in, it will break down and get injured.”
Brendan has the following good advice for developing optimal eating habits for the event.
Find Out What Works for You:
When living in Spain the Spanish eating style worked for him.
We are all a collection of our experiences. We need to use such experiences to mould us to be the best we can be. When you travel, seek to add positive elements of what you see and learn to everyday life when returning to your home country.
“In Spain, their diet is infinitely better than the Irish and English diets. The quality of food in their supermarkets is much, much better. Also, their culture and their attitude towards food is much better.
“Fast food doesn’t really exist in Spain, they don’t have chippers. They do have the likes of Burger King, but it’s really frowned upon.
“Eating is something that’s savoured. It’s seen as family time, it’s seen as something you do in company. They eat a lot more fruit and vegetables than us.
“In terms of cakes, biscuits and buns they would only have it on special occasions and as treats for children.”
It’s well and good noticing such healthy patterns and then it is up to us to adopt them.
“I brought the Spanish eating habits home with me because they work! If I ever come across anything that works for me and it benefits me, I stick to it.
“Even simple things like their meal times. They would eat their dinner about 20.00 or 21.00 in the evening. It’s not unusual to see families sitting down at 22.00 for dinner! That benefits me because dinner time here in Ireland is about 18.00. Basically, have it when you come home from work.
“For me it’s much better to come home from work, have a quick siesta, go out and train. Then I come back and have my dinner at 20.00 or 21.00.”
Hydration Increases Satiety:
Avoid perceived hunger from dehydration. As Brendan recommends:
“I don’t snack before training, but what I do is make sure that I stay hydrated. Sometimes when we think we’re hungry it’s that we are just thirsty. I keep hydrated and have a decent lunch at 12.30 or 13.00.
“I know then that when I go out training at 17.00 or 18.00 that I’m fully fuelled. If you eat too close to training you can’t really train. You always need to leave a 2-3 hour gap.”
Food as Motivation:
Surely you’re burning so many calories you can just eat what you want?
“Of course you can treat yourself occasionally. If you like sweet things you can use that as a source of motivation. Marathon training is not easy and there are days you will get up and run for over 2 hours. It’s nice to have a treat to think about and then enjoy post-training to boost motivation levels. Even if it is unhealthy food it can still motivate you and because you are burning so many calories it’s ok to have a few not so healthy things. Obviously, it needs to be in moderation and totally in balance.”
And on the day itself, food for thought can work well.
“Walking towards the race line I fell in with a group from Galway and we got chatting. I explained I had never done a marathon before so I asked one of the women about the 20 mile barrier. She said ‘It will hit you, you will feel a bit disillusioned, a bit disorientated. All I’ll tell you is for every mile after that think of nice food or nice drink you are going to have after the race, and I did!’”
Pre-Event Nutritional Nuggets:
“Porridge is sacrosanct. I know some people who have it the day before as well as the day of the event. It’s just such a super food. Whatever you need to take it with it’s all good because it’s the porridge itself that’s the key element. If you like to take a bit of Nutella or cocoa powder with it, fire away!”
The previous night’s meal must also be given due attention. Not eating too much that it will disrupt a good night’s sleep and making sure it contains the required nutrients to fuel our best performance is the balance to strive for.
“The night before, pasta and any type of meat is good. The last dinner before a race is almost like a ritual as it’s the last thing you do that’s not race related.
“In many ways, it’s easier to say what not to do. No spices, no curries, nothing acidic like orange juice. Nothing you haven’t tried before. I like fish for example. Salmon is a nice one as it’s tasty and easily digestible.”
So, we have had the last meal and now need Brendan’s advice for the event itself.
Focus on Yourself:
“The only thing I think about is me and my performance and not the competition. My coach always tells me you can’t be thinking about others because you’re not thinking about you which is what you’re there for.”
This doesn’t mean not to think about others in a positive sense where it can boost performance.
Here’s an interesting visualisation technique used by Brendan during the event for consistent motivation boosts.
“As I passed the 5km time mats I had images of my friends and family roaring me on in front of their screens. I could almost hear their voices, it was very strange. Those thoughts spurred me on!”
Mantras can also help you persevere.
Develop a Mantra:
Brendan recommends the following.
“A very basic one to keep focused that I read in Paula Radcliffe’s book was she just counts to a hundred over and over and over again. I do that as well.
‘I can and I will’ is another simple one recommended by top Irish sports psychologist, Keith Begley.
Tell us more…what is yours?
“I do have a mantra and it’s a closely guarded secret. If I had any advice for anyone on this, it is that they do work!
“There’s a wealth of academic and scientific research to show this. Then if you find one that works for you, stick to it!
“I feel like if I tell people that they can use it to psych me out because it’s on the mental side. For example, they might say that mantra back to me in a race and try to sort of scare me. They will know that if I bite back I must be going through a hard patch.
“I’ve had to read a lot of books about mantras to come up with mine. There are a lot of universal words that can have positive neural effects.”
What other competitive tactics can be used that we should be aware of?
Beware of the Surge:
“There tends to be a lot of bunching, where big groups of 15-20 athletes group together during an event. This is where ‘psych-out’ tactics can come into play. They tend to be non-physical, not so much elbows, but making breaks. Somebody might surge ahead at a certain point, hoping you will follow to try and tire you out.”
Avoid falling into the trap by running your own race and not someone else’s. Ask yourself,
‘Do I want to overtake them for ego or for worthwhile tactical reasons?’
Use tools that stop you from distracting yourself with thoughts about other competitor’s performances. Music can hit the right notes here.
The Power of Music:
“I often think of a piece of music, usually pop or something modern that will match my drive pattern. Usually anything in the charts at the minute. If it has a good beat and a tune I can sing along to then I will.”
And now Murphy’s biggest law for the day itself.
For goodness sake, start slow!
“At the start, I was worried that I couldn’t find my stride. I thought ‘My God, I have 40km to go and I can’t even get my rhythm!’
“What I didn’t realise was that it was a comfortable pace to start off at. The congestion at the start was a blessing in disguise. It slowed me and calmed me.
It thinned out and I was feeling very comfortable. You know if the first 5km or 10km is comfortable it could be a special performance.
“If I had of gone off with the quickest guys, I would have died.”
Brendan has learned from the best and his generosity in passing such performance advice on is commendable. Make sure to keep track of his progress moving forward.