x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 18 February 2018

The fast track: tips on how to run your quickest marathon

Lace up your trainers and start pounding the pavement. With just three months to go before the 2016 Dubai Marathon, we get some expert tips and set out a practical guide to running the fastest 42.2 kilometres of your life.

Runners compete in the 10 km race in Dubai. Antonie Robertson/The National
Runners compete in the 10 km race in Dubai. Antonie Robertson/The National

Every year, more than 30,000 competitors line up to run the Dubai Marathon, content with finishing the 42.2-kilometre course in a respectable yet comfortable time.

But what if these runners could increase their speed with little additional effort? Wayne Young, associate director of athletics at New York University Abu Dhabi, is a seasoned marathon coach, having trained more than 50 long-distance runners. He has also completed 11 marathons, his fastest in three hours, three minutes.

Young says runners can employ specific techniques to help them run faster. “The best way to complete a marathon is to run a negative split – that is to run the second half faster than the first. If your goal is to break four hours, then you should be no faster than two hours at the halfway point [21.1km].”

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Training timetable for your fastest marathon

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By starting slowly, lactic acid levels remain low throughout the race, allowing runners to go faster at the end. Overexertion produces high levels of lactic acid, which the body struggles to process, causing it to slow down.

“It’s counter-intuitive to think: ‘I need to go slower at the beginning to have a faster time in the end,’ but it’s proven to work. Almost every world-class marathoner in almost every world-class race runs a negative split. If it works for them, it will work for us,” he says.

Jean Claude Haramboure agrees. A member of Abu Dhabi Striders running club, the Frenchman has completed 23 marathons and is hoping to break his personal best of two hours, 46 minutes at the Dubai Marathon in January.

“The biggest mistake is starting too fast. My best advice for the Dubai Marathon is to start slowly and be especially wary of the last 6km because it’s not as flat as you think,” he warns.

Haramboure also advises runners to be well-rested one week before the race, or risk a slow time and, worse, injury. Shin splints, Achilles tendonitis and stress fractures are among the most common conditions affecting marathoners.

According to Tim Fletcher, founding partner of Abu Dhabi’s BounceBack Physiotherapy, the key to injury-free running is a thorough warm-up before each run and a stretching programme of all major muscle groups post-run.

“Runners must also allow sufficient recovery between training sessions. If they have a niggle, they should seek physiotherapy early on and avoid waiting until a problem has become chronic as this may affect recovery time and thus training and racing,” Fletcher says.

In conjunction with Young at NYU Abu Dhabi, we’ve compiled a weekly guide to running the fastest possible Dubai Marathon. Follow it closely and shave minutes off your personal best.

Before the race

The night before, lay out your race clothes with your number on your shirt and your chip on your shoe. Make sure your friends and family understand your attention will be elsewhere. Selfishly, it’s about you and your race. Eat a carbohydrate-rich meal approximately three hours before the marathon. Porridge, Weetabix or bagels are ideal. Stretch thoroughly before the race, paying particular attention to your quads, calves, hamstrings and glutes. Find a quiet corner and use this time to prepare mentally. Wear broken-in running shoes and worn-in clothes to avoid discomfort. Apply Vaseline around your upper arms and between your thighs to prevent chafing.

Best foot forward

Understanding your foot type is key to choosing the right pair of running shoes. Flat-footed athletes tend to overpronate (roll inwards), while those with high arches usually oversupinate (roll outwards).

Dr Sami Tabib, a consultant podiatrist at UAE Podiatry in Dubai, says that motion-control shoes are ideal for overpronators, and cushioned shoes with midsole padding are best for oversupinators. “Stability shoes are best for neutral pronators,” he says.

Tabib also says that gait analysis is essential to determine your foot type, but warns runners to be sceptical when told by shop assistants that they overpronate. “Pronation is normal and a good shock absorber. Using motion-control shoes unnecessarily can lead to foot and knee problems,” he says.