10 tips on how to prepare for a marathon in Kenya

Marathons in Kenya are popular events which attract both professional, amateur and fun runners. The country is renowned the world over for producing some of the best long distance athletes with current Olympic and World Marathon Champion Eliud Kipchoge being hailed as the greatest marathoner ever. He has won all but one of all the marathons he has run. By the time of writing his article, his recent triumph at the London Marathon 2019 was only his 12th competition.

Apart from Eliud Kipchoge, we have had world record breakers such as the late Samuel Wanjiru, Geoffrey Mutai, Dennis Kimetto, Vivian Cheruiyot, Lorna Kiplagat, Wilson Kipsang, Tecla Lorupe, among others. Therefore, it is no surprise that tens of long distance events happen in Kenya, but it is the half marathon and marathon that everyone wants to ultimately feature in and get the finisher’s medal. How can you prepare for a marathon in Kenya either as a local or foreign amateur?

  1. Know your health status

The purpose of the marathon and long distance races is to test your endurance ability. It goes without saying that you must be in good health before even thinking of taking part in a marathon or half marathon. Most marathon events have family runs in short distances, such as 5 km or 12 km races. It is better to take part in these shorter events if you are not well prepared – but even short races require adequate physical and mental preparation.

2. Choose a single race and prepare months in advance

Now, if you have noticed in the first paragraph of this article, we have mentioned that marathon legend Eliud Kipchoge has run only 12 marathons and won 11 of them. He lost a marathon race more than ten years ago. That is a huge lesson for both amateur and professional marathoners. Choose a single race and train for that race. Do not be too greedy to want to compete in every other event on the calendar.

For instance, in Kenya some of the marathon events include the Standard Chartered Marathon, the Mombasa Marathon, the Eldoret Kass Marathon, among others. They all happen within a year. Select one, and train for it. Your body especially as an amateur cannot endure two marathons in a year. It is not surprising to hear of a name conquer the world platform in certain short period and then disappear for good. That is the mistake they make: running several 42 km events within short time spans till their bodies burn out and give up!

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So how long should you train for a marathon? Plan for a not less than 16 weeks of regular training regimen in the lead up to the main event. If it is your first time, 10 months should suffice.

3. Start training with short distances and in a group

Never wake up one day and decide to run a 42 km stretch in the name of training for a marathon. You may never live to participate in the main race. Draw a schedule. Start with running around a field or a park or the neighbourhood. Let your body (lungs and muscles) get accustomed to tough treatment bit by bit.

It is easier to do this in a group, where you can run at a set pace for a reasonable distance. Even if you feel like you can do more during the initial training, don’t. Increase the length covered as days go by, so that by the time you start covering a whole 42 km, your body is accustomed and can endure without getting damaged. Don’t try to beat record times of professional runners.

4. Mix short runs and long runs

Now that your body can endure long runs, do not be tempted to run the whole marathon regularly. Since you should train on almost daily basis, do short runs of around 5km and 10 km as well as long runs of 20 – 30km. You cannot do these long runs daily, so plan to do them on probably a weekly basis. Daily routines should not be too heavy to wear your body down. Do not run too fast but in a jogging fashion. A pace where are able to talk over the phone or converse is alright.

5. Train in high altitude areas

One reason why Kenyans and Ethiopian athletes win marathons and long distance races easily, apart from the vigorous training, is their high altitude training grounds. The Iten high altitude training centre in western Kenya attracts many world beaters, and Mo Farah who is yet to win a major marathon is training right there. If you can, find your way to such places as they help your lungs and body adapt to running on low oxygen. The altitude at Iten is 2400m/ 7900ft above sea level. Remember even in such training areas, you must take water to rehydrate your body during the training. The centre was founded in 1999 by four time World Champion Lornah Kiplagat.

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6. Include cross training in your regimen

Include low impact training in your routine. Don’t just run every day. It is advisable to alternate running with low impact trainings. They include all types of stretching, short dashes, squatting, weight lifting, gym or normal cycling. Make sure all parts of your body benefit from your training regimen. That is why doing it in a group is better as you help each other out.

7. Watch your muscles and treat any soreness

Training puts a lot of strain on the muscles and ligaments. Even the most accomplished athletes injure themselves during training and have to be out for quite a long time. Your running style should therefore matter, so that you don’t tear a tendon or ligament. The terrain you train on should not be bumpy. When training in a group and you feel strained, let your colleagues know and slow down. Jog or even walk. In case of swelling, press ice against the swelling for about 10 minutes, or submerge you legs in ice cold water. Put in light exercise as you give your body time to recover. In case you suspect serious injury, see a physiotherapist asap!

8. Allow body time to recover

It is very important. You are not going to break a world record, so slow down and give your body time to recover. It doesn’t mean you go about sleeping, but do light stretching exercises to remind your muscles and body that you are still in the game. If the marathon or half marathon is close by, you need something like a week for recovery, otherwise you will burn out.

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9. Eat the right diet

Since you are not a professional athlete, you may not have a dietician to check on what you eat. Thing is you need energy to both train and run a marathon. Increase the amount of carbohydrates you take. You need to add more calories, like 100 for every kilometre. Calories are boosted by foods rich in protein, such as fish, chicken, eggs, legumes and dairy products. Proteins help build your muscles. The health of your bones and healing ability matters a lot. Take foods rich in calcium. Ensure these nutrients are included in your diet every day, during training and towards the marathon day.

Always have water with you. Drink lots of water during training and during the marathon itself. A dehydrated and burning body cannot help you finish a marathon.

10. What should you eat on the race day?

Proper nutrition during your training and in the few days leading up to the race day is very important. Add your carbs intake in the few days before the race. On the race day, eat as you would on a normal day, don’t double your intake. The food should be rich in carbs, easy to digest fibre and some fat. Digestion is important during the race, but overeating or eating alien foods can cause you upsets instead of boosting your race result. Eat at least three hours before the race. Low fibre cereals and bananas, juice and water should be on the menu. Then during the race, drink some water every 15 – 20 minutes. Sports drinks are laced with energy boosters, but it is prudent to ask your race organisers about them first.

Finally get the best running shoes and be ready! All the best in your next marathon!