Running a marathon is all about encouraging and enabling runners to achieve things that were once thought were impossible. For many the thought of running one marathon seems like an insurmountable goal, so to run 41.195 kilometers within certain timescales is just downright absurd for the majority of us.
But as Mumbai gears up for the 17th edition of the Tata Mumbai Marathon on 19th January, there are millions of us, still planning to start with their first 5 kilometer run or better still, start running to get fit.
Well, we decided to consult a pro runner to understand what really goes into running a long-distance race. Someone whose been a long-distance runner and a fitness coach for the better part of 15 years – Urmi Kothari, better known as ‘Coach Urmi’.
Kothari is a Nike certified function trainer, along with which she’s also a certified pilates, kettlebell coach, an animal flow instructor and fitness addict at core. But how does one really get and start training for a marathon? Well, it takes time, she says, but if you’re planning to join the thousands who’ll be running the 10k or half-marathon race, come 2021, the goal is definitely attainable, with a little help from technology, of course.
Question: How does one get started?
Urmi Kothari: When you talk about long distance running it’s usually anything above 15-16kms of running, so your half marathons, full marathons and ultra marathons are what’s deemed to be long distance runs. What you need to remember is that physically we are way more capable than our mental faculties and that means that it’s all about the mind, especially on the day of the run.
So if you’ve trained well and put in a shift getting ready for a long-distance run, then it’s all about making sure that you’re in a calm space of mind and that you believe in yourself.
Question: Cliché, but what do you think are the biggest challenges in training to run long-distance races?
Urmi Kothari: The reason why the training phase can be really tough because you deal with a lot of different factors like your regular routine, your life outside of training, taking care of your nutrition, and in some cases, even running the risk of burnout due to over-training.
Running can also get very monotonous after a point and finding new ways to make it exciting does become a challenge. That’s one area where technology can really help you. The fact that you can even monitor and track your progress, will in itself help you a great deal in staying motivated. If you’re someone who doesn’t like running or exercising alone, it is recommended that you get someone to tag along and share being part of a community.
Question: How did you get started and what’s kept you motivated through the years?
Urmi Kothari: Sports and fitness has always been a part of my life. This is my 23rd year in fitness and the reason why I’d decided to leave a corporate job was quite simple – I wanted to do something I love doing and to be known for what I stood for, rather than being known for a designation. I’ve never really looked back over the past two decades because I love teaching and it gives me immense satisfaction to be part of someone else’s’ progress and empowering them in the process.
Question: How big a role does technology helps in adhering to a goal-oriented approach and motivating you to stick to it?
Urmi Kothari: Staying motivated to run, all the time, is difficult. And I say that even as a professional. That’s exactly where the disciplining bit comes into play along with setting smaller goals for yourself. Remember that if you have a calorie-based goal or say, the day you achieve your six packs, you’re going to forget everything and rush for a bowl of ice cream the very next day.
You need to set yourself a performance-based goal instead, where you track your progress and technology helps you staying consistent to that goal. Metrics like speed and calories on a fitness tracker also helps you understand when to change your workout based on calorie efficiency and step it up, before you hit a plateau.
You can also monitor your heart rate which is very important especially if you’re going for a performance goal because recovery is also as essential as training to be a runner. I, for example, use my Apple Watch because it’s important to a runner to not only monitor distance but also the time in which you cover that distance. As a long-distance runner, you don’t aim for distance, you aim for timed runs because you’re constantly trying to establish a cardiovascular base (that also requires you to keep a check on your heart rate).
As I mentioned a little earlier, running can become very monotonous which is why listening to music while you’re at it can work as added motivation. If you’re someone who’s trying to move from a couch to a 5km run or even going for a casual run , you can use the Nike Running app or the Nike Training Club app for guided runs, curated by coaches to suit your needs. The apps also work on the Apple Watch, which means that I don’t have to keep taking my phone out to track my metrics.
Question: What according to you are must-have apps for runners?
- Apple Music – simply because it doesn’t require me to have my phone with me at all times and still stay entertained during a long run.
- Workout – this native app on the Apple Watch has everything covered, be it running, high-intensity training or even core training.
- Nike Run Club – has a lot of guided runs to offer, especially if you’re new to running
- iHydrate – reminds you to stay hydrated and track fluid loss through the day
- Heart rate monitor – important regardless of whether you’re a beginner, intermediate or professional
Question: Okay, say you’ve got us to start running. What would you personally recommend to beginners?
Urmi Kothari: Doing a two hour run consistently is difficult so to help you maintain focus, you can start by paying attention to your breathing technique and then probably put your AirPods on and start listening to some music or a podcast of your liking.
In my case, that’s something that can be accessed easily on an Apple Watch, so I’m not stopping my run to pick my playlist. Now, I have a habit of making my own playlists for my run, based on the target I set out to achieve. A recent playlist that I recently remember listing out was called ‘Sub 50‘ for my 10k run. Feel free access this podcast on Apple Music if you feel like.
I also listen to podcasts quite often, especially when I’m out for an early morning run. One of my favourites is a five minute podcast by Jim Kwik which is super byte-sized wisdom and motivation early morning, bundles with a lot of facts. For longer runs, you can also choose to listen to audiobooks on Audible. One audiobook that I would recommend is called Born To Run which is easy to listen to and is also completely related to the sport of running.
Question: How important is hydration, before and after a marathon?
Urmi Kothari: Hydration is critical for runners, not only in the form of water intake but also electrolytes. You need to consciously hydrate yourself at-least two days before a marathon or half marathon. I would recommend having 1-2 packets of ORS a day before the marathon and sipping it through the day. The idea is to not consume all of it together and allow your body to absorb the fluids. This will ensure that you don’t have cramps or other dehydration-related injuries, during or after your run. Starting this process a day or two early will also ensure that you don’t consume too much water on the day of the race.
Moving to the nutrition bit, its equally important to starting load your body with carbohydrates (often referred to as carb-loading) two days before the run, simply because your body needs that glycogen store on the day of the run.Bear in mind that this means only carb-loading and not overloading yourself with food in general. Carb-loading essentially means ensuring that at least 60 percent of your total calorie intake for the day, comes from carbohydrates.
A lot of professionals also consume dates and gels to fuel them through a race. That’s not unhealthy but you will need to keep a check on the amount of caffeine you’re consuming and ensure that you don’t exceed the prescribed daily limit.
Question: We understand that speed and distance is important in training for a marathon or half-marathon, but how key is tracking your heart rate in this process?
Urmi Kothari: A very important aspect of making sure that you’re performing well is managing your heart rate during a run and that again where the heart rate monitor on a fitness tracker is key. It’s important to monitor your heart rate during your training phase and even after your runs.
If your heart rate is slightly on the higher side (as per your age) even during your post-run phase (recovery phase), that’s considered to be a sign of over-training. Pro tip: To know what’s the maximum heart rate you should reach during your run, its 220 minus your age.
Question: Could you summarise the different phases in training for long-distance races?
Urmi Kothari: Training for any race has different phases and it starts with building an aerobic base, especially if you’re new to running. That is followed by more specific lactate threshold runs or tempo runs which are also used by fartlek training. That’s followed by some speed training or hill runs.
It’s also important that you taper your training before a marathon or half marathon. This depends on the distance you’re planning to run but that usually spans between two week to ten days before your run. What’s tapering? It’s essentially reducing the distance of your runs before a marathon or half marathon. You essentially run to ensure that your legs stay limber on the day of your main run.
Question: How important is warming up?
Urmi Kothari: Warming up is also critical to avoiding injury, regardless of whether you’re running for a long-distance or a shorter distance. You need to make sure that you’re mobilising your hips, your ankles, activating your glutes, your abs, your spine and core muscles. At the end of your run, it’s also very important that you do a proper cooldown routine that stretches all your lower body muscles and your lower back. If you need any more stretching or training tips, head over to my YouTube channel Kinetic Living. I also have a handful of videos on warm up routine on Instagram (@coach.urmi) that’ll ensure you’re ready and primed before a race.
Not sure you want to get started yet? Well, what my time with ‘Coach Urmi’ has taught me is that it’s a myth that you only need a certain aesthetic goal, or a reason to be fit. “Anyone who has a body is essentially an athlete” is something that what she believes in and I really feel that’s true because everyone has the potential. It’s just about getting the right tools and the right training.