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Runners: Here are five hacks you can use to up your marathon game

Just don’t forget to have fun while you’re at it.

Runners: Here are five hacks you can use to up your marathon game

(Photo: freepik)

I always find running advice monotonous and dull, completely out of step with the adventurous spirit that drives me to tie my laces each day. So here are five surprising things I’ve learnt in a decade of running.

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(Photo: Unsplash/Flo Karr)

I’ve been running marathons since 2010 in the Vibram Five Fingers, those strange-looking “barefoot shoes” that resemble ballet slippers with toe slots. Big mistake.

The great thing about these shoes is basically that they do nothing. They really are like running barefoot, but offer a bit of warmth and hinder shards of glass from ruining your week.

The theory behind them is that our bodies were evolved to run. Shoes designed for comfort, with two-inch foam under the heels, “reduce the workload of the foot’s intrinsic muscles . . . [and] potentially interfere with the normal function and development of the arch”, a 2014 study found.

In other words, the more your shoe does, the less your feet do. For training, therefore, you really want to be in minimalist shoes to put greater demand on your muscles and perfect your natural form.

Only in the past few months did I realise something that should have been obvious: Races are not training runs. Come marathon time, you want all the help you can get, especially after mile 20. So if you’re serious about racing: Wear minimalist shoes when you train but race-designed shoes for the big day.


Runners line their pockets with delicious, squeeze-in-your-mouth treats called energy gels. Usually filled with sugar, caffeine and electrolytes, they can be a significant boon on race day. I love them, frankly. But don’t get addicted to them for your weekly long run.

A far better option is baby food. Just think of who buys this stuff: Parents who only want the best for their babies. Typical ingredients: 100 per cent fruit. Energy gels, by contrast, often have 20 ingredients, and can cause gut rot – cramps, nausea and diarrhoea – if you don’t drink enough water. They cannot possibly be good for you week-in, week-out.


(Photo: Pexels)

My favourite headphones are the wireless sport kind from Bose. The problem is they sound too good.

I tend to do my running at busy commuting hours and late at night. Neither is a good time to be drowned out in music, oblivious to my surroundings.

For the past three months I’ve instead been wearing bone-conduction headphones that leave my eardrums completely exposed. They work by sending vibrations near the temple instead – apparently the way Beethoven continued to conduct music after he went almost completely deaf.

Do they sound as good as my Bose headphones? No. But hearing the traffic is worth it.


Most runners know you should be running the second half of a marathon more quickly than the first half, but few people actually achieve this. Wired once reported that in the 2016 US men’s Olympic marathon trials, “only three of the 108 entrants ran the second half faster: The men who came in first, second, and third.”

My advice is to start your playlist with Philip Glass and Frederic Chopin, the sort of music most appropriate for a funeral. You want to keep a lid on your adrenalin. It’s a secret weapon.

An adrenalin rush relaxes the muscles, helps you breathe and gives a surge of energy – all the things you need in the second half of the race when you’re rocking out to all-night rave music.


(Photo: Unsplash/Quino Al)

To runners, the marathon is an exciting race. To everyone else, it’s a parade, whether you acknowledge it or not. It’s often an annoying parade that has closed off key streets.

The least you can do is engage with the crowd, especially the young children that come out. Give them high-fives, slap those popular power up mushroom signs from Super Mario and just smile. They’ll love you.

Marathons are celebrations. When possible, I even dance at the finish line. If you’re not having fun, you’ve missed the point entirely.

By Patrick McGee © 2019 The Financial Times

The FT’s Frankfurt correspondent is charting his training over the course of a year.

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