Preparing for a half marathon can be just as challenging as a full marathon, especially if it's your first. Bupa Dental has partnered with the Sydney Morning Herald Half Marathon 2021 to offer runners advice about looking after their dental health and general health and wellbeing, which are closely linked.

If you're planning to take part in the Sydney Half Marathon, or you're starting training for another event, here are the most important things you need to know to make sure you're physically and mentally prepared before you step up to that starting line.

Regular training

Practice makes perfect, and regular training is essential to prepare your body and mind for the rigours of a 21.1-kilometre half marathon. Training should begin at least a few months in advance and you should run as often as you can, gradually increasing the distance to build up your endurance. Around three weeks before the event, you should cut back to shorter runs to give your muscles a chance to recover.

Remember the parable of the hare and the tortoise, and focus on completing your training circuits and the race itself without overexerting yourself. You'll probably find that your time improves the more often you run, but getting caught up in trying to beat your personal best can lead to muscle injuries or exhaustion.

Don't worry if you miss a training session, as long as you stay consistent. Most runners train four to six days per week. If you're wondering how you'll find the time in your busy schedule, five-time marathon runner and father of three Chris Pavey has training tips for time-poor parents.

Marathon nutrition

Healthy eating (and drinking) is important before, during and after your race to keep you physically fit and energetic. Healthy carbohydrates from fresh fruit and vegetables, grains, legumes and dairy products should be part of your training diet, especially on running days. Staying hydrated is also essential, so take water along for shorter runs and sports drinks to replenish electrolytes on longer runs or on warmer days.

On race day itself, you should treat your body with care and eat a light breakfast with healthy carbs. Take a banana or other carbs with you (along with drinks) and give yourself a boost every 30 to 45 minutes to help stave off fatigue. While some runners practice 'carb loading,' you should avoiding shocking your body with any new foods during race week.

Healthy eating can be even more important after the race is over. Carbs from foods such as rice or potatoes can aid recovery, while protein from meat, fish or other sources can help to repair muscle damage. You should also drink plenty of fluids, starting within an hour of crossing the finish line.

For more nutrition advice, Bupa sports dietitian Nick Green has tips for foods to help you cross that finish line.

Running shoes

Even the fittest runner will be let down by the wrong footwear. The sooner you find the right pair to match your feet and your goals, the less likely you are to experience pain and injury while training or during the race. A sports store or specialty running store can help you to find the best shoes to match your foot size, arch height and body type.

Since you'll be doing a lot of running, you might have to replace your shoes along the way. It's generally recommended to replace running shoes every 800km or when you notice signs of wear, so this depends on how intensive your training is.

Mental preparation

When you've taken care of the physical side, you also need to make sure you're prepared psychologically for what you'll be putting your body through, especially if you've never run such a long distance before.

To motivate yourself to succeed, you should set regular, achievable goals that are gradually increased as your times improve. You might consider running with a partner or joining a group such as Park Run or Striders (depending on COVID-19 restrictions) so you can share the experience and rely on each other for support. If you're worried about getting bored, change up your training route to take in new sights, as long as you know the area well.

Mental preparedness combined with good nutrition lowers the risk of runners hitting 'the wall’ – a feeling of sudden fatigue and loss of energy.

See a doctor

Whether it's your first time running such a long distance, you're a marathon veteran, or you're worried about an existing health condition affecting your performance or eligibility, it's important to see a doctor and other health practitioners before you start training.

A health assessment can indicate whether you're fit and healthy enough to handle the stress of a half marathon and can also identify any problems that should be treated before your training begins. Your doctor could also give you useful advice about training and nutrition or refer you to other professionals who can help.

See a dentist

You might not think it, but running can take its toll on your teeth. From sugary sports drinks and energy bars increasing your risk of tooth decay to teeth grinding causing head and neck pain, oral health problems can affect your overall wellbeing and performance in many ways. That's one reason why it's important to keep up with your regular dental visits or to make an appointment to see a dentist if you're concerned.

As well as treating oral health problems such as tooth decay and gum disease, your dentist can also advise whether you could benefit from wearing a custom mouthguard while training. Mouthguards may be more associated with contact sports like rugby, but they could also protect your teeth and relieve muscle pains and tension if you grind your teeth while running or working out. Your dentist may also be able to provide a night guard to help you stop grinding your teeth during sleep.

Even beyond the teeth, problems such as tooth decay and gum disease can increase the risk of disease in other parts of the body, including heart disease and stroke, so it's better to deal with any issues sooner rather than later. To find out more, read Bupa Dental's guide to how oral health can impact wellbeing.

Good luck!

If you're taking part in the SMH Half Marathon, you're about to discover strengths you never knew you had. With good preparation beforehand, you stand the best chance of achieving your goal so you can start planning where to go next!

The Sydney Morning Herald Half Marathon takes place on Sunday, June 27, 2021. The 21.1 km race begins on College Street, adjacent to St Mary's Cathedral, and finishes at Hyde Park North. For more details or to enter and donate, visit the event website.

Bupa Dental is proud to sponsor the SMH Half Marathon, which helps us to spread awareness of the importance of good oral health for overall health. Find your nearest Bupa Dental clinic.

References

Australian Government. Healthy Mouths, Healthy Lives: National Oral Health Plan 2015-2024 [Online] 2015 [Accessed July 2020] Available from: Australian National Oral Health Plan 2015-2024