Ultra-marathon runner Ann Johansson provides her top tips on how best to prepare for a big race ahead in 8 simple steps

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The prospect of running a marathon  is a daunting one - likely to be the longest race you’ve ever run, committing to one involves a good 16 weeks of training, a lot of early starts and probably a number of days where you’ll want to call the whole thing off. However, with the right mindset and enough preparation the road to race day needn’t be as stressful or intimidating as you might think.

We caught up with Swedish/Canadian ultra-marathon runner and founder of activewear range  BoomBoom Athletica , Ann Johansson to talk about running, goals and how to take on that challenge...

“Whether you’re  new to running , training for your first marathon or are a serious runner who has been at it for years, you’ll always want to progress and continue to challenge yourself,” says Ann. Here are her top 8 tips to help ensure your journey to the finish line is a seamless and successful as possible.

1. Have a goal

The key to completing any challenge is to set a goal and stick to it. In my experience sharing your goal with those around you is a great way to stay committed and on track. If ever you feel like giving up, those closest to you will be there to offer support and give you the encouragement you need to keep going.

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2. Create a weekly workout plan

To set effective and realistic goals, it is important to create a training plan, broken down into weekly progression. Most running plans revolve around three runs a week: intervals, tempo and a long run (do not schedule these three runs back to back as it will increase the chance of injury). You can also supplement this training with other workouts which will compliment all the running you’re doing. I’d recommend spinning (great low impact aerobic workout), a barre or pilates class to strengthen your core, weights to help your muscles with the impact, and a yoga session to stretch and tone. When it comes to running, there is no challenge too big or too small; when I entered my first ultramarathon, people thought I was nuts. It was a huge step for me, but having a nine month training plan allowed me to build the endurance and strength I needed to complete a 90 km race in 9 hours and 19 minutes.

3. Push with precaution

Achieving any goal that you set will take effort, application and dedication. To avoid injury, I’d recommend sticking to the 10% rule - build up your running gradually and increase your weekly mileage by no more than 10%. The first few weeks are without doubt the toughest; it requires real discipline to incorporate workouts into a busy schedule, but in a matter of weeks, what once felt like a chore will become invigorating as you progress and get fitter.

4. Avoid injury

The other key element to avoiding injury is a post-run stretching routine and a trusty foam roller. For stretching, I do some overall body stretches but then focus on calves, hamstrings, quads, and glutes. I mainly use the foam roller on my IT band and my quads. Rolling on a tennis ball is a handy alternative to a foam roller and it can hit precise points of tension. If you continue to feel tight, a sports massage can help release tension in areas that are hard to stretch out. It’s so important to listen to your body - if you are feeling pain, seek out a medical professional - the earlier you catch an injury the quicker it is to recover and the sooner you can get back to training.

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5. Buddy up

Recruiting a training partner could also benefit you in the long run. Finding someone who is willing to take on the same challenge will make you mutually accountable and you’ll both work hard not to let each other down. The right training partner will also be able to put you through your paces and share in your triumphs, and pick you up when you’re having a down day. If you can’t find a training partner, there are lots of training and tracking programmes online - consistently logging your workouts will provide a similar motivation, inspiring you to keep up the good work.

6. Invest in some proper kit

For runners, it’s incredibly important to have the  right kit . I struggled for years to find workout gear which was both stylish and functional. So, eventually I decided to take the plunge and create my own range,  BoomBoom Athletica . Using all of my experience as a marathon runner and an ultra-marathoner, I set out to create a chic range which truly responds to the body for improved performance, helping you to withstand the demands of even the most rigorous training session. My designs are made from high-quality materials with several garments incorporating advanced compression fabrics with 25%+ elastane, helping to reduce jarring of muscles and subsequent inflammation which enhances recovery. These fabrics are complemented by fine mesh panels and detailing which offer excellent breathability whilst wicking moisture away from the skin, keeping you comfortable and able to focus on your workout. A great pair of trainers and a supportive sports bra should never be overlooked either. To make sure you’re getting the right fit, it’s important to make sure you try them on properly, and seek expert advice, as the wrong fitting shoe or bra could cause some permanent damage.

7. Fuel your fitness

When aiming to run over an hour, keeping hydrated and adequately fuelled becomes an increasingly important factor (although the latest sports science is inconclusive on the absolute requirements). Preferences are highly individual and studies have shown athletes can adapt through training. I mainly rely on electrolyte drinks but most people also like to use gels (1 every 30 minutes washed down with water). Virtually all running events have feed stands at every mile, so ahead of the race, I recommend contacting the organiser to understand what food and drink products will be stocked to ensure you’re well prepared.

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8. Log your progress

Lastly, it’s really important to track your progress using a smartphone app or  GPS watch  to log your runs. Understanding how you’re progressing will help you to develop further training plans and monitor how you’re balancing the demands of everyday life with a sporting challenge. It’s not for everybody, but sharing your progress on social media can also give you an extra boost. You may be surprised at how much encouragement you receive and you might even inspire others to take on their own challenge or start keeping fit.

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