How do you prepare for a midnight marathon?

With the Doha 2019 IAAF World Championships choosing to hold night-time marathons to combat the heat, we ask how the athletes will adapt to the different conditions.
By ZK Goh and Evelyn Watta

One of the intriguing innovations of the Doha 2019 IAAF Athletics World Championships is the marathons will be held at night.

Marathons are normally held in the morning, but the daytime heat in Qatar has seen the championships organisers opt for the novel midnight start time.

Similar concerns about the heat at Tokyo 2020 means the Olympic marathons next year are scheduled to begin at 6 a.m. local time.

The world-first midnight championships races see the women's marathon taking place on the first night of competition (23:59 Friday 27 September) and the men's race on night number nine (23:59 Saturday 5 October).

But what will it be like running the 26.2 miles (42.195 km) under the stars, and what will be different for the athletes? We asked three of Kenya's best long-distance runners to give us their thoughts.

"No special training"

According to two-time Olympic 10,000m silver medallist Paul Tergat, no specific training or preparation is needed for the midnight marathon.

"We always train around 5 p.m., or 8 p.m., sometimes even 9 p.m., depending on where you are in Europe in summer," he told the Olympic Channel. "It's very late, you can still train until 9:00 so it's only a question of a few hours," he said.

"Regardless of whether the weather is -5 degrees or it is 30 degrees, it doesn't matter, so long as you have trained well and you are ready," he added. "You can run at any time, any where, given the conditions."

"The weather around that time, it is cool, it's nice. There will be no wind for sure in the night, it's not like I think the day that it will keep on changing, it will be more calm."

Fellow Olympic silver medallist Patrick Sang, who reached the second step of the podium at Barcelona 1992 in the 3000m steeplechase, agreed that a midnight marathon would be favourable in terms of weather conditions.

"The temperatures will have come down, and the humidity levels are not as high," he said.

Body clock

Sang told the Olympic Channel that the biggest challenge for athletes running at night will be adjusting their bodies, which are used to morning marathons.

"They need to compete when their biological clock has not adjusted to the local time zone," he said.

The coach of Rio 2016 marathon champion Eliud Kipchoge, who is aiming to run a sub-two-hour marathon under controlled conditions in Austria in October, added:

"I think what I would suggest some days before is that you try to take a nap in the afternoons if you want to maintain your normal routine.

"That would mean if you take a nap in the afternoon, the normal sleep will come much later. That's one way of adjusting towards the day of the marathon that will be done at midnight."

Mental preparation

Edna Kiplagat is still an active runner, and the two-time marathon world champion says the main thing for her is to stay focused mentally.

"I don't have any worries on (running at night)," she said to the Olympic Channel.

"Every time you are preparing for a race, mental shifts are important to prepare for the opponents you will be running against, or the weather conditions," she noted. "Everything that is required for you to succeed begins with your mental state.

"I am prepared mentally to run in the night.

"The most important is the training prior: stay injury-free until race day," she added.