Sunday, February 9, 2014

Things I wish I knew prior to the big 26.2

Have you ever thought about running a marathon? And then thought, "Oh, hale no"? Don't worry! I have been there. But I've also experienced the exhilaration of running across the finish line after a grueling 26.2 miles and felt absolutely on top of the world. It feels so good once you finish, it's kind of addicting.
It's like childbearing, which is something many people can relate to. It takes a loooooong time to prepare for, and then there is about 3-6 hours of real work, then at the end you cross the finish line and a huge feeling of relief washes over you and you are given a beautiful...medal. Eventually you forget all the horrible parts, and you just remember how rad you felt, and you want to do it again. And again!
I've run two full marathons in my short running "career" (I do not run professionally at any level, no), and several half marathons. I've done it the right way, and I've done it the absolute worst way possible. I have a few tips for those of you who want to take the plunge and run. Honestly, these are good tips for any race prep, not just the full 26.2, but the longer the distance the more important each become.

1. Do your homework. This is an important step that I completely skipped the first time a ran a marathon. I had been running inconsistently and no more than 15-20 miles a week when I decided to run my first marathon. My first marathon, incidentally, was my first race. Ever. Anyway, talk to people you know who have run endurance races or go online and look at running sites. Runners World, Another Mother Runner, Hal Higdon. Theses are my go to websites. They have all kinds of tips from people far more experienced than me.

2. Take what people say with a grain of salt. While you are conducting said research,  remember no one but you knows what you are capable of, and even YOU might not know. Don't let what other people say discourage you. If you have a desire to do it, that is literally all you need. If your desire is real, you will figure out a way to do it. My first marathon, I went into it blindly and completely unprepared. I was scared, no doubt, and I went about it all wrong, and injured myself, but I DID it. Hopefully with the research and prep you do you will avoid injury, but I'm also hoping it doesn't make you decide to just forget it. It is doable for anyone.

3. Find the right marathon for you and sign up! Ok, the right race depends on a lot of factors. Time of year, for example. If you run one in the spring, that means you will have needed to train for 18 weeks in the winter. If your winters are dangerously cold and you have no access to a treadmill, maybe go for a race where you can train all summer. Also look at the price, elevation gain/loss, whether or not it's a trail run, and how many people are running. Some people love a crowd whereas others love small quiet runs. I've done both, and loved different things about each. I did a Rock'n'Roll marathon which had great support, fantastic aid stations, bands every mile, and a TON of runners. I've also done a tiny local marathon that had maybe 50 runners for the full, it was flat, on beautiful country roads, it was quiet, and my husband could ride his bike alongside me. There are pros and cons to each, so read the reviews of the marathons you are considering.

4. Find an appropriate training schedule for your skill level/goals. If this is your first marathon, then get a simple training schedule that has a slow build-up of mileage and will get you to the finish line. If you are more experienced at running and want to add in speedwork or hills, there are training schedules for that as well. My recommendation for your first race is to simply cross the finish line. I would not make a time goal because you really don't know what you are getting into. I don't want you do go into it with unrealistic goals and then have the race be a complete disappointment simply because you didn't finish it in under four hours. Hal Higdon has several free and simple training plans, and you can start there. I like Another Mother Runner training plans too, and they have mileage along with intervals, hills, strength training, etc.

5. Do the training. This is the hard part. Not the race itself. If you do the training and are consistent the race should actually be kind of enjoyable unless you hit a wall at mile 18 or something. The training takes time, commitment, sacrifice. It means you will likely need to get up early or stay up late to get your runs done. Trust me, though, the training is very important. It can mean the difference between being injured and needing to recover for 9 months (ahem, 1st time) or crossing the finish line and thinking it was actually kind of fun (2nd time!). Don't skip any of the long runs, unless you are injured, and try not to skip many of the other runs in your training. That being said, the programs are a guideline more than anything, so if you miss a run, don't beat yourself up or stress. Also don't try to make up runs by adding a 7 mile run right before your long run on Saturday. Just slip back into the schedule where you would be.  You can also switch around the days you run a little bit, but try to give yourself an easy run or rest day after your long runs.

6. During your training find music you enjoy listening to, or a good book or podcast, or try to find someone crazy enough to run with you. Personally, I love running with a buddy. I feel safer and it's SO much more fun to chat. I have also run with audiobooks going, podcasts, and a playlist. I've also even run absolutely naked (free of any electronics or people) and really enjoyed that as well. Find what you like, and do it. Be aware though, that some races do not allow headphones due to safety reasons.

7. During your training, eat and wear what you plan to eat and wear on race day. Your long runs are kind of "practice races." It's your opportunity to try out different outfits and foods before the big day. For my first marathon I wore brand new shorts from the expo they hold just prior to race day. I also wore the shirt they give you in your goody bag. The shirt, it turns out was a men's small, not a women's medium, so the neck felt like it was choking me, but it was super baggy and loose everywhere else. There was a lot of chafing I had never experienced before. I also had never tried fueling before so the drinks and gus they had at the aid stations were also new and quite disgusting. They didn't really settle well with my stomach. Any long run over an hour you have prior to the actual race, you should practice hydrating and refueling. I personally like the shot blocks and Gu lemon lime electrolyte powder.
Also, as a side note, if you find something that works for you to eat before your runs, stick with it, and DON'T CHANGE IT ON RACE DAY. Seriously, the only thing different about race day should be that you are wearing a bib and you have aid stations to stop at. Most marathons have on their websites what they plan on serving runners at the aid stations, and if you can practice with that product, do it. If not, plan on carrying your own shtuff.

8. If you plan on running with a friend, discuss beforehand if you are going to run together the whole time no matter what, or if you are fine with splitting up. Have a frank honest discussion, and if you are someone who feels like they aren't sure if they could do it alone, you need to let your partner know, and let them know your expectations. If you have specific time goals, then you should let your partner know you are happy to run together, but you will break away if you need to to reach your goal. Nothing is worse than going into a race and having to have that discussion while one of you is feeling defeated and wanting the partner to stick around to help out, and the other one is disappointed they won't finish  at their goal without feeling guilty for ditching.

9. Figure out transportation. Is someone going to drop you off and pick you up? Are you carpooling with other runners? Are you going to use the shuttle? Do they have parking available at the starting line? Will the race end where it started or will there be a 3 mile walk to the parking area? With both of my marathons I carpooled, but my first race I got there way too early and froze. My second race we didn't account for getting lost and traffic, and arrived late. If you do happen to run late, it's ok, because your results are usually based on a time chip and you avoid getting stuck behind the crowd. However, if you are too late, you could take too long to finish and the race could shut down. Plus it's more exhilarating to start when the cannon goes off.  Bottom line, figure out all that stuff before 6 AM on race day.

10. On race day it's a very amateur thing to start way too fast. You are loaded up with adrenaline and excitement and the only reason you should start fast is to pass the inevitable crowd that could potentially block your pathway. Then you should slow right down to the pace you've been training at. After the halfway point, if you are feeling like you are holding back way too much, go ahead and pick up the pace a little bit and finish strong.


No comments:

Post a Comment