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Thursday, April 28, 2016

what i learned from my first marathon

If you are considering running a marathon, or training already, you may be like me and try to read every. single. article. you can find about marathon training. Here are my insights that I did not commonly find in my research (remember: I have no formal training in this area, this is all based on personal experience), and what worked for me before, during, and after my first marathon. Not many pictures but I'll make up for that with some of my marathon training outtakes in a few days :P

I guess you could say I was still on my runner's high..

  • Make goals that are right for you.
    • I read quite often that when running your first marathon, your goal should be just to finish the race. If you’re like me, that’s not motivating in the slightest. I know I could finish a marathon, but I wanted to run it well. And train well too! So, I plugged in my half-marathon times into the McMillan Running Calculator and found the range of times I should finish in. (Just doubling your half-marathon time is not going realistic for most people).
  • Research training plans thoroughly taking into consideration 1- the Time needed to train, 2 -your susceptibility to Injuries, and 3 - your Length of running experience/fitness level.
    • 1. Time. Luckily, I don’t have many major responsibilities besides a full-time job with a flexible schedule so marathon training for me was not hard to schedule. Yes, sometimes I did have to wake up at 4a to run before work due to other obligations after work, but many, including myself, can tell you that a run is the best way to start the day. I don’t need caffeine those days! Additionally, I have met several people who said yes, they ran a marathon, but they ultimately weaned off their training plan, and the race didn’t go well.
    • 2. Susceptibility to Injuries. Unluckily, I tend to hurt myself every time I’m training for a race. So, for me, the less I run, the better (unless someone shows me to be less clumsy..).  For my first marathon, I picked a training plan that required me to run only three times a week: first run was speedwork/intervals, second was tempo, and third was the long run. I had a goal pace for each of these runs based on my planned marathon pace. The other days of the week were spent cross-training, with the rest day always (unless personal obligations otherwise dictated) the day before the long run. I still injured myself on this cycle, yes, but I feel like things could have been worse if I ran more during the week.
    • 3. Length of Running/Fitness Level.
      • This factor goes hand in hand with your susceptibility to injuries. Pick a longer plan if you want more flexibility in case of injuries, or you have major personal priorities on the horizon (vacation, family events, etc).
  • Nutrition is key to great runs and recovery.
    • For my marathon training, I was 99% vegetarian-based, with no meat or seafood. The last two weeks/tapering was spent in Spain/Italy, so I indulged in both (“when in Rome”?!). My main sources of protein were eggs, sprouted bread, vegan protein powder/shakes, beans, and nut butters. Generally, I felt great the entire training cycle as far as food. I really cut down on candy but did indulge at least once or twice per week, typically to help get calories  back after the longer runs.  As far as my main recovery source for longer runs, I found the more protein and veggies I had within a few hours after finishing my long run, the better I felt.  And yes - you will eat A TON. Budget accordingly.
  • Practice with the nutrition (food, sports drink, and water if you are running international) you will be using during the race.
    • I experimented with many kinds of gels during my long run and found my favorite with Gu brand Gels thanks to all their flavors. But, it is easier to not carry your own gels if you use the nutrition that the race is offering, so experiment with those if you want to go that route. Also, be sure to experiment with the sponsored sports drink as well.
  • Strength training will help if you have time, but lift after you run.
    • I made the mistake of strength training on the days between my runs at the start of my plan and wow, those runs were painful. Once I moved them to after my runs, I started to feel and look stronger, and I think is a big reason why my first marathon went so well. 
  • Keep a training journal.
    • It’s amazing to look back and see how far you’ve come, through the good times and bad times of marathon training. This is also helpful in case you have a minor ache pop up - note it, and then hopefully you’re NOT like me, and don’t have to flip back to see when it started acting up.
  • Pick a course that’s right for you.
    • My first marathon was the Milano Marathon, in Milan, Italy. It was described as flat and fast both on their website and on marathon reviews that I read. I could not imagine running something incredibly hilly for my first and that probably isn't a good idea unless you are crazier than me and like more of a challenge.
  • Do not underestimate your need for nutrition/electrolytes/water.
    • I walked through most of the aid stations during my first marathon and I wouldn’t have done it any differently. I drank a lot more than I anticipated, but it worked out and I didn’t have any stomach issues.  There are several post-marathon pictures out there of people who are literally on their death bed, and from what I understand, dehydration is a major cause of this.
  • Remember your best…and worst training runs - during the race.
    • During my training for my first marathon, I had to run a couple long runs on the treadmill which is of course, quite a mental challenge.  Then, many of my runs were out in the cold, and in extreme wind. For you, you may be running in snow, rain, sleet, you name it. When you’re going through a tough spot during the marathon, think about these runs and how you persevered, maybe not at the pace you wanted, but you made it! And then of course, don’t forget about those runs where you just dominated and finally felt like your marathon training took you to the next level.
  • Be prepared for any possible set back.
    • Think of all that could go wrong - hitting “the Wall”, stomach/gastrointestinal issues, feeling random pains in places you never even knew existed, throwing up, falling, going slower than anticipated, not seeing your friends/family, etc.  Then, think of how you are going to deal with each of those situations if they come up. Sure, it sucks to think of all the bad that could happen, but it’s best to be prepared.  That goes into the next tip..
  • Stay positive!!!
    • I am quite the optimist so positivity is not a struggle for me during those weak moments. Keep a mantra (or two) handy.  I have quite a few that I will repeat when going through tough race moments, and when I had some pains flare up during my race, I just kept telling myself that “pain is weakness leaving the body”.  Which I’ve never used before but it definitely worked out in my favor! 
  • Take time to recover
    • I in no way believe in the whole you should take a rest day for each mile that you ran in a race but take some days off afterwards from running. I took two weeks off so it was a bit of a struggle to get back into running but I have no qualms about it. For the record, I started lifting and doing light cardio starting 3 days after the race so I wouldn't lose so much of my fitness.  Listen to your body though!
  • Have Fun!!!
    • Training itself is hard. Don't get me wrong. But it's not impossible! Don't give up! Reward yourself for major accomplishments. And then on race day..this is the most important time to have a blast. The sense of community during a race is one of the best parts and the support you get from family, friends and strangers along the way is really motivating.  Have fun and high-five as many people you can!!