Friday, August 16, 2013

So You Want To Run a Marathon?

My sister in-law recently asked me for some race tips because she is thinking of running a half marathon.  As I started to put my “tips” together I realized it was actually quite of bit of information and I decided I would put it out there for anyone who is in her same shoes and might need some candid information.  

Note:  I am not a fantastic runner, especially not by most runners’ standards.  My fastest marathon was at a steady 11 minute mile pace.  Which is not fast.  And I by no means look like a marathon runner.  But I am. I have run 8 marathons with another in the works this October and I have several half marathons and other races under my feet as well. 

And with that experience comes my recommendations for those who are thinking of trying their feet hand at a race.  These may not be "official" tips, but they are things I have learned in my 10 years of running.  And boy have I learned it. 

1 - Buy a good pair of running shoes.  Running shoes should be replaced every 300 miles and if they are not, they can easily cause injury.  Buy a new pair! I recommend getting ½ size larger than you usually wear to avoid your toes rubbing on your shoes, which could lead to lost toe nails. Try on several pair.  Do a little jog in the store, on the tile.  It makes a difference.  You don’t want to buy uncomfortable shoes, especially when you will be wearing them for many, many miles.

2 - Know what you are getting yourself into.  Start with a shorter race and work your way up. A 5k and a 10k are great starters. I did start with a half marathon as I was not at all into running when I started and I allowed my sister to convince me to do one, against my better judgment (at the time).   
I definitely stick by this sentiment for anyone thinking of running a full marathon.  I really recommend that you run a half marathon first, and if you can’t imagine yourself running another 13.1 miles after the 13.1 you just completed, stick with half marathons.  But if you feel like you could do that all over again, you are a glutton for punishment you can run a full marathon. 

3 - Run a fun/good race.  Some races are much better than others.  There are a lot of factors: organization, entertainment, course difficulty, etc.   These factors make a HUGE difference.  If your race is boring or extra hard because it is all uphill  or you really don’t know when the next water table/restroom will be you just might finish the race and never want to do it again because of the lack of awesome you could have experienced…or maybe they didn’t give out finishers medals.  Seriously.  Do not run a race that doesn’t give out finishers medals.  They are lame.  
I love Disney races, they are well planned and just fun (pricy, but worth it).  The Rock n’ Roll series is pretty great as well, they have some great entertainment during the race. The St. George Marathon was voted the most organized marathon by Runner’s World in 2010, and it is a pretty great race (and beautiful to boot!).  Ask people who have run the race if they recommend it and decide from there.

4 - Plan your training.  I will look at the date of the race and work backwards on my training schedule. You should be running short runs 3-5 days a week and a long run once a week.  The short run’s mileage should add up to the distance of the long run.  For example, if your long run is 8 miles, you should run four 2 mile short runs.  Also add in some cross training/strength training on the days you aren’t running, or in addition to your short run.  Each long run day you will want to increase your mileage by 1-2 miles depending on the time you have before your race.  Don’t run the full race distance as the long run the week before your race, do half the distance, but be sure to run at least 11 miles prior to your half marathon, and at least 18 (but please try to get in about 22) before a full marathon.  And it may go without saying, but please train.  It is easy to put off long runs, or even short runs, but this will make a huge difference.  If you don’t train, your body will not be prepared and you can get injured and/or have a horrible experience. I’ve had my fair share of well/not well trained-for races.  I will take the well trained races any day.


5 - Train your stomach. Your body needs to know what you will take in before/ during your runs.  If you eat something your body isn’t used to, especially on a long run, you will find your body will get angry, and you will need to find a restroom fast.  Not to mention you’ll be uncomfortable which makes for a miserable run.  I usually try different foods before/during my short runs.  My classic go-to is a banana and a piece of wheat bread with peanut butter or oatmeal with a banana and then I stick to that before most/all runs so when I do my long run, my body handles it well.  If you are doing long, long runs, pack some items with you to help re-fuel during the miles.  Most races have things like orange wedges or half bananas for the runners, so get your body ready for them just in case you want them during the race.

6 - Make sure to fuel your body.  Water and Powerade are important, but make sure you include more fuel, like Gu or Gu Chomps (the chomps are much more easy for me to stomach because the texture is much better) or Clif-type bars.  These help you to maintain the energy you need to run.   You need this.  Train with this.  Don’t try Gu or Clif bar for the first time during the race, see #5.  Also, a new flavor may not bode well and you might gag/puke as some are not good if you don’t know what to expect.  No lies.

7 - Don’t do anything new before a long run.  Don’t buy a new sports bra or clothes in general.  Don’t wear socks you haven’t worn running before.  Don’t eat something different.  Nothing new (I don’t even recommend you trimming your toe nails right before.  Do it a day or two before your long run).  New things could cause a myriad of unpleasant consequences you don’t want to have to deal with when running 10 miles plus.  Better to try the new thing out on a 2 -4 mile run so you know if you should kick it or keep it for your next long run/race.

8 - Pain killers.  After a while you start to feel the burn of tired/sore muscles.  To avoid this, I take a pain killer with my pre-race meal.  I like Excedrin because it has acetaminophen, aspirin and caffeine.  But I am also a huge fan of ibuprofen as it has an anti-inflammatory.

9 - Plan to avoid bowel distress.  On a too-much-information note, when running many miles, you will get some bowel distress (usually regardless of your prep from number 5).  It happens to all of us.  I take an anti-diarrheal with my pre-run meal as well to help avoid bowel distress.  Trying to find a usable bathroom while in distress is awful and uncomfortable.  And I have seen waaay too many marathoners who haven’t, uh, made it to the toilet, and you can see/smell the results their entire run.  Awful. 
I’ve had many people tell me that this is the best tip I have given them…and has helped them with their running the most as they could focus on running and not on what else their body was doing.  Just don’t take too much anti-diarrheal, being constipated during a race is also unpleasant.

10 - Miscellaneous. 
·         Lubricate your feet or any place that might rub: your thighs, where your bra touches under your armpit, etc.  This will help against chaffing, which makes for an uncomfortable race.  I love the Chamois Butt’r.  It is pricy up front, but will last a long time. 
·         Get a running belt to carry chapstick, gum, tissues (your nose will run too).  Don’t have it be too bulky or it will bounce and just be super annoying. 
·         Check the race course and other details before the race.  You want to be prepared for hills (do some decent hill training), where the water stops are and other expectations like cut off times etc. We usually train to only have water every 2-3 miles during our long runs as that is the general distance between water stops/restrooms on a race. 

11 - Focus on the accomplishment ahead of you.  This is what got me through training and some of my hardest races (The Goofy Race and a Half Challenge). And it is for this reason that I have signed up for all of my races following the first one I ran in 2003.  There truly is a runner’s high, and it is at its peak for me when I cross that finish line and know what I just accomplished.  I cry every time.  Every time.

I need this to keep me going during the race sometimes too.  During the aforementioned Goofy Race and a Half Challenge, I was struggling big-time. And I saw a man standing on the side of the race with his three medals around his neck and I started bawling.  BAWLING. Because THAT was what I was doing this for - to know that I accomplished what I set out to do.  I was NOT going to quit.  I’m getting emotional just typing this because I love that feeling so much.  It makes it all worth it to me. 

12 - You will be sore. The morning after a race is death.  Your legs and muscles you-didn’t-think-had-anything-to-do-with-running will ache. Going downstairs, stepping off curbs or picking up anything that falls to the floor will be a chore.  Lowering yourself into a sitting position will be miserable.  I personally love Tiger Balm on sore muscles, I feel like they aren’t as sore, or that they feel better faster when I rub it on my muscles.  I also advise that even though you have sore muscles, don’t just sit.  Move around a little so your muscles don’t stay stiff.  After my longest race I walked all day around Disney World, and although getting on and off rides was a nightmare, ultimately all the walking helped my muscles recover faster because they didn’t stay stiff and stationary.

I hope these tips help.  I definitely have a love-hate relationship with running.  But the love always seems to out-do the hate, that is why I keep running.


Joanne said...

I may need this list someday....if I get up the guts to run more than a 5k. Thanks for the advice!

Donna and Bevan said...

What great advice! My hubby is running his first marathon next month and I'm totally showing this to him. He got into it right when I got out of it. Figures. What I really need is you and Martha! Ah, those were the days. I wish I still had that flat of a chest! hehe!