I found this post I wrote shortly after my first marathon. Not sure why I didn’t publish it – maybe I forgot, maybe I thought I wasn’t finished… anyway – I read back through it and I still agree with all my tips so I figure since a lot of my friends have their first marathon coming up I’ll go ahead and post and we can just add to it in the comments :) Maybe down the road I’ll do another post with more tips from your suggestions!
So here was my blog entry….
I don’t claim to be an ‘expert’ marathoner… I’ve done ONE… but I do know there were a few things I wish I had done differently and a few things I did that I think worked well. These are merely my suggestions based on tips I’ve heard from my awesome-multi-marathoner friends and stuff I just realized on my own…
- Decide on a goal. Are you running your first marathon to finish or are you trying for a certain time goal? (I only recommend this if you have been running for a while or if you have a good feel for what your race pace is for a half marathon / 10k. I would not factor in times any less than a 10k. )
- Pick a training plan. There are multiple training plans from Hal Higdon, Jeff Galloway, Marathon Rookie and soon to come Train Like a Mother!!! So far I have yet to find one that ‘fits’ me….. I decided to make my own half marathon training off a hybrid of Hal Higdon…. and I made adjustments to Jeff Galloway’s for my marathon. Out of all of the options NONE fit me perfectly so I just had to read the options, study them, and combine them to what I thought would work best for me.
- Be realistic. Crossing the finish line is the ULTIMATE goal no matter what your time is… if you do decide to go for a certain time goal decide AFTER you have done a good portion of training and can get an idea of your ‘comfortable’ pace. I decided on mine the week before based off my average long run paces.
- Run at a Comfortable Pace for Training Runs. I listened to Jeff Galloway who gave a calculator to give a suggested training pace for the marathon….. but my ‘comfortable’ runs (runs where I could carry on a conversation with my buddies and not feel winded) were around a 10:00-10:30 pace and he was recommending a 12:11 pace…. that would just be miserable for me…. I understand he is trying to make sure you don’t get hurt – but my biggest suggestion is to LISTEN TO YOUR BODY. Never start out a long run too fast or you will fade fast….. but if you just try to slow it down a tad and just RUN you will figure out a good pace for yourself. One of my biggest regrets during training is forcing myself to slow down considerably on my long runs because I had no idea what my true pace was….
- Keep a training log. This is SUCH a must…. you really need to make sure you are logging an appropriate amount of hours for whatever training you decide on. I ended up averaging 25-35 which from what I read was a little on the low end – but when I was training I was just going to finish. When it gets to be a few weeks out from the marathon look back on your training, look at your average pace (which you can find out by using the runkeeper.com site or by using a pace calculator). For example: If you find your average pace for long runs was 10:15ish – then you can pretty much be guaranteed you can at LEAST do a 4:30 marathon (assuming you’ve practiced on elevation similar to the race)- then you need to start looking at previous half marathon and 10k race times and short run paces to decide if you want to set a different more aggressive goal – but again – not too aggressive for your first marathon!!!!
- Analyze your data. I touched on this above…. this will help you understand your pace/running better. There are a few calculators out there (like the JG I suggested above and McMillan’s) but neither gave me a good idea of what my Marathon goal should be…. One said 4:28:XX – the other said 4:02:XX – one seemed too easy, the other seemed way too aggressive….. so I looked back on the training that I had done, races that I had done, I looked at the course elevation for the Marathon and compared it to the elevation from my training runs (obviously a hilly marathon without training on hills will be a total time blower)
- Figure out your nutrition on your training runs. This is SO HUGE… You MUST MUST eat gels, sport beans, chomps, shot blocks,…. SOMETHING on your long runs and marathon day. Your body NEEDS it. Buy a bunch of flavors, types, etc and experiment when you are on your training runs. Don’t combine too many in one run or you wont know if something was the cause of a problem. Make note if you didn’t like a flavor of something, if something upset your stomach, if something was hard to chew or hard to swallow…. learn from your mistakes but PLEASE do this BEFORE race day. I can-not use gel… I can’t get them down no matter how hard I try and that would have been MISERABLE to figure out on race day. I found a combination of GU Chomps and Sport Beans worked for me. Always bring more than you think you need and try to ration them out – but it’s better to come home with leftovers then get out there and feel like you need more. I wish I had had ONE MORE package of chomps on my marathon…. lesson learned (BTW I ate a pack of beans before the start, package of chomps at mile 6, another package of chomps at mile 11/12ish, sport beans at mile 18-20ish and I needed ONE more….)
- Work on hydration. They are not paying me to say this I swear – but I LOVE MY FUELBELT. I can not say it enough. Having water literally at my fingertips without having to keep my hands full was PRICELESS. If you get a fuel belt – I found the 4 bottle sometimes hit my elbows so I made my training loops so I could loop back to my car and exchange my bottles. If you do this make sure there is someone that can do this on race day. My hubby missed mile 20 and I had to drink course water which (and I know this sounds stupid) but I CAN NOT DO. I choke and get cramps…. After the 3rd water station stop I got smart and grabbed a cup and poured it into my empty fuel belt bottle which was MAGIC. Just wish I did that earlier!!! Now if you CAN drink course water just remember you actually need to practice the drink…. some have a method (crush and gulp) – others walk through water stations…. but when I start walking my legs don’t start running again so PLEASE be prepared for this!!! Another option is the camel back which one of my friends swears by… I can’t do it. Regardless: Figure out how you stay hydrated on training runs and use it on marathon day. Don’t try to switch it up. My friend said he drinks 60oz of water during the marathon (2:50:XX PR for a marathon) – I drank probably about 50 but I could have used more.
- Test out your race day gear. Do not and I repeat DO NOT try to wear a new shirt you got at the expo the day before. Don’t try to wear the race shirt you just got during your packet pickup. Don’t try to break in a new pair of shoes or socks.. don’t don’t don’t!!!! I am VERY fortunate that I don’t have the chaffing problem that some do – but I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen people find a cute shirt or pair of shorts at the expo (guilty) and wear them race day (guilty) without testing them out (guilty) and have serious issues with them (thank goodness this wasn’t me but I’ve seen it happen!!!!).
Do your long runs in different options that you might wear race day. Train in pants, capris, and shorts – long sleeve shirt, short sleeve shirt and tank… If you know you can run successfully in all of those then you are golden for race day :) Some people may even try to get a fuelbelt or spibelt before the race and have never trained in them – this isn’t smart either because you have no idea how they will feel on a run and it’s just not a good time to try it out!!!
- Train with friends but have a race day plan. If you have training buddies decide beforehand if you are sticking together throughout the entire race or if you will just go a comfortable pace for YOU and hope yall can hang in together as long as possible. During my race I got to the point where I just had to keep running my own race and my running buddy started falling behind. If I didn’t keep my legs moving at the pace they wanted to go – I don’t know that I would have finished the way I wanted. Likewise, if your friend is going to fast for you – give her permission to carry on. There will ALWAYS be someone about your pace on the course you can make pretend (or real!!) friends with that will get you to the finish line. You may even help someone else who is struggling to get through!!!
- Speed work and Hill work. A friend asked about incorporating speedwork into her first marathon training. I do not recommend this. Speedwork requires a lot of energy and pushing your muscles and body to do stuff out of it’s comfort zone. Yes, you can do ‘faster’ short runs… but going super-crazy-5kPR fast is prob not smart. I firmly believe that if you just listen to your body on your training runs and just RUN what feels comfortable you will find you will naturally get faster!!!
I DO recommend hill work. If you live in a super flat state (jealous) find SOME sort of hill and even if you have to spend 3 miles running hill repeats – do it!!! It’s so good to work on those muscles to teach your legs how to run up and down hills and always a huge bonus if the marathon course is flatter than what you trained on. If it’s hillier it will make for a no-fun surprise.
- LISTEN TO THE TAPER!!!!!!!!!!!! You will get about 2 weeks before your marathon and start to taper your mileage. In this period there is NO TRAINING RUN you can do that will enhance your marathon time… so just let it go and enjoy the taper!!!! You have built up your mileage base, you have probably noticed you have gotten faster, you have worked on hills – now just put in 2 weeks worth of lower mileage comfortable (I didn’t say ‘easy’) runs. Feel free to push yourself a little during these runs, but not to the point where you want to puke after or during the run. Don’t try to PR a 5k/10k during this time…. just run and reflect on how far you have made it. The lower mileage will allow your legs to recover before the ‘big day’ – and not listening to the taper and trying to cram in more miles can hurt you! You may feel like you are losing fitness – I assure you, you are NOT. I have run PR’s after 3 weeks of slacking on running and I think it’s because my legs had time to recover!!
- Don’t go on any crazy diets the week of your marathon. I decided a month before the race I’d make it a point to cut back on my sugar intake (which was a LOT), cut out dairy, and start eating healthy. The first week was rough, by week 2 I was feeling better, by week 3 I was feeling great and I feel like it helped me on race day…. but again, your body has to adjust to any change in diet so don’t go all crazy thinking you need to diet or whatever before your race.
- Scope out the “aid stations” prior to race day. First half marathon I passed up the bathrooms at mile 6. Dumb!!! I was about to die until mile 8. Seriously – I though my bladder may explode. During my Marathon I stopped at the first bathroom I saw where I kinda had to pee because I remembered what happened at the half. I was in line behind 3 guys for 1min 30sec….. as I watched the time tick by panic set in. When I got done I was mad to see that there was another port a potty right around the corner.
KNOW where the water stops are and KNOW where the bathrooms are. Even if you make a pace band bracelet and circle the numbers where there is water/bathrooms. Almost all races will list these prior to race day because they have to know in advance as well.
I’m sure I can add to this list – but that’s all I have for now. Post your tips below that you found helpful during your marathon/half marathon training and on race day!!!