Running

The Run Around: What I’ve learned about marathoning, mostly by trial and error

I’m so excited to introduce the next blogger in The Run Around, Anna!

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Anna is one of my very best running buds, and I really miss her living in Winston-Salem. But, I’m lucky that I get to see her a couple times a year when I travel to San Francisco for work, where she now lives with her husband Paul and her French Bulldog, Bruce.

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Although, my favorite visit with her wasn’t work related at all – her bachelorette party in Sonoma was ahhhmazing.

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Anna is a radiation oncologist resident, one of the smartest and wittiest people I know, a great friend, and I’m always blown away by everything she fits into her crazy schedule (she works long hours, runs long distances, AND makes dinner almost every night). She is one of my go-to’s for running advice or complaints when I can’t run (my quad strain still has me sidelined – ugh). You can find her on Twitter (@bananapants08) and Instagram (@bananapants8) and you can find her awesome French Bulldog Bruce on Instagram as well (@brucestagramsf).

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Alright, I’m handing it over to you Anna. Thanks again!
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What I’ve learned about marathoning, mostly by trial and error

I ran my first marathon sort of by accident. Did I intentionally sign up for the lottery? Yes. However, when our group got selected I immediately regretted that decision, but now I’m hooked. I am currently training for my third marathon (so I’m still a relative newbie) but I have learned a lot so far and Teri has asked me to share my experiences with you! (That’s me on the right in the hat!)

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1. Test drive a pre-race nutrition and hydration plan

Through trial and error, I have learned a lot about what I can eat the night before a long run and on race morning. Before my first half marathon, I fueled with a hot dog and soft serve ice cream. Needless to say, that was a terrible idea and needed some modification. My current routine usually is homemade pizza (less greasy) the night before and peanut butter and jelly toast in the morning.

During my long runs, I like Honey Stingers (both the chews and the gels) and Salted Caramel GU. I try to take in 100-200 calories per hour of running during my run. I also take the chew or gel way before I think I’m going to need it because by the time you start feeling woozy, it’s too late. I like getting the gels with a bit of caffeine in them too; maybe it’s mental, but I think it helps.

Everyone will be able to tolerate different types of foods, but make sure test out what you are going to eat (and drink) before race day, which includes researching restaurants if you are traveling for a race. A post-race beer is totally fine though.

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2. Test drive your marathon outfit, down to your shoes and socks and hair, to minimize chafing, blisters and nasty tangles.

I have still yet to find the perfect gear, but I will share what works for me:

  • Body glide (essential, but doesn’t last forever; either carry some along or take advantage of aid-station Vaseline, especially if you have a hydration pack on)
  • Target sports bras (seamless! And only $16)
  • Oiselle Distance shorts (2 zippered pockets, I have lost things out of un-zippered pockets before)
  • Running hat + French braid: if it is foggy/humid out my hair turns into a tangled mess which the braid prevents and a hat adds extra sun protection
  • Stance and Feetures socks: both have little tabs at the back so they don’t slip, aren’t so thick that my feet get hot and no blisters so far!

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Something new I am trying is varying my shoe type. I will definitely have broken in shoes on race day, but there is something to be said for rotating shoes to decrease the risk of an overuse injury.

3. Speed work and marathon pace runs

For my first marathon, I didn’t do any speed work or any tempo runs. After joining a club with experienced marathoners and doing some reading on my own (Hanson’s Marathon Method, Jack Daniels Running Formula), I learned a lot about the purpose of different types of runs, including recovery runs, and what “paced” workouts were. I am not going to go into the details of each run here, but every run (and every pace) has a purpose. Running all of your runs at the same pace or as hard as you can (what I did the first time) is not necessarily the best way to improve your endurance and fitness. Both of those books are easy to read and good references, even if you don’t plan on using their training plans.

Adding speed work and weekly tempo runs (as well as a flatter course) helped me drop my marathon PR from 4:23 to 3:44, however there are still a few things I can tweak. This time I am adding marathon pace miles to my long runs as well as doing more runs of 18-20 miles. For example, one of the runs will be 20 miles with miles 4-6 miles at 10 seconds faster than goal marathon pace. Yes this will hurt, however running hard on tired legs is what I am training for.

Doing some research on the course elevation profile is important as well and adding in uphill/downhill running as necessary. Resources like Strava and Map My Run are great for exploring local roads/trails to match race conditions. 200 feet of elevation gain over 5 miles may not seem like much, but from mile 15-20, it really hurts.

4. Don’t neglect stretching, yoga or cross training

The first marathon I ran, I continued to practice weekly yoga and I ran injury free! When I started the Hanson’s method for marathon #2, I spent so much time running, my yoga fizzled out. It was a big mistake and part of why I think I ended up with plantar fasciitis (combined with my love of cute, but crummy flats).

With this training cycle, my goal is weekly yoga (either at a studio or at home), some sort of weekly strength training, core work and consistent foam rolling. If possible, I will add occasional cross training in the form of road biking and hiking. I hate the gym so adding strength and core is only a 20 min routine for me, but so far I believe it is making a difference. The best way to become a faster or better runner is more running, but it is important to maintain balance, both to prevent injuries and burn out.

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5. Talk to other runners and embrace the process!

Most of what I have learned about running is talking to other runners. Runners love to talk about running (guilty) and the more advice and feedback you collect, the more resources you have to experiment with yourself. Running a marathon, or any race for that matter, is not only about the race, but it is about how you get there. Sharing your experiences while learning from others brings you into the running community, which is pretty darn awesome.

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Thank you Anna! You’re inspiring me to train for another marathon! It’s been 6 years since my last (and first!) marathon!

Alright readers – your turn: what have you learned about marathoning the hard way? And is anyone else scared by the marathon distance? I totally am, even though I’ve already done it once. ha! 

Previous posts in The Run Around series:

 

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  • Mina
    at

    Thank you for this! I’m running my first marathon in Nov – I qualified for NYC, eek! I feel the same way about strength and cross training as you do. Can you say what kind of strength training you do, is it upper or lower body? I usually run 5 days a week – even though I’d rather run 6 😉 Ideally I’d like to have one day for strength/crosstraining. And I’m going to do yoga on my rest day. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I stopped yoga last Aug and got injured mid Sept…

    Thanks!

  • Anna P
    at

    Congrats on the NYC qualifier! I do both upper and lower body strength training. Most of what I do for upper body is vinyasa yoga, not so much weights. Lower body I have mostly found stuff by extensive google searching, but do squats on a Bosu ball, lateral lunges, one leg deadlifts and some of the weight machines. I like the single leg work because it allows you to work each leg individually rather than having the strong leg compensate for the weaker leg if you do them together. Yeah, I did the 6 days a week for my last marathon and while I got into a groove, neglecting other things (yoga) got the better of me, or my foot. Good luck with your training!!

  • Alyssa @ renaissancerunnergirl
    at

    Such good tips as I get excited to start training for my first marathon in May (it’ll be NYC in November). I need to learn all about pace runs and tempo runs, currently I don’t really do much of that!