You just pressed confirm on the registration page and an email immediately drops in your inbox reminding you of this (potentially) crazy thing you just did. This feeling of excitement and joy bubbles through you, followed by this sinking, unknowing, daunting shadow: I just signed up for a marathon, but now what do I do? I shouldn’t be sitting here, I need to run. Yes I need to go for a run!
I know the feeling well. I completed the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon in 2011 and sat too in that “what do I do now?” position.
I haven’t talked much about racing on my blog, mostly because a lot of it happened prior to the blog’s creation, and because I do it purely for myself and because I love it. I revel in it. I don’t need the credit or praise, to make an announcement or tell the world. I do however like to share my experience as a means of helping any novice racers, or intimidated first timers. I write this all as my own experience and first time learning curve. And because the marathon went really well for me and all of this worked, I write this as a chance to help out any one else in that first marathon uncertainty rut. I had a great race experience in terms of organization and crowd participation, minimal training woes or regrets, a sub 3:45 finish, and all in all walked away, (well hobbled away), knowing that some day, I’d race one again. Having just signed up to do another one, now was as good a time as any to look back on the first one and share some of my experiences.
- Figure out what you want from it
- Set a goal, be happy with it and go for it. Are you in it to finish? Do you have a time goal? Do you want a PR? Whatever the case may be, make it your own and don’t be deterred by what others are doing or saying. Go for what you want, and give it everything you have. Before I started training, someone told me, you will “eat, sleep and breathe marathon”. They weren’t that far off. When you want something that bad and work for it that hard, it has no choice but become a dominating force in your life.
- Make a plan
- Based on the goal you set, you now need to make or acquire a training plan. Don’t just go online, print off a plan and start running. While many of these are good plans, they may not be the right plan for you. Consider your base and where you’re starting from in terms of weekly mileage, and your end goal. For example, when I started training I already had a base weekly mileage of around 70 kilometres, and was regularly doing 12 km runs. Therefore, it wouldn’t have made sense for me to start in a training plan where the first week’s long run was 8 kilometres. Likewise, if speed and a PR are your goal, you are going to need to incorporate tempo runs, Fartleks and hill training. If you just want to finish, these may be less of a focus for you. Cater your plan to yourself and the outcome will be a better race for you.
- DO YOUR LONG RUNS!
- There will inevitably be a few skipped hill workouts, a tempo run that doesn’t happen, and some cross training sessions that get second priority, but don’t, don’t skip a long run. You will (well should) start planning your life around them. It means some sacrifices – both the night before and the day of – killing a lot of weekend time slogging out miles, and some social calendar upheavals, but it also means a much better end result. In marathon training, we’re always focused on the long-term end result, so don’t lose focus! Come race day, you will be more than pleased!
- Yes you need to cross train
- I logged a lot of hours on the bike and spinning when I was training for my marathon. And to be honest with you, I loved it. It was a nice change-up from running, really good in terms of low impact exercise, and cycling is so good for building fitness. Competitive cyclists are in incredible shape. I also did a lot of yoga to work on flexibility, and of course strength training, even though it is totally my least favourite. So whether it is cycling, hanging out on the erg, or killing the step machine, choose some cross fit options! The point is that they should still be good for building fitness, but not necessarily use the same muscles as running, and certainly not have the same physical stress impact on your body. Think of it as giving your body’s running crew a break, while not losing fitness or strength.
- It’s a mental feat
- Yes it’s true, 42 kilometres is a long way. Been there, done that. Half the battle of that is getting your body physically prepared to run that far for that long. That’s why you have to do all your long runs! The other half though is helping your mind prepare: training yourself for the mind over matter, internal struggles you will fight with yourself continuously throughout the race. Your body will say no, and your mind has to say yes. You have to train your mind to push through, pull you through and struggle with you, not against you. Practice this on your long runs. It’s hard to teach or show to someone because it is different for every one, and the coping mechanisms are different for everyone. For me, I had a few mantras that I just repeated over and over to myself when the going got tough. I did the rewind trick, recognizing that with 10km left, I had already run that far 3 times. What’s one time more? I talked to myself, sang out loud (yep, but so did a lot of others . . . ), did role play games in my head. It doesn’t matter what it is, just figure out for yourself what works and remember: getting through the race mentally may be way harder than physically.
- Listen and Learn
- Your body is actually really good at telling you when it has had enough, when it needs something else, and when it is happy and content. The trick is being able to recognize and read the signs and know when you should push through and when you should hold off. Increased mileage means increased injury risk and increased rest requirements. Don’t ignore when your body tells you it wants rest or that it might be starting to get injured. An extra rest day now is better than a lot of unwanted rest days later. Likewise, nagging, persistent pain is often the first sign of injury, and in the words of Amby Burfoot, “When your feet, ankles, calf muscles, shins, knees, quads, hamstrings, or hips hurt, stop running. Now. Not the day after tomorrow, next week, or next month. Get real.”
- Eat good food
- When I was training for a while with the cross-country coach at my university, he said to us: garbage in = garbage out, and it totally stuck with me. If you want a good running performance, you have to fuel your body with what it needs to give you a good performance. Nutrition in marathoning is a whole other topic, but generally speaking, be incredibly conscious of refuelling, hydrating, and meeting caloric needs. Then, be conscious of what you do this with in terms of food choices. There is a lot of literature and science out there on sports nutrition, so start reading. Runner’s World is a good place to start.
- Be Educated
- The science, the research, the experience, the opinions of marathoning, running, racing and athletics is constantly changing, expanding and adapting. Do yourself a favour and learn some of it, read some of it, watch some of it. It can be fascinating stuff that just may help you in your own race in the end. Not sure where to start? Watch for a post next week with a round-up of interesting articles, blogs and authors all in the running know!
- It’s race day!
- And then, just like that it will be race day. You know the classics: lay out your clothes, pack your bags, fuel properly the night before, account for morning traffic and transport craziness, don’t eat anything new the day before, drink more water than you ever thought necessary and then 2x that, but most importantly, be proud of yourself. If you have done everything you can up to this point to be successful, you will reap the benefits. And if things don’t go quite ok, just know that sometimes race day sends us running in a direction completely out of our control. And then don’t worry: you will race again next year. I know it.