What my last marathon taught me

As with all things you experience in life, once you’ve done it you know better for next time.

Here’s a list of some of the things I learned from my first marathon. Some things I’ll keep and others to improve on.

1. You can’t run every training run at race pace.
 
Otherwise you’re running the race. Mixing up your run speeds gives your body room for improvement in speed, agility, strength, and the prevention of injury.

Tempo runs, hill intervals, mile repeats, fartleks (Swedish word for “speed play”), long runs, Yasso 800s, recovery runs, easy runs. They all serve a different purpose and help you in training.

I plan on mixing up my training this round and quit trying to be a speed demon for every workout.

2. You don’t have a license to eat everything in sight.
I haven’t touched much on nutrition throughout the blog and that may be surprising for some considering that’s what I do for a living. I’m being honest when I say eating to fuel your body for a marathon is completely different than a “healthy diet” or eating for fat loss.

Proven fact: You cannot follow a fat loss diet if you’re training for a marathon. Unless you want to continually bonk out.

Carbs give us marathoners fuel to burn for our long runs in training and for the actual race. Fat loss diets (I’m not talking Atkins here) include restricted carbohydrates, particularly simple carbs (white breads, pasta, even candy..that’s all Gu and block shots are, anyway). Simple carbs are the carbs most valuable to marathoners before training runs and leading up to races. Complex carbs (whole grains, sweet potatoes, brown rice, etc.) are our recovery carbs.

So, while I’ve noticed since I’m getting closer to the NYC Half and my training runs are increasing in distance, the hungry monster has returned.

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It’s everywhere I tell you.

While anyone that knows me, knows I love food (hence the name for this blog) it’s kind of annoying being hungry all the time now.

Since I had from December-February to “eat normal (every 4-5 hours)” a.k.a not every 2-3 hours, I realize how much I actually had to have been eating during marathon training. Granted, I choose healthy foods 80-90% of the time, but that other 20-10% you can bet I was eating cookies.

Those healthy foods were also pretty heavily focused on carbs and processed foods.

This time around my goal is to be smarter with my diet. Over the past several weeks/months I’ve been making the switch to less processed, more whole foods. The other side of that is the more whole foods one eats, normally it’s harder to get in all the calories you need because whole foods are naturally lower in calories and fat. That’s where nut butters and cooking oils come into play.

As a registered dietitian I obviously know what to eat but sometimes all that just gets thrown out the window. It’s all about balance.

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This just goes to show that knowledge does not equal action.

 3. Sleep
I feel like I always win in this category. However, it didn’t always start out this way. When I started training for my half marathon in February 2011, I noticed how continually tired I was when I being upping my mileage each week. Each night I was forced into bed at an earlier time because I just was not functioning on 6 hours of sleep.

When marathon training came around in summer of 2011, I was used to a 9:30pm bedtime. So my 8.5-9 hours of sleep each night are now a staple in my life.

Sleep is when our body regenerates, repairs, and moves learned information from short-term to long-term memory. Crucial factors while training and life in general.

4. Alcohol
If you’re a runner, you know alcohol doesn’t mesh well with the running lifestyle. Even in college I was never pumped to spend 2-3 nights a week drinking with hangovers lasting the entire weekend.

Now that I’m an adult not only is that frowned upon, it certainly isn’t conducive to productive training runs.

I’ll go out for drinks maybe once a week and usually limit it to 2-3 drinks while I’m out. Drinking just isn’t a priority to me and hasn’t been since I graduated college. Being hungover is not worth it anymore, even if I don’t have a planned run the next day.

Research has proven that not only does alcohol affect sleep, it reduces muscle recovery, cancelling out gains made from workouts. (source)

5. Hydration
I was awful at hydrating during my long runs outside over this past summer. I got this for Christmas and am changing that stat.

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                                    Nathan Speed 2 Hydration Belt

6. Race Fuel
I did a pretty good job of experimenting with difference race fuels during my long runs last summer. However, my fueling strategy wasn’t 100% on race day. I hate Gu’s; the texture makes me want to barf. I tried other brands and PowerBar is good, but I still can’t suck down the whole packet.

Cliff Block Shots are yummy, but they get stuck in my teeth. Smile pretty for the race pictures with gummies smeared across your teeth! Yuck.

I didn’t hit a wall or anything during the marathon, so the calories, electrolytes, and hydration were good for me. I just need to figure out what kind of fuel I’m going to use in October so I can stop wasting time at aid stations.

I’m seriously considering Swedish Fish or Starburst jelly beans. Better stock up this Easter!

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Epitome of simple carbs, remember? I’m not too worried about the electrolytes I’d be missing if I were using an engineered sports product (Gu); I’ll get that from the sports drink on the course or put it in my hydration belt.

So there’s my quick list of some things I’d change and others I’ll stick with.

Now you tell me:
What things (if anything) do you want to change for your next race?

Marathon Thoughts

Exactly one month from today. I will be toeing the starting line at 7:30am to run a marathon.

I have a lot of different feelings about this.

#1 I want to have fun. This is a no brainer for me. I was so excited before my first half marathon I had trouble sleeping the night before. Not from nerves, just excitement. It was probably the most excited I had felt since my wedding or when a I was a little girl at Christmas.

#2 Will I be able to fuel properly. This is a worry of mine mainly because I really don’t like gels that much. As much as I’ve used them and found one I can tolerate, I still have to gag it down. As long as I get it down 3-4 times throughout the race, I should be fine.

#3 Aid Stations They’re awkward. I really hate stopping at them. While I don’t actually stop, I hate slowing down to run in, grabbing a drink, gulping it down, and getting back to pace all while not getting tangled up in other runners legs. Just give me an IV.

#4 Peeing in my pants. How often are they going to have port-a-potty’s? Are the lines going to be atrocious?  To be determined..

#5 Always question if I’ve done enough. I’ve been traveling A LOT this fall. I’d be lying if I said it hasn’t messed with my training plan. I’ve missed several weekday runs over the course of 18 weeks; I’ve had to run while not fully recovered. Despite all this I have made it a point to never skip a long run, so doing that will hopefully provide me the physical benefits and psychological strength to know I can do this.

#6 Mile 21-26.2 My longest training run is 20 miles on October 15. I will have no idea how my body will respond or feel for the next 6.2 miles. At that point, it’s going to be mind over matter and focusing on one foot in front of the other. As long as I’ve fueled properly, “hitting the wall” shouldn’t happen. (Which is known for happening around mile 20.)

#7 Clothes Still working on putting that outfit together. Normal temps in Savannah for that time of year is a high of 70. However, this will be at 7:30 am and I will probably be up at 4:30am to get to the starting line in time. I don’t want to freeze before the gun goes off, but I also don’t want to be too hot running. I may bring some old clothes I don’t care about and ditch them once the race starts.

#8 People There are 23,000 participants in this race! Between the half marathon and the full marathon, this event has sold out. That makes for a lot of traffic before, during, and after the race. I’ll be practicing a lot of patience that day.

#9 Success I’m a pretty confident person. In who I am and my abilities. I can’t wait to check this off my list!

Can you tell my Type A personality is taking over here?

I listed #1 as having fun for a reason. While there are definitely logistics that go into running a marathon beyond the 18 weeks of training prior; my main goal is to have fun doing what I love to do. RUNNING!

This particular marathon is part of the Rock ‘N Roll Series which is the #1 race series in America. They have a live band playing at each mile and a headliner band at the end. I think having fun will be inevitable that day. 🙂

I have the rest of this week and next week left of full-on training, then a 3 week taper. I can’t believe we’re already here!

Not Out of the Woods Yet

Hi Friends! Happy first day of autumn! Since I saw you last, I completed another PDR (personal distance record). 18 miles!

Being the planner that I am, I ran after work last Thursday because we were flying to Chicago that weekend for a wedding that we were both in. I knew I wouldn’t have time while I was there to run for 2.5+ hours.

I got started at about 5:00, 2 Cliff Razz gels in hand, and I was on my way.

Everything went surprisingly well considering my last long run after work of 15 miles went AWFUL. I took a gel 45 minutes into the run and again at one hour and 45 minutes. I felt like I had a ton of energy, no aches or pains, beautiful weather, and good tunes.

So then I start to notice I’m losing daylight…and I’m still about 4 miles from being out of the park I was running in. It wasn’t dark yet but with all the trees around it made it darker and harder to see far ahead on my path.

I’m passing fewer people as they head to their cars. I see the park lights start to come on. All I could think about was the last run like this I had when I was training for the half marathon back in March; scared out of my mind running as fast as I could to get out of that park.

I have a huge fear of woods at night. Lurking murders, wildebeests, you get my drift. So here I was, on mile 13, realizing it’s going to happen again. My heart beats faster just remembering it.

I was literally sprinting through the next 4 miles to get me out of there. Good thing I just had that gel. I was scared out of my mind when I saw a man walking towards me on the path with a sharp walking stick and was pretty sure he was going to murder me right there.

I was praying and thinking of that story about the woman, who when walking home alone in a city one night, saw 2 burly men who had unbeknownst to her just attacked another woman a few minutes earlier, and started praying. Then later after the men were caught and being interrogated by police, they were asked why they didn’t attack the other girl (the one praying) and they said there was a man with her. I was hoping that was the type of thing going on at that particular moment of my life.. (wishful thinking?)

So, obviously I am fine and nothing happened. He nodded and I kept running, looking over my shoulder every 5 seconds to make sure he wasn’t running after me. He wasn’t. I wanted to cry but I still wasn’t out of the woods yet. (Nice pun)

Of course it kept getting darker; I mean it still takes me about 33-35 minutes to run 4 miles so I really wasn’t comforted by the fact that I had escaped that one.

Next up, the wild.

I heard something moving really fast in the woods and it sounded big. I about shat my pants. I was pretty sure I was going to get my arm, or worse, my leg gnawed off. I never saw the creature, thankfully. But this is what I imagined it looked like.

Definitely something that wanders in central North Carolina, right?

When I had about half a mile left until I was out of the woods, I came up on this open grassy area and saw 3-4 LARGE deer? I don’t know what the heck they were. They weren’t colored like deer and they seemed much too big to be deer. I’m thinking moose-size. But I’m small so maybe my perception is skewed.

I was sure that they were going to charge after me and then I started thinking of that episode of Planet Earth when they are documenting the attack of a gazelle by wild dogs in Africa or someplace like that. I’m sure you’ve seen it, the dogs all run together in a pack after the gazelle but then they start breaking off one by one to take their positions so they can hunt and eat the gazelle.

I was the gazelle in this story.

I was imagining this exact scene unfolding on my suburban greenway trail in North Carolina. *sigh*

I made it back home safely and finishing in the complete dark around 7:30-7:45pm-ish. Not bad, but I had a little help from my hormones with several “fight or flight” circumstances. I would prefer to finish slower and without the drama, thanks.

Overall it really was a strong run, strong all the way through. Seriously, the best long run I’ve had. If I ran like that on race day I would be really proud of myself. I’ll chalk that up to a good night’s sleep the night before, proper eating and hydration all day before the run, my gels, and timing of the gels during the run.

This week’s running has gone fairly well, despite having to run Tuesday and Wednesday on the dreadmill because of rain. 6.5 miles on Tuesday and Wednesday and 5 on Thursday. This week is a step-down week so I only have 13 this weekend. Funny how I say only. I was training to run that distance not too long ago.

Sorry for the novel of a post.

Take Home Message: Now that the days are shorter, I’ll definitely save any more long runs for the weekends. I only have 2 PDR runs left in training (wow!), which I will be able to complete on my normal long-run-day of Saturday. YAY!

Do you have any fears you sometimes face when you run? 

Uncharted Territory

Marathon season is here. I ran 17 miles Saturday. Holy Moly.

I have had so much going on recently I don’t even know where to begin.

#1 I’ve been a crazy busy girl but I’ve still fit in my runs.

After a week’s hiatus from running I’ve come back alive and motivated. I’ve found a couple of times where I’ve been kicking myself for missing that week/altering my training plan so much because of traveling but like any situation in life, negative self-talk doesn’t take you far. Especially when you’re trying to cross a marathon’s finish line.

So instead, I lace up my worn out, need new shoes SO badly running shoes and run baby run.

PDR= Personal Distance Record

I’ve had 3 in the past month and it’s not slowing down anytime soon. First was the 14 miler before Vegas, then 15 miles last week, and finally 17 miles this past Saturday.

Let’s Recap.

15 Miles:

Done after work because we were going out-of-town for the weekend.

Did not hydrate/fuel properly throughout the day.

Experimented with Hammer Gel Espresso.

Took 2 slurps of it and it almost came back up. Sorry for the visual. That one was not a winner. So in addition to not properly fueling BEFORE the run, I had no fuel DURING the run.

That was probably the hardest run ever. Talk about hitting the wall. For the first time ever, I walked during a long run. Albeit for only 0.5 miles but still. At that point I felt like I was walking faster than I could run.

Just when I thought I couldn’t go any longer, at mile 14 the heavens opened up and it POURED RAIN. It was amazing and I made it the full 15 miles. Never again without proper fuel/hydration though. Lesson learned.

On a positive note, I did find a new route to run. It connects the entire Greenway together and it’s safe and not terribly hilly so it’s perfect for this particular marathon.

17 Miles: On a MUCH happier note, the 17 miles went very smooth compared to the 15 miler.

It was a normal Saturday morning, I got to sleep in a little bit, had some breakfast, a gel in hand and out the door I went.

I found the most amazing gel and this is what I will use during the marathon.

It’s light, it’s fruity, it feels better than Gu. I ate the whole packet without feeling queasy. Two thumbs up from this runner! 🙂

I took it at 6.5 miles and felt pretty good until mile 14. It looks like I’ll take 3 during the marathon. Mile 6, mile 13, and mile 20. I’ll be experimenting more with that as the weeks approach.

I ran the new route again and went a little further on it, actually reaching the end of it. Weird to run until there is no road left…

So here I am, 7 weeks out from my first marathon. 18 miles is up next for this week! Here We Go!

Gels, Shots, and Energy!

13.05 miles down yesterday! In 1:56:34 no less, essentially beating my half marathon race time from April of 1:57:49. What an awesome feeling!

I can’t believe I ran a half marathon.. without being entered in a race. It’s only going up from here! No more long runs under 13 miles from now until 2 weeks before the marathon. Oi. I see lots of foam rolling, icing, and bribing the husband for massages in my future. 🙂

I experimented with Gu yesterday. Flavor: Strawberry Banana.
Much to my surprise it wasn’t gritty which I was thankful for but totally not expecting. It was obviously, very gooey, and the taste wasn’t awful.. until I had the third slurp. At that point I was just slurping it down to get the goods (a.k.a. energy).

I can’t even explain what it reminded me of. I guess because it isn’t real food and there is really nothing else like it unless you’ve had a sports gel.

I timed it right and slurped it down as I was approaching a bubbler, so I got to chase it with some water. (As you always should do, but I wasn’t carrying water on this run. *tisk tisk*) I used my gel at 45 minutes into my run so it would kick in around the one hour mark. The packet tells you to use it 15 minutes before every 45 minutes of your run, but I’ve seen people wait even longer to use them than I did.

The aftermath was worth the initial grossed out feeling, sticky fingers, and just an overall feeling of ‘why am I eating this?’ I had a great last half of my run and didn’t feel too fatigued as I was coming in at 10, 11, 12, and 13 miles. No GI issues either – which I credit to actually having water on this run vs. the 11 mile run I tried Cliff Block Shots with. I also didn’t have to digest the Gu since it was already “liquid” like I did the Block Shots as they are gummies.

Overall, I was happy with the sports gel experience. I have different flavors of Gu to experiment with, as well as other brands (below) to see which I like better and works best for me. I know it just takes some getting used to, that’s why I am starting my experimenting now so I will know what I like and can easily take during the marathon. Now that I’m finally up to higher mileage every weekend, I will be able to knock those out pretty quickly!

 

                

I’ve decided to try these brands based on reviews I’ve read and by talking to the guys at my local running store. It’s all about trial and error over here during training!

 

What types of sports nutrition do you find works well for you during endurance events?