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?

Week 1 is a Success!

There is a lot that goes into training. “Studying,” mental, emotional, and physical aspects. Since my first half marathon April 16, 2011 I have been in maintenance mode trying to keep my fitness and improve it by strength training and yoga. I did strength training 2-3x/week and yoga only once a week. Granted, it was p90x yoga, not just a casual 30 minute session. The yoga tapered off after about a month because I found an hour and a half to be too much after work. I continued strength training and now after finishing week 1 of marathon training, I can say that it has definitely paid off.

My knee pain is gone, even after an 8 mile long run. I knew I needed to strengthen my quads, hips and supporting muscles, so going to Group Power (aka Body Pump) a couple of times a week helped me achieve this. I also improved my balance/core/hips by balancing on the Bosu Ball.  

My physical therapist/RD friend who is SUPER knowledgeable told me about it and also cautioned me not to overdo it. When I started, I could literally balance for only 5 seconds. No Joke. That is not a typo. I can now balance on it for an easy 1 and a half minutes. I can feel all my hip muscles working to support myself and that too has been a big help with relieving hip pain and running hills.

Also during this time I was trying to decide on a training plan. After reading tons of runner’s forums and doing my own research online, I decided on one of Hal Higdon’s 18 week marathon plans. It is designed to get you to the starting line injury-free and successfully complete your marathon. I am all for both of those things, so that’s how I decided to go with it. I could also still do long runs on Saturdays, incorporate cross-training on Sunday, with Monday and Friday and complete rest days. Since it’s my first marathon, there’s really no time goal. Sure, I would love to make it in less than 4 hours but I’m betting it’s not going to happen, at least not for this marathon. Not because I’m pessimistic or don’t believe in myself, but because that’s not a reasonable goal for a first marathon despite my half marathon time being 1:56:49.

My training route for the half marathon looks completely different now that it is summer! I was primarily running in Feb-March where all the trees were dead but now it is full of leaves and life. It really helps that it is mostly shaded, even completely shaded in parts, so even though it was 74 degrees and 93% humidity this morning, it was bearable.

I’m hoping to do either yoga or cycling tomorrow for my cross-training day. I didn’t do strength training this past week but I think it could be doable now that I have one week under my belt and can see how the days are laid out.

One thing I don’t have, but need, is a way to stay hydrated during my long runs in the heat and humidity. My next running purchase is going to be a fuel belt. I have been debating a fuel belt vs. a hydration backpack but again, from reading reviews and forums it seems the belt will work best for me. I’ll keep you posted on that though! So, this marks the end of week 1 of marathon training. I had strong runs during the week and a GREAT 8 mile run today. Now I’m off to make black bean brownies!

Does anyone have experience or preference with hydration belts or backpacks during long runs?