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?

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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?