My other posts would be helpful for newbie runners tackling any distance [the 5k, 10k, half and full marathons] since everyone can use fun new clothes/shoes, tunes, and a timing system. But this one is going to be more for the longer distances: 13.1 and 26.2 milers require focused nutrition before, during and after your runs. And you better believe it takes a butt load of training to complete these races–never trust anyone who says they ran a half or a full without ANY training. They might be aliens. And I bet they are flirting with a major injury in their near future, too.
If anyone is even remotely considering a marathon I would highly recommend it. You can read about my journey towards my first full marathon here, here, and here. If that doesn’t inspire you in the slightest then I’ve got nothin:) Both the half and the full will leave you with a tremendous sense of accomplishment and the training programs provide for a solid structured work out routine that requires little to no thinking. It’s not like you can just say, “Hmmm, I really don’t feel like running today. I don’t know how far I can make it anyway. Maybe tomorrow,” because your program tells you exactly how far to run and when. Plus training for a long race will kick your fitness into high gear, burning obscene amounts of calories and therefore allowing you to pig out guilt-free. Yes, I am one of those who runs to eat because I love food way too much to limit my desserts/second helpings/large portion sizes. I’m hope I’m not alone on this one?
It might seem like a no-brainer, but when you are training for a marathon your body needs healthy, nutritious foods for fuel and recovery. Never is it more important to eat well than the night before a long run–I found this out the hard way when I popped fried cheese curds and Diet Coke the night before a 15 miler, naively chuckling, “These will be my little balls of energy!” I definitely learned my lesson after that and cut out the fried foods, cheese and dairy products, soda, alcohol, and meats for my ‘final meal’ before a long run. Instead, I usually eat whole wheat pasta with plain marinara sauce plus plenty of water to fuel my system before a run. It works for me but everyone is different with this aspect and I encourage you to try out different combinations of carbohydrates with proteins to see what works. But either way, you’ll need to chug water all day long for the 2-3 days before a long run so that you are well hydrated. Yep, lots of potty breaks throughout the day, but it’s worth it.
During the longer runs and definitely on race day you’ll likely need to replenish your body with calories, or you run the risk of bottoming out before you finish the race. I somehow managed to complete my first half marathon without eating anything during the race but I felt like complete crap afterward. My next half marathon included a gel pack at mile 9 and what do you know…my time was 13 minutes faster than my first try. There is no way I could have finished the full without my trusty Sport Beans and PowerGels, although it was quite the process for me to find flavors I could actually stomach without gagging. Sport Beans are made by Jelly Belly and they are basically meat-head jelly beans, amped up with a little caffeine and vitamins/electrolytes.
Everything else tastes like chalky minerals in gelatinous form, in my humble opinion. Nate swears by the chocolate PowerGel but all I can think of is brownie batter and raw eggs sliding down my throat. Then I gag and curse and it’s really not fun. Moral of the story is for you to experiment a bit and see which kinds of energy-boosters you can handle. But you will certainly need to carry something with you on long runs and race day. Spacing them out at certain intervals is completely up to your preference because I’ve heard a variety of suggestions for this one. I think Nate usually takes a gel every 45 minutes but that is entirely too much for me. He likes to remind me that I weigh quite a bit less than him and therefore his body is working harder to lug around his extra pounds. Hmmmm, never thought of it like that before, but I’ll go with it. I go by my energy levels but usually after every 6 miles I’ll need a little boost. I suggest you play around with the nutrition portion of running during your training, since it’s your time to experiment and see what works.
B. Training Programs
I have no idea how people trained for marathons before the age of the internet. It seems like everyone and their mom has a program these days but I’ve only followed one for all of my races: Hal Higdon, the almighty. We used his 18 week Novice program for the full marathon and his 12 week Novice program for the halves. I liked Hal’s programs because they are straight forward and fit into my busy lifestyle of working full time plus training. He asks you to run 3 days during the week [I cheated and only did 2], with a long run on the weekend and one day of cross-training [never did that, either]. I can say that his program works but it does get a little monotonous after awhile and I wish he made us run more than one 20 miler before race day. I know that sounds crazy but I think I would have done better and had more confidence if I had run 20 miles two times instead of just once.
I recently decided to try a different program for the Chicago full marathon I’ll do this October: the FIRST marathon training program [Furman Institute of Running]. This program is designed around three days of running plus another two of cross training. We’ve begun speed work on a track on Tuesdays, then a “tempo” faster-paced run on Thursdays, with our long runs on Saturdays. Then we’ll hop on our road bikes for the other two days to switch things up a bit and I’m hoping to lift weights at the gym on those non-running days, too. Seems easy enough, right? We shall see. We are one week into it at this point.
We also considered the official Nike training program for the Chicago Marathon but oh-em-gee…..it’s a little intense for my tastes. I might die before I even get to the start line with this bad boy. I think I’ll stick to my measly 3 runs per week, thankyouverymuch.
Finally, it might seem fairly obvious but you’d be surprised: never do anything different on race day than you did during training. Race day is not the time to experiment with different nutrition, different fluids, or even new clothes. Think of your training as a trial and error process so that on the big day you are ready to rip with what works for you. And yes, the adrenaline you experience is amazing. It’s truly an indescribable feeling you simply have to try someday.
And that concludes my series on running. What did I miss? Anyone else thinking about training this summer? I promise if you are dedicated to training you can absolutely complete your goal distance, no matter how short or long. I’ll leave you with one of my favorite running quotes:
“The miracle isn’t that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start.” ~John Bingham