Friday, September 9, 2011

marathon advice

When I did my Q and A posts I got lots of marathon training questions that I am finally getting around to answering. Let me say that I am not a coach and since I have only run four marathons (soon to be five!) I am far from an expert, but I have successfully trained and gotten to all of my races healthy/injury free and have been able to consistently improve my times. I am a big believer though that the reason that there are so many different approaches to marathon training is because it is not "one size fits all" and that you have to find, through trial and error, what works for you.  So here is what works for me.

Any advice for training for a first marathon?  Books, etc. I should read?
Your first marathon is special! Enjoy the journey and recognize what an accomplishment it is. :)

I really enjoyed and found a lot of great/practical advice in Hal Higdon's book, Marathon: the Ultimate Training Guide. I also liked anything motivational (like Matty Long's "The Long Run").

My tips would be -
Trust in your training! If you pick a training plan, stick to it, and put the work (and miles!) in, you WILL be able to finish those long runs, and your first marathon. At the beginning of your training, looking at those long runs at the end of the training plan can be crazy scary, but the way that the mileage builds gradually really works.You can do it!

Don't stress about your time. If you haven't run a marathon before it is very hard to know what your marathon pace or goal pace should be. For your first marathon, concentrate on finishing, and treasuring the experience. Think of the marathon as your "victory lap" for all of the training you did. If you put unrealistic goals on yourself you are setting yourself up for disappointment. Plus, you are guaranteed a PR no matter what!

Experiment with fueling, clothing, shoes, etc. early on in the training, so by the time you get to your last long run before the marathon you can do a full "dress rehearsal" for race day. DON'T DO or TRY anything new on race day. Try out the gels, sports drink, outfit and everything else you want to run with. I promise that there are things you can wear with no problems for 10 miles that will rub you raw during 26.2, and that things you think are great on a medium length run that will drive you batty after 18 miles.

Don't underestimate taper (the 2-3 weeks of scaled back mileage and increased rest before race day). At that point the training is done, and you want to focus on staying loose, letting your legs heal/rest from all of the hard training, and going into your race as fresh and strong as possible.

Listen to your body. It is important to stick to your training plan, but it is more important to listen to your body. If you are really tired day in and day out (more so than usual!), try to get more rest. Make sure you are eating well and giving your body what it needs to be healthy and strong. If your training plan calls for a run and you are sick, stressed, hurt, or whatever, listen to your body and skip it or replace it. Keep your eye on the BIG PICTURE, as that is much more important than any single run.

I am about 20 pounds overweight and can't seem to lose it, even with all the running I do.  How did you eat to stay fueled for your runs, but not eat too much so that you could drop the extra pounds?

Even though you would expect to drop pounds like crazy with all the running you do training for a marathon, a lot of people find that they actually gain weight during marathon training. I have lost about 3-7 pounds during each marathon training cycle (without trying to lose weight, as I don't think that should be your focus during marathon training).

What works for me is just paying attention to what I put into my mouth, and planning my meals in advance. I know that when I get back from an 8 mile pace run I am going to be STARVING, so I plan what I am going to eat when I get back before I go, so I don't just walk in the door and make bad eating choices (which is so easy to do when you are starving!)  I "sort of" count calories... I know what I need in a day and I know about how much I take in a day (most days), and I plan my meals and snacks to be around that daily calorie goal. Most importantly, I focus on the fact that I am asking my body to do A LOT, and so I try to give it the best "fuel" possible to run on. I love food and enjoy eating, and have found lots of tasty but healthy things that I enjoy eating and are good for me.

I think the biggest reason people gain weight when they are marathon training is that they overestimate how many calories they are really burning, and feel entitled to eat a lot (and a lot of junk) because they are running a lot. If you go for a five mile run you  may feel like you have earned the right to eat whatever you want for the rest of the day, but the truth is one milkshake worth of calories completely balances out the calories burned in that five mile run.

I drink lots of water to stay well-hydrated, and for me it works well to eat three meals and two snacks during the day instead of three meals, and lunch is always my "bigger" meal of the day. I also make sure I always have lots of good healthy options to eat and snack on so that when I am hungry, I have easy/good choices.

I think about what I am going to eat before I eat it and ask myself if I am really hungry and if it is worth the calories. (This helps cut back on mindless snacking which really can add up).  But, I do treat myself sometimes too. Sometimes a treat is worth it! When I do eat something less than ideal, I have no guilt about it. Yesterday I had a lemon cookie the size of my head, and loved every crumb. I planned it into my daily calories and enjoyed the treat. It was worth the calories. :)

So it is possible to lose/maintain weight while you are training for a marathon (and the lighter you are technically the faster you will be), however I believe that while you are training for a marathon is not the best time to diet.

I would really like to get faster.  Should I even try to accomplish that while training for my first marathon?
How did you get so fast? :)
 I think that all runners of all levels have the ability to get faster, and I think that incorporating some speedwork into your marathon training can be fun and beneficial. If you have not done any speed training before I would start with just once a week. If you have done any sort of race or timed run you can use the McMillan calculator  to figure out target paces for different distances/work outs, or you can even just throw some fartleks in to your miles (short bursts of faster running... click on the link for more details).

I remember reading a quote that basically said if you wanted to run faster, you had to run faster. It seemed silly at first, but then it made sense to me. If I wanted to get faster than my usual 9:45-10:45 minute miles, then it was going to take doing something other than just always running 9:45-10:45 minute miles!!

I started with doing some short intervals workouts once a week. I found that I really enjoyed the speedwork. It was something different than my "usual" run and while it was hard to run fast, it was fun and satisfying. After a while I added in a second day of speedwork, where I did a tempo run or goal pace run. Since then I have consistently done speedwork 2-3 times a week and my times and paces have continued to drop steadily.

In my first race (a 5K in May 2009) I ran at a 10:29 average pace. I was thrilled with that!! My marathon pace now, just over two years later, is 7:49.  I plan on continuing with my speedwork and hoping to continue to improve my paces.

So, I am a believer that if you want to run faster, you have to run faster. And I think even a little bit of casual speedwork can benefit marathon training for just about anyone.

How did you incorporate hill training on the treadmill?  Do you have a preset program or did you increase the incline gradually?
 I live in the Rocky Mountains, so hill training is a part of pretty much any run I go on outside. I live at the top of a hill and the only way to get home is to run up hill. On the treadmill it is tempting to make things as easy as possible for yourself, but that doesn't pay off in the long run. I use this chart to figure out what incline to use on my regular runs on the treadmill, and for hill training on the treadmill I typically set the incline at steep elevations for short hill intervals, or less steep for longer intervals. I haven't used any of the set programs.

How often do you weight train?  Do you do a full body routine each time?
I don't work out with weights (although I probably should) but I do a strength training routine twice a week. I have been doing it since the beginning of the year and it does seem to have made a difference if my overall tone and fitness. I do squats, lunges, several different kicks, pushups, planks, v-sits, crunches, etc. They are all exercises I got from running magazines and I have added reps as I have gotten stronger and occasionally I add/change some of the exercises.

I also am a big fan of rolling and stretching. I use a foam roller religiously and really think it keeps my muscles happy. I roll after every run, and again at night on days that I had a hard run or if anything is sore or tight.

One last piece of advice for me for first time marathoners - keep a journal! It is really fun to look back at how many miles you have completed and how far you have come. It is also really useful to keep track of how many miles you have on your running shoes, what you may have done to cause an injury, to figure out if you are over-training or slacking, etc. I keep track online, but I also have a paper journal that I keep and I love looking through it.

Ok, what is your best piece of advice for someone training for their first marathon?

Happy weekend everybody! More soon. :)


Jessica Karazsia said...

Great advice! You should be a coach!

"In my first race (a 5K in May 2009) I ran at a 10:29 average pace. I was thrilled with that!! My marathon pace now, just over two years later, is 7:49." WOW!!!! You are awesome and should be proud.

Keep it up!

Jessica (Pace of Me) said...

this is SUCH an awesome post and i would echo every single bit of advice in here. it is really wonderful!!
i would love to also read a post from you about your marathon racing strategies - what has worked for you on race day as far as pacing, fueling, etc.
Really really awesome and informative post. Yay!!

(so not) SuperRunnerMom said...

Thanks for the advice. I just started running a year ago, and my goal is to run a marathon next May.

This is helpful information, and your running story is truly inspiring to me!

and congrats on Boston qualifying!

Katie @ Will Race for Carbs said...

Thanks for this advice! I am thinking about a spring marathon (my first) and this was encouraging. I agree with the running faster. I actually did a post called, If you want to run faster, start running faster. I know it helped me pick up the pace. I'm not "fast" now but I am a lot faster. Thanks again for the great advice!

Tina @GottaRunNow said...

Great advice! Congrats again!

Zaneta said...

LOVED this post!! I'm focusing on just finishing my marathon in October and after that I'm working on speed because I know I can do the miles :)

Andrea H. said...

This was a great post and I will save it in my favs. Although I am only doing a half in October, I think after that without a doubt I am training for my first marathon. I so agree with sticking with a traning plan. Altough I want to do more miles I strictly do what the plan says. You have accomplished so much in just 2 years. I am so looking up to you.

Anne said...

Thanks so much for this great advice. I'm actually running my first marathon in two weeks time and I'm nervous and excited! This was reassuring :)

Christy said...

Thank you!!! You are such an inspiration. Your hard work has paid off and you have accomplished so much. Makes me think I can too! :)

{lifeasa}RunningMom said...

Thanks for reinforcing what I have been doing. You have given me the added confidence for next weekend!