i was reading a weekly blog. it was written by a guy who is training for his first marathon….he was talking about some standard advice that states that you should always take it easy in the early miles. i tried that in my first, which was NYC Marathon many years ago. My only goal was to finish….and not wind up in the hospital unable to move afterwards. i did finish, but with a pretty slow time, 4:34. When it was all over i still had a fair amount of energy and i realized i could have run a lot faster.
i decided next time, i would run faster in the early miles when i felt good, and in the later part of the race when i was going to feel like shit anyway, i would run slower, or more accurately i would run as fast as my body would allow at that point. So the next year i followed that plan….a bonus of running faster earlier was that i found it comforting that i had logged some faster miles early on, so there was less internal pressure to run faster later….anything that eased my stress level was welcomed by me. It worked. i ran a 3:29. So basically i took over an hour off my time. Please note: proof below :-)
During the final miles in a marathon the body part that keeps me, and probably lots of runners going is not your legs. If you feel positive and feel like you can do it, you will. If you feel you can’t, you wont. Of course you need to be fit, and prepared, but in the last 6 miles or so, it truly is mind over body. They say a marathon is broken up into 2 parts, the first 20 miles, and the last 6. After 20 miles your body runs out of whatever fuel is keeping it going….That’s where your brain and emotions come in. In my first marathons i remember repeating this mantra to myself: “Dig, Dig” i needed to go deeper, so i dug.
One really important thing is, try not to think about the finish line at mile one….or, if you’re running NYC, don’t think about the finish line in Central Park while your crossing the windy Verrazano Bridge. I like to break up the distance into bits. I can get from one water stop to the next water stop. That is manageable for me. If i think about the huge distance in front of me, i will want to quit before i’m half way through. In life outside of running, i try to remember to use that concept in an endeavor that feels daunting to me. Some days that’s everything. i guess it’s like taking baby-steps, but much faster. i wish i remembered it more often. It works in making anything seem more manageable.
Running is great, but it works even better to fit an alternate exercise into your training if you can. Especially cycling, it strengthens your quads. Which isn’t that big a deal in a normal running environment, but in a marathon during the later miles having strong quads can make all the difference. When i ran my 3rd marathon. It was a cold and rainy day, my quadriceps cramped up at 10 miles. They didn’t ease up. i tried stretching, massaging etc….nothing helped. i finished the race, but i was in a lot of pain. The next morning when i stood up after getting out of bed, my legs crumpled and i hit the floor. I was trying to figure out what went wrong and i realized that year i hadn’t been cycling. i guess the combo of weak quads, cold and wet weather really just did me in. Actually the best combo in my opinion is to be, or train like a triathlete, but unfortunately not everybody has the time for that, so alternating with something, is better than nothing, in my opinion.
i want to talk about pre-race eating….in New York before the marathon, they have the big Pasta Party. i think the last thing you want to be doing is stuffing your face with gobs of food, late the night before an endurance event. Pre-race fueling should start days before. It takes time for the glycogen from the carbs to get into your muscles anyway. You should be well fed, and hydrated by that time. The big meal, which in my opinion shouldn’t be massive, should be eaten at lunch the day before….dinner should be pretty light, and obviously lots of fluids is definitely a good idea. Beer doesn’t count as a fluid. Alcohol is dehydrating. Save the Beer for after the race….it will taste better anyway. Breakfast, race day should be as early as possible and not heavy. Who wants to run 26.2 miles with a full stomach and possibly spend more time than you would like in the really stinky port-a-potties along the course.
Another thing, close to race day, don’t do a 18-20 mile run 1 week before the marathon. i would usually taper down my running starting 2 weeks or more before the race. If you haven’t trained properly, you cant make up for it at the last minute. You will do more harm than good.
Funny story. Actually not so funny. One year in New York, i started the race with the elite women, not on purpose….i guess i looked the part and the escort who were taking them to the front for the start, motioned me to come along. In those days, not sure if they still do this anymore, but they would have your last marathon time on your race bib. Anyway, somebody looked at mine, and said, “you are a 3:30 runner!! what the f__k are you doing up here??” i felt so ashamed if i could have crawled under the road, i would have. It was too late to do anything. The gun went off. i ran. A few miles into the race my shoe started coming apart. i felt like the biggest loser on earth. i just kept running from water-stop to water-stop. At around 15 miles, when we come on 1st Avenue off the Queensboro Bridge, i felt like i was floating. It was amazing. i went from feeling like such a piece of shit, to feeling awesome. And, i wound up running my best time; 3:27, (a not very flattering picture here >> better running picture here) which is not an elite time by far, but i was thrilled. Anyway, the point of all that is, things can change. Bad, hopeless feelings can pass. Just run to the next water station. i imagine that’s one of the reasons they call it a marathon.
i know most of what i’ve talked about here is pretty common knowledge, but not to everybody. I guess the most important thing is to have fun. Running marathons have been some of the most satisfying and thrilling experiences in my life and i feel very grateful to have completed 12 in total.
Disclaimer: Everything in this blog is my opinion and based my personal experience and should be taken as nothing more or less