Saturday, October 11, 2008

For Becca.

Ahhh. That crispness in the air. The blueness of the sky!
Can you see it? Can you feel it??

So, my friend Becca asked me for tips for her first marathon. I was trying to come up with some things you wouldn't find in most guides, and here they are. Feel to comment and leave your own. Remember, I'm no kind of fitness professional or trainer; these are just things that have worked for me: a heavy, middle-aged runner.

You can find training plans online; you'll find no training plan here.

Some of these may seem nitpicky, but trust me: A small, minor irritation over 26 miles is a very big deal!

1. IT'S OKAY TO WALK SOMETIMES. I do a one-minute on, one-minute off routine when doing a road marathon. Some people do 2:1, or 5:1. I'll switch to more running in the last 3 miles/5k if I'm feeling okay. By taking scheduled walk breaks, I'm fresher at the end of the marathon, and my overall pace is much faster than if I tried to run the whole thing. Galloway writes about this in his book, "marathon, you can do it". I have my garmin set to chime every minute.

2. The hardest part is being on your feet and upright for so long. It requires a different endurance. No matter how active you are, if you aren't used to being upright and moving for 4 or 5 (or 6 or 7) hours, your back will ache and your feet will hate you. Your shoulders will weary of moving your arms. Your training should include one time every week where you are hiking or jogging for several hours. Don't worry about speed. Go for however long you think you are going to take to finish your marathon. Work up to it. Ideally, your "long run" is this time, and if you can get it up to 20 or 22 miles, you'll be ready.

3. Your weekly training should include at least 3 runs: 2 moderate short runs, and 1 long run. Give yourself 2 days off from running after your long run. Don't worry about speed during this time, unless you're trying to win the thing, and if you are, why on earth would you take advice from me? I'm still usually in the back 1/3 of the pack. If you can fit in a 4th day, do a nice hike with some hills for a couple hours.

4. Your weekly total miles, and your long run, should increase by no more than about 10% each week. So maybe the first week you you do a 3 mile run, a 5 mile run, and 10 mile run. That's 18 miles total. The next week, you should only increase by no more than 2 miles. (You can round, a bit). So, you might do a 4 mile, a 5 mile, and then an 11 mile run the following week.

5. Every 4th week, don't increase anything. Maybe even decrease just a tiny bit (but don't stop. This isn't a taper). Your body needs this week to recover, and it's during this time that it heals and strengthens itself.

6. If you're a triathlete, switch your training schedule so that you do your long bike the day after your long run. A long, slow bike is a great recovery activity. Then the next day, swim.

7. Train like you race. Find out what they are going to have on the race course. Most city marathons have aid stations every 1 mile, find out if this is true. If they are offering gatorade, learn to use gatorade. Start by sipping it. Most races don't provide gels at every aid station.
Find out what additional carbs you need. Count on taking in everything in liquid form. Don't eat during the race unless you are only walking. Gels: count on one or two every hour, if you're drinking sports drink. Every half hour, if you're drinking plain water or nuun.

8. Carry a bottle. It's easier to stop every 2 or 3 miles and fill it up, if necessary, than it is to drink from paper cups. I use a handheld, some carry a small backpack, and some use waist pack. Whatever you use, try it out in training first on your long runs.

9. On race day, get up early enough to eat a high-complex-carb meal at least 3 hours before the race. Oats are great, and some fruit. If you insist on eggs or meat, better make it 4 hours. Your stomach needs time to empty all that out. Make sure you have plenty of electrolytes in some form.

10. To wear: consider RaceReady fitness shorts or nickers if your thighs rub. They have a bunch of little pockets across the back. Consider Moeben sleeves instead of a long sleeved shirt. Get Injinji socks. Get some $1 gloves at wal-mart if the start is chilly. If you must wear a long-sleeved anything, wear long-sleeved shirtss in layers instead of a jacket: it's easier to tie them around your waist and they're more comfortable to move in. Some people like compression socks. Experiment.

11. At the start line, if you're comfortable, then you're probably overdressed. That's all I have to say about that. And if you're comfortable, then you better be dressed in layers that are easy to remove.

12. Before running, lube up. I like SportSlick; i get it on Amazon. It's easier to carry than BodyGuilde and doesn't melt out of its container. I lube up my inner thighs, my special purpose and my toes before the race, and also where my bra band goes and where my upper arm rubs against my body. In one of the many pockets of your race-ready shorts, have a small tube of SportsSlick. use it a lot.

13. In one of your other pockets, toilet paper. Don't ask why. Just do it.

14. If you're an iPod runner, Nike makes a hat (hatphones) with a pocket that holds a music player and has built-in speakers. This is a safe alternative for runners that helps you hear outside noises, but also get some background music. For me, hats get a bit warm; so you can also get earmuffs with built-in speakers, as well as a fleece headband with built-in speakers. Search for LOBZ or TOOKS on ebay. My favorite is the fleece headband.

15. Find the flattest spot on the road that you can safely run. If they let you run along the yellow line, do that; roads are usually curved on the sides to allow rain to run off. If at all possible, if you can run off the pavement on a soft, flat, dirt shoulder, do that.

16. Practice walking fast in your training. Maybe this could be your 4th workout each week. For most, there will be times that you have to walk. Practice and learn how to do a brisk, purposeful walk. Head up, eyes down, shoulders squared.

Now my disclaimer: I'm not a trainer nor do I play one on TV. These are some thing that have worked for me, a middle-aged, heavier, slower athlete. You do not get to complain bitterly to me if something doesn't work, as I do not promise that it will and I'm not certified or licensed to say that it does. Experiment, read, and try them out and read, read, read: especially books by Salazar, Galloway, and Ultrarunner magazine. Make sure you check with your doctor. (Our doctor is a runner, and so is our podiatrist.)

Cheers, and Happy Marathon Season!



  1. oh, the special purpose clip makes me cry every time.

    that patty must be a sweet girl.

  2. Great advice!

    My waist pack contains kleenex in a ziplock so it won't get damp. It doubles as TP and has come in handy. I also carry an individual-pack of Bio-Freeze in case of a severe leg cramp and an individual-pack Gold Bond antiseptic wipe in case I fall and need to clean some road rash. Sometimes I can find individual-sized sanitizer wipes, but CVS carries a pen-size sanitizer that fits nicely in a waist pack and can be re-filled with alcohol when it runs out. It's very handy to have on a run because if you find yourself needing to use your own TP, you're not likely to be in a place with soap, either.

    I also run with a bandana tucked into my waistband. I've used it as a towel, kleenex, improvised cho-pat strap (with the addition of a small stone on the patellar tendon), and to tie around an abrasion (after using my Gold Bond wipe) so the blood trickling down my leg won't scare anyone. You can also tie knots in it and use it as a bag to carry home anything particularly interesting you find out there on the trails. There are so many good uses for a bandana on a long run that I feel nervous if I don't have one.

  3. Just a thought on number 6. I've seen a lot of people argue that. It makes a lot of sense from a running perspective but if you are a triathlete I suggest doing it the other way. Bike then run. You get used to running on tired legs and come race day you feel comparatively awesome when you come off the bike :) Or at least that's how our coaches set things up for us.

    Great tips! Thanks!

  4. I think the best benefit of doing it the other way is the be able to run on tired legs. Plus, my recommendations were during the off-season. :-)

  5. I'm printing this out for when I do one

  6. Thanks for a great list! I am ordering the shorts and socks...

    There are clear benefits to doing long bike the day before the long run, but I think that if one is at all prone to injury, it's safer to do the run on fresher legs (or even to split up the long bike and long run on Wednesday and Saturday or something like that, if it can be scheduled, rather than doing on adjacent days). I schedule my full rest day the day before the long run, and then try not to do anything too intense the day after either...

  7. This is a great list - with my first half-marathon coming up in about 5 weeks I'm going to take all these tips to heart. (I find I like clif shots better than gels however - and the leftover wrapper isn't gooey in my pocket!)

  8. Thank you for this! My first marathon is in ONE WEEK from today and I will be printing this out and using it to help me pack. Thank you!!!

  9. Anonymous10:34 AM

    Great tips - definitely agree with lucky #13 ;-)

  10. Great tips!!

    I think I used almost all of those tips... especially running on the yellow line - after my half I learned the hard way - - so this marathon it helped out a lot!!


  11. The neatest thing I've seen for hydrating is a new device called 'AquaJoe'. It's a sports drink powder holder/dispenser for athletes. it's ideal for any run/ride where there is access to clean water. There is a video of it at

  12. Great list! I've never practiced walking fast, so that is something I am going to start doing.

    I also carry peppermint gum on my long runs. It soothes my stomach if I am feeling out of sorts and keeps my mouth moist, plus, I use it as a reward, as in "when you get to mile 12, you can have a new piece of gum, won't that be yummy."

    The other thing I have just started doing with a vengance is core work. On my long runs I find myself slowly slumping down. I try and keep my shoulders back and chest up, but as I get tired I sorta cave inward. So, more core work for me!

  13. Thanks for this -- I know I'll need it someday.....


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