Marathon (Wo)Man: 8 Obvious Things I’ve (Re)Learned About Marathon Training

The other day I ran into an old college friend I hadn’t seen in a year or so. We exchanged pleasantries and “what-have-you-been-up-to’s.” He’s been up to law school. I’ve been up to training for the marathon, which he did last year. “Any words of advice?” I asked.

“Make sure you get new shoes at some point,” he said.

I smiled. Of course there’d be new shoes. I get new shoes every 300-400 miles, if not sooner, just like the experts, and those persistent emails from my local running store, tell me to. I wondered how proper shoe maintenance could have escaped someone’s notice during months of training. But, who was I too judge?

I still had scabs around my ribcage from that time before I knew it was a good idea to put BodyGlide around my sports bra. (Historians refer to this period as the pre-chafe management era.) If anything, marathon training is a unique opportunity to learn, or re-learn, or repeatedly bang your head against, the obvious. Here, eight obvious things the miles have taught me thus far:

1. Running three days a week isn’t going to cut it.

Duh. When I first printed out my training plans (on a zesty shade of pink paper, no less), there was one option that had me running four days a week with moderate long runs in the earlier weeks. A second option had me running just three days a week with longer long runs from the get-go. I went with the latter because I’d “have more time for yoga, strength training, and injury prevention” (and also, checkbook balancing, Twin Peaks watching, and CSA vegetable cooking). Now, five weeks in, it’s clear, as if it weren’t from the beginning: I need another day of running and more mileage.

2. You need to eat.

Atkins and Dukan be damned, a girl’s actually gotta eat some carbs when packing in the mileage. I typically feel like I’m eating a vast amount of gummies or jelly beans on my long runs, but calculations after the fact and tired muscles during the run usually reveal that I haven’t quite gobbled down the 60 to 90 grams of carbs per hour that are recommended for runs over two hours.

3. But you can’t eat whatever you want.

As much as I’d like to report that training is a free pizza party pass, it’s more like a meal ticket for quinoa, tuna, greens, and homemade smoothies. Not only do pizza and beer effectively counteract most, if not all, calories burned on the track—especially as I’m more of an IPA than a Michelob Ultra kind of gal—they also fail to effectively fuel a run or help a body recover from one. They do succeed in producing slower times, however.

4. You really should get at least six hours of sleep a night.

Since college, if not before, I’ve been doing research into sleep deprivation. Like my research into the effects of margaritas on common colds, I’m never pleased with the results: Sadly, the human body–well my human body, at least–would seem to require at least six hours of sleep to function well. Running 20 to 30 miles each week does not change this fact.

5. Things take time.

Sure, you can make a short run a bagel-buying expedition (this was actually an official tip handed down from a running magazine), see a movie with a friend while recovering from a long run, or catch-up on This American Life on your headphones, but really, training takes up a lot of time and isn’t all that conducive to double-tasking. The bagel place isn’t really that far away, I’m likely to fall asleep in the movie, and it’s really hard to keep pace while Ira Glass is talking with young southern women who have been tragically, wrongfully imprisoned.

6. You should get an early start.

I like to relive this one each weekend. I try to get out the door, but inevitably, I’m held back by my dog/uncharged iPhone/dawdling fiancé/sense of long-run dread. An hour into my run, it’s hot, I’m cranky, I’ve sucked through my water already, there’s no drinking fountain in sight, and I’m having trouble keeping pace. This weekend, dog/iPhone/fiancé/dread be damned, I’m starting at 7am.

7. Lubrication is key.

Body parts rubbing against each other over and over can be painful. There are products to prevent these things from happening. Enough said.

8. There is pain you should suffer through and pain you should not; knowing the difference is key.

This is sort of like the cheesy serenity prayer but for runners. Sometimes shin splints just mean you need a longer warm-up; sometimes they mean you need eight weeks of physical therapy. I’m tempted to write “listen to your body” here, but since I’m not the greatest body listener/interpreter, I tend to follow more of a “see a healthcare professional or three” approach.



Training Week 5

Miles logged: 22 miles

Longest run: 14 miles

Long run fuel: Swedish fish, Vitamin Water (a bad, sugary, gross idea, purchased in a rash moment of electrolyte-deficiency fear at the convenience market)

Long run haiku: Girl in purple tank/I will follow you, use you/My secret pace-keeper

Post-run recovery food: Brunch with friend: gazpacho with crab, grilled vegetable salad, and, admittedly, a cucumber-gin cocktail

Photo: darkmatter/Flickr

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