Thursday, December 27, 2012

Lessons from a Marathon (The Training): Guest Post!

Guest post: What I learned from my first marathon Though I suppose a guest post merits an introduction first: hi! I’m Shannon!

That’s me on the right, with my fiancée on the left, following the Pittsburgh Half in May.
I keep most of my thoughts on a sorta-weekly basis here (or here if you prefer things in a more structured syntax), but Megan offered folks the opportunity for guest postings on her blog. I met Megan through the Ragnar Relay, both proud teammates of Four Score and Seven Miles Ago. She’s also friends with a bunch of my friends: awesome people knowing awesome people and such.

So! Today I am burdened with glorious purpose: I recently ran the Philadelphia Marathon (you can read my race report here, if you wish). I have five half-marathons under my belt already, having dropped my PR by almost 30 minutes; it’s become one of my favorite distances. But until this November I hadn’t run a full before.
If you’ve never run a full before, speculation doesn’t come close. Without further adieu, here are some things that I learned from the experience. This is geared towards folks who have never done a marathon before and would like to.

1. Give the marathon the respect it deserves. I can’t emphasize this point enough: stick to your training plan. There are reasons behind all the workouts and weekly mileages. Keep on-a-whim weekend races at an absolute minimum, unless they closely align with the mileage you need. The marathon is a beast, and it will mercilessly chew up anyone who casually turns his or her back to it. Once you have some experience with the beast, and you know how your body will handle the training, then you can take some liberties with the training. In the point below, I’ll go into some caveats with this point, but as a general heuristic: unless you have a good reason to deviate, stick to the plan.

2. The key is mileage. If you’re hitting your weekly mileages, that really is 75% of the battle. Kill those long runs. Push through those 20-milers. Those are the most important workouts of your marathon training. Speed and tempo runs are great; like any workout regimen, it’s good to shock the body so it doesn’t get stuck in a rut. But if you have to sacrifice workouts, make sure you’re keeping your long runs. My fiancée and I made a hard copy of our training schedule:
It doesn’t include the taper, as we ran out of room. Just in case anyone noticed.
You’ll notice there are some numbers that are circled. Those represent runs I skipped; only one of them is a long run (I twisted my ankle pretty badly a few days prior, and by that long run day I was only beginning to walk under my own power again). The rest were because of nagging muscle injuries or soreness, or generally wanting some extra downtime. Killing 1-2 easy runs here and there won’t set back your mileage. Still, be cautious here: scrap too many runs and you risk inviting the fury of #1. Further, I would put forward that maybe something is wrong and the timing isn’t right for a full marathon.

3. Log, log, log. Different strokes for different folks: Megan and I have blogs where we like to describe our running escapades, but Megan posts more frequently and in more detail than I do. (Megan's note: it holds me accountable! And I have a memory like no other, which makes it easy to tell you what exactly I ate at every other mile.) I have a Garmin GPS watch that I closely monitor through Garmin Connect, and I log all my runs on Fitocracy. My fiancée also has a running blog, but she mainly sticks to race reports with the occasional inter-race update, similar to my blogging strategy. She also has a Garmin GPS watch and uses Fitocracy, but she also keeps a daily written account of her running workouts, which I don’t. The point here is: find what works for you, but find some way of documenting your progress. When the going gets tough, it’s pretty freaking awesome to see just how much you’ve already accomplished.
It’s awfully inspiring to see your monthly progress.
 4. It’s ok to have bad weeks! Whereas point #1 is primarily geared towards folks who might try to do too much, this point addresses the other end of things: don’t worry if you have a bad week here and there! That’s part of running. If you have a stretch of really sucky weeks and are falling pretty far behind in your mileage, it may be a sign that you don’t quite have the mileage base for a full marathon. And that’s ok too! I waited two years after my first half marathon (and four more half marathons) to run a full. If you are having a bad week, take a deep breath and relax. Look at what you’ve already accomplished (#2), and focus on relaxing during your runs. If you need to pull back a bit, either on the mileage or the intensity in order to make it through the week, that’s ok. But know your limits; expecting to run an 18-mile long run after a week off may not be the best plan.

5. Have fun with it! 4 months of training is a long time. In one of my posts, I compared it to playing football. Again, this differs for everyone, but for me it was little things that really helped on a daily basis: a kickass track workout, or waking up an hour later on a day off, or adding a new song to my running playlist, or laughing at the number of calories I was burning on a weekly basis, or leveling up in Fitocracy, or getting excited about cutback weeks and what to do with the extra hour or more on the morning of the long run (in my particular case, I proposed, lolz).

What motivates you? What keeps you excited about running? Incorporate it! Feed off all those endorphins you’re generating from your workouts and channel it into making your next workout even more fun. And make sure you keep stretching, foam rolling, getting enough sleep, eating right…you know, that basic stuff.

I’ll be honest: my first full marathon didn’t go well. I crushed our two 20-mile long runs, but come race day I was dying by mile 15. There are a lot of reasons for this (detailed in my race report), but it illustrates one final point I want to make: everyone has off-days, and while we’d all love for our race days to be our best, sometimes a bad day just happens to coincide with a race. Don’t berate yourself for it, don’t second-guess your training, and absolutely don’t doubt yourself. Shake it off; mark it down as a bad day and try again later. I’m proud to say that I nonetheless finished the marathon, and I am looking forward to running another one and improve on my time.

Think of it this way: if you have a bad race day, you set yourself up for a nice PR the next time you run it!

 I hope this was somewhat helpful to those who may be considering a marathon, or who have already begun training for one. In keeping with the tradition on my own blog: a lolcat for your troubles. I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday season, celebrated wherever and with whomever is most meaningful! :)
 - Shannon


Thanks Shannon!

Any other tips for the trials and tribulations of marathon training for first-timers? And look forward to my next guest post from Gina: Lessons from a Marathon (The Race). Exciting times ahead, people!

1 comment:

  1. Great tips and I loved the humor behind them. I definitely agree that it helps to know your motivation for running the marathon.