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Marathon: Lessons Learned

December 26, 2013

I know, I know—another marathon post?  Don’t worry, I’m sick of them too, and this will probably be my last one.

But I wanted to get down some of the things I’d do differently next time—if there is a next time, that is.  Right now I’m kind of trying to decide if and when I might want to run another one, so I’d like to record some of these “lessons learned” about training and the race while they’re still fresh in my mind.

On Training…

Pick the race carefully and purposefully. 

I kind of just decided to do the marathon on the spur of the moment—it was in my city (Huntsville), and it was pretty cheap.  My training for the half marathons I was planning on running matched up pretty well with the marathon schedule, but not totally—I felt a little rushed in the training in the beginning, and like I had missed out on about a month of what should have been marathon training, but was only half-marathon training.  For the next one, I’d like to pick the marathon well in advance so that I can work out a training schedule from start to finish, rather than jumping in more in the middle.  Speaking of which…

Have a training plan.

I didn’t really follow an exact training plan during the weeks of training.  I had an idea in mind of what I wanted to do—two or three short runs during the week, and then a longer run on the weekends.  This is pretty much what I did, but there were many weeks where I skipped some of the shorter runs, and I wonder how that might have impacted my overall performance.  Also, I kind of played my long runs by ear and didn’t have an exact plan for them—I knew I wanted to do two or three weeks in a row of building to long distances, and then have a fall-back week (for example, three weeks of long runs might be 16 miles, then 18 miles, then 14 miles) before bumping it back up again.

This is, again, basically what I ended up doing, but I felt like I hit the twenty mile mark too early, which impacted the rest of my training.  I wasn’t happy with the way my training went towards the end, for a number of reasons—travel, weather, burn-out, etc.  I feel like if the marathon had been two weeks after my last twenty-miler, rather than four weeks after it, it would have gone better. 

Don’t plan on racing halves during the training period.

Or, if I am going to run half-marathons as part of the training plan, I need to absolutely force myself to just run them, rather than race them.  I’d go into the half thinking that I would use it as part of the long run, and then run four or five miles after the race for a complete long run.  But, I always ended up racing the half at 100% full effort, and then I’d be too wiped to run anymore after it.  Sometimes the temptation of racing is just too strong! 

Don’t wimp out on strength/core training.

Going into the marathon, I said that I wanted to work really hard to keep up my strength training.  Well…I didn’t do that.  Interestingly (and not surprisingly), I went into the marathon feeling very strong in my legs, but so, so weak everywhere else.  It’s so easy for strength-training to fall by the wayside when you’re spending literally hours and hours running—but it’s a mistake.  Next time, I’d like to focus on strength training and core strengthening so that I feel strong everywhere—not just in my legs.

On Race Day…

Don’t. Go. Out. Too. Fast.

Ugh—this one is so hard!  I told myself and told myself not to run too fast in the beginning—to save up my energy for the middle and final miles of the race.

I still went out too fast.

It’s just so tempting! The energy is high, your legs feel great—until, you know—they don’t.  I think I was running a pace that was about 30 seconds too fast for the first ten miles or so, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but by mile 15, I was feeling it, and by mile 20, my pace had slowed to what felt like a crawl.  Forcing yourself to hold back in the beginning is definitely worth it in the end.

Drink (and eat) what you’ve been training with.

During my long runs, ALL I drank was water.  So I’m not really sure what compelled me to drink Powerade during the race.  I paid for that choice with bright orange vomit, right as I crossed the finish line.

Lesson learned.

Fuel properly during the race.

I was doing okay with this during the beginning, taking in a pack of jelly beans around miles 6-7.  But my fueling system went down as the race went on, because I started to feel nauseous (see above point).   I also wanted to take in some real food along the race, so I left a Clif bar with Ryan to be eaten at mile 15; alas, he wasn’t able to make it to the meet-up point, and I went food-less for the rest of the race. 

Well, there you have it—mistakes made and lessons learned.  I still haven’t figured out if another marathon is in my (immediate) future—right now, I kind of go back and forth on it.  But, if I ever do run another one, I feel like I’ll have a much better sense of what it entails—both in the training, and on race day itself.

Hope you had a happy holiday!

4 Comments leave one →
  1. itzyskitchen permalink
    December 26, 2013 5:02 pm

    Great advice. I will definitely take this allll in. Yet…I know I will start too fast. Its so hard not to!

  2. December 27, 2013 7:24 pm

    I agree with all except the point about not racing a half during training. Doing a race in the middle of marathon training can be very important in showing you how you’re doing at pacing. If you run a half all out and finish 5 minutes faster than expected, you can safely bump up your marathon pace by a little. Similarly, if you try to go at half pace and run more slowly, it’s a good indication that you’re being overly ambitious. In a regular (full-length) marathon training plan, having a long run one week of only 15-16 miles is fine — a couple miles warm-up, and then the half (sometimes half at marathon pace, half at half pace, or all at half pace), followed by a mile cool-down works very well for many people.
    As for going out too fast, it seriously happens to everyone! I’ve done about 15? 20? fulls so far and it still happens sometimes! So I’d say live and learn, but it’s more like live, learn a little, get used to dealing with the consequences when you don’t learn!

    • January 2, 2014 1:53 pm

      That makes sense! It frustrated (well, frustrates, haha) me that my half times were so much faster (both sub two) than my marathon time– something didn’t correlate there. I guess I can push it really hard for 13 miles, but 26 miles, not so much, ha!

  3. December 27, 2013 9:33 pm

    All wisdom in here! :-) I’ve been running long distance for a while, and I couldn’t agree more.

    About core: some people think it’s just the abs, but personally I have improved my endurance, speed and comfort by strengthening and stretching my glutes, hips and lower back. So it’s become part of the training.

    Good luck in your training!

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