The Asics LA Marathon registration opened this week so I thought it would be appropriate to give all you first time-marathoners some tips on how to prepare for one of the most mentally and physically challenging days of your life.
Before I give you the life-saving tips that you absolutely MUST listen to… let me tell you a little story about my first time training for the LA marathon…
It all started almost exactly two years ago when one day I was watching a movie and for some reason the thought popped into my head that I wanted to do the marathon. This may or may not be how most of you decided to run your first marathon, but I digress…
So up to this point I had done countless 5ks and sprint triathlons. I hadn’t really ever done long distance running but for some reason in that moment watching “Shawn of the Dead” I decided that running a marathon might or might not change my life.
With only a max of 8 miles under my belt as of that moment, I signed up for the LA marathon and started doing research on exactly how to go about this thing. I also signed up for a 1/2 marathon in my hometown at the same time that was the day after Christmas. I read three books, followed around 12 blogs about running and subscribed to runners world magazine. I knew pretty much all you could possibly know about running a marathon-in theory. I also worked my butt off during my 6 months of training. I never missed a single long run and I stuck to the schedule that I had laid out for myself. I even completely changed my diet to adhere to a more long distance running friendly workout schedule. I was 100% committed.
Then the first 1/2 marathon rolled around. I had done about 16 miles up to this point so I knew that I could do the 1/2 no problem. The race took place about 4 miles away from my house, so the morning of the race I got up at 5 am and did exactly what any other sane person wouldn’t do–I rode my bike with my parents to the race before running 13.1 miles. THANKFULLY the ride was mostly downhill so it didn’t tire me out before I had to run. I was so excited for my first long distance race and to put my training to the test.
(The final 5k stretch of the half marathon. It was a really small race with only a couple hundred people, but you can’t beat that scenery!)
I ended up doing better than I expected on this race! I finished with a time of 2:01 (which isn’t remarkable, but I’m not a fast runner so I was proud). The one bad thing about this amazing race… it put my expectations up way too high for the marathon. And you’ll read this all over the internet when searching for tips on marathon training– run slower than you think you can; just focus on finishing for your first race; it’s a marathon not a sprint. And yet for some reason, we all seem to think that we’re different and that the advice doesn’t pertain to us. It does. It always does. Really. Trust me. Don’t make the mistake that I did.
So… what was my mistake?
I got cocky. The week before the marathon, I dropped my nutrition plan that I had been adhering to for the past 6 months and instead ate way more protein and way less carbs. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. They call the week before the big race the “carbo loading” week for a reason. So yeah, that was stupid mistake number 1.
(At the LA marathon expo to get my number for the race. That’s my dad with me too. He’s a ridiculously proud dad and I love him! Quick side story- my dad flew out to Tucson-where I go to school- to be with me during my longest long run before the race. He biked 20 miles with me while I ran to keep my company. He’s amazing.)
Anyway, the night before the race, instead of eating my typical meal of sweet potatoes, tons of veggies and quinoa, I ate at a brand new restaurant that I had never eaten at before. Mistake number 2. Why is that a mistake you ask? Well the portions were tiny. And I was about to run 26.2 miles the next day… while burning about 2600 calories during one workout. I needed big portions. I also have a pretty sensitive stomach when it comes to being nervous. I can’t eat when I’m nervous. At all. So needless to say, the next morning at 3:30am when I woke up for the race, I was nervous and bailed on my normal breakfast. I was scared that I would throw up or something because my stomach was so upset. Mistake number 3. ALWAYS EAT BEFORE YOU RUN 26.2 MILES!!! Now that’s just common sense.
(Me at the very start of the race. Just before everything went to sh*t)
Mistake number 5: Obviously I knew that not eating before this huge workout was a bad idea. So at the start of the race, I tried to force some bagels and bananas that they had available for us down my throat. I don’t eat bagels. I haven’t eaten a bagel in years. And yet I ate one before the biggest workout of my life. Don’t do that. DON’T CHANGE YOUR DIET AT ALL RIGHT BEFORE THE RACE!!
So that was dumb.
You might be asking, what other POSSIBLE mistakes could you have made?
Well, you know those GUs that long distance runners are supposed to eat in order to give them glucose to refill their glycogen stores? I made my own because I didn’t like all the junk that was in the premade ones. That isn’t the bad idea part. The bad idea is that I had never practiced holding onto them while running to make sure nothing bad could happen. Well it turns out something bad can happen. All of my GUs that I had prepared exploded in my little runners belt. I was running on almost no food other than a few bites of bagel before a 26.2 mile run. You know those days when you try to run and it feels like your legs are made of lead and you can barely get them to leave the ground? That’s what I felt like for 26.2 miles. I had been expecting to finish with a time of around 4 hours and 20 minutes (because of my first time during the half). I ended up finishing at 5 hours and 11 minutes. I have never experienced such agonizing pain in my life. I was running so slow that even this little man wearing mini shorts and power-walking was beating me! I’m still so amazed that I was even able to finish in the first place. As soon as I stopped running after I crossed the finish line, it felt like tiny daggers were piercing each and every section of my legs. The full WEEK I could barely walk. The part that’s absolutely absurd is that when I did my 20 mile run, I felt great! That means I could’ve had a way more incredible experience my first time if I had just followed a few SIMPLE tips…
(Right after I finished the race. You might be able to tell that my nose and eyes are red from trying to hold back tears of absolute pain)
PLEASE FOLLOW THESE TIPS IF YOU PLAN ON RUNNING A MARATHON!!!
1. Don’t change your diet!!
Once you’ve found a way of eating that works with your body and allows you to do long runs with full energy, DON’T SWITCH IT UP!!! Trust me. You don’t want tiny daggers piercing your leg muscles from a lack of glycogen stores.
2. Practice eating and running with your GUs during the long runs.
You really don’t want to have any explosion issues like I did. The race does provide you with GUs, but not until mile 20 or 21, so trust me, you’ll want your own.
3. You’re running a MARATHON. Not a sprint.
Even if you felt great during your 20 mile practice run and you think you can push yourself, just don’t do it. Running 26.2 miles is pushing yourself. At least for the first one, run waaaaay slower than you think you can run. You’re legs will thank you at the end. Nobody really cares what your time is anyway. When you say you ran a marathon, people are already amazed at that ridiculous accomplishment.
4. Even if you don’t feel like eating the night before or the morning of… EAT.
You read my horror story of not eating. Don’t let that be you. It’s terrible and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.
5. You’re running a marathon… have some fun!
The ONLY reason I was able to complete my marathon is because I had family members riding their bikes next to me while I was running to keep me going. That, and I ran with “Marathon Man” (if you don’t know who he is, look him up. He’s one amazing man.) for about 3 miles and he really pushed me to keep going even though I wanted to just lay down on the ground and melt away. Talk to other people around you. Everyone is excited to be running the race and most people are doing it on their own, so find someone to be your race buddy. The miles go by a lot faster when you have someone distracting you.
Running the LA marathon was one of the most physically and mentally challenging experiences of my life. I didn’t expect myself to get emotional when I crossed the finish line, but as I rounded the corner for the last 1/4 mile stretch and saw that the end was in sight, I broke down and cried the rest of the way. I was crying because I was in pain, yeah, but mostly I was crying because my six months of dedication and training had paid off. I was about to cross the finish line and be a “marathoner”. I did it and no one could ever take that away from me. To all of you who are starting your months of grueling training know this: It’s all so worth it.