Tips for Running a Marathon

As a new runner, there are many things I wish I knew prior to running my first race.  I can always look back on what I wish I did better or what would have helped but I can’t change my first race – after all the saying goes, hindsight is 20:20.  But what I can do is hopefully help someone learn from my experience. So to do this I have come up with a list of the tips for running a marathon that I wish I followed going into training.

Preparing for the Race

  1. Learn from others experience and take it seriously!
    • I know that is easy to say now but I wish I would have given everything people said online some serious thought.
    • Some of my biggest fears were surrounding having to go to the bathroom during the race because of what I read online; unfortunately, while I read away about my fears surrounding marathon training, I paid little attention to the tips like proper strength training workouts to follow or key stretches to follow – getting hurt or running hurt wasn’t even crossing my mind.
  2. nike trainingTrain in all types of weather!
    • Our marathon poured so I was very happy to have done at least one long run in the rain and some in the snow.  Not only did it help my mindset knowing I had already done it but I was able to expose my shoes to those elements as well.
    • There were so many people I saw with bloody ankles after the race and I think a lot of it had to do with their shoes never having been wet (of course improper socks, newer shoes, etc could have all contributed) but people don’t think about exposing their clothes to the elements.
    • I also had experience running in my rain jacket, gloves, and headband so I new what that felt like and knew that I was going to be just fine wearing it for the duration of the race.
  3. Strength Train your Legs
    • Being a former college athlete I took my strength training for granted (honestly our team’s routine for maintenance during season wasn’t that great) but I would go and lift on my own especially during the off season period.  But when I started my running plan I didn’t make the time to do all the training I really needed.
    • My advise spend time on your legs.  Work on your hamstrings, quads, calves, glutes and hip strength.  You do not need to spend a lot of time nor are you trying to “bulk”, you are just trying to strengthen your legs that are about to probably take the biggest beating of their life.
  4. Work on your Core
    • It goes right along with strength training your legs, work on your core.  Your core really runs your body and because you are about to be on your feet for so long you want to make sure your core is ready to hold your form for that extended period of time.  I love doing core but I could have done a lot more.
    • My advise try and do at least one thing of core each day.  Again like the legs this is for strengthening purposes not to get ripped or have rock hard washboard abs.  You want to make sure that you are maintaining and building abdominal strength.
  5. Stretch, Stretch, Stretch
    • It can be easy to get caught up in a three hour run and then have to get on with your life. I know unfortunately I did.  Maybe it didn’t happen after a long run but I neglected my stretching during the shorter runs that I would do before work.
    • I can’t even make excuses I flat out have never been someone who stretched for a few minutes each day and just took it as inflexibility but looking back I realize how stupid of a mindset that is.  Now everyday I stretch for at least 10 minutes and try to stretch in the morning and in the evening.
    • Getting hurt changed my mindset but I hope for whoever is reading this can just learned from my negligence rather than have to suffer the consequences like I did, especially if it effects your race like it did mine.

Race Weekend

  1. Practice what you want to eat during race day!power running breakfast
    • This is one of the facts that kept coming up on runner’s blogs that I would read during my training.  I agree with it to a certain point.
    • First, don’t be stupid and go have some strange exotic new food the day before the race – that is just silly by anyone.
    • Second, try out different foods for your breakfast or your pre-run meal during training.  I went back and forth between my pre-basketball-game meal of peanut butter, bananas, honey on 2 toaster waffles and oatmeal.  Ultimately on race day I went with oatmeal, Greek yogurt, a banana with a little bit of peanut butter, and half a cup of coffee.  I don’t think my training meals even included yogurt so that was a risk I took on race day.
    • Third, try out what energy you want to eat during the race.  Just having tried things will give you confidence.  If you have a sensitive stomach you should probably read many others blogs about testing out different products because I have a pretty good stomach I would say and ended up trying new things on the course like the GU gels and drinking gatorade.  Once I was in the race it didn’t matter to me.
  2. Don’t sit around the day before the race.
    • I recommend as you are walking around, whether you are in your own city the day before a race or exploring a new city don’t spend hours on your feet! We walked around for a good chunk of time and before we realized it we had walked something like 6 miles the day before we were set to run 26.2.
    • Also, be careful at the expo.  The way it is laid out if you do more than one lap you are going to be taking a lot of steps.  We tried to limit our time at the expo to half an hour.  We took one lap and we were out of there (it helped that I didn’t think this expo was all that great).
  3.  Stay hydrated the day before the race!
    • I have a friend who has run several marathons and she and her mom go to the gas station and buy gallon jugs of water and carry them around the day before the race.  This way they know how much water they have drank; as well as, make sure they get enough.
    • When you are walking around if you don’t go with the gallon jug make sure you are always carrying a water bottle that is full.  You want to be as hydrated as possible going into the race (not over hydrated but definitely not even close to dehydrated).
  4. Do not wear anything new on race day!
    • The day of the race is not the day to break out something new.  This goes back to train in all types of weather, how can you wear new items that you have never broken in during your marathon?
    • We saw so many people at the expo buying new shoes, running gear, having their knees taped with KT tape and then we saw those same people wearing their new products the next day.  Being a former college basketball player I know that my shoes take at least a solid month to break in and adjust to my feet.  I wouldn’t even think about wearing something new for anything longer than a light three mile training run at least a month out from the race to prevent blisters that do not have time to heal.
    • On race day we also saw a lot of men with bloody nipples.  Apparently this is a thing for guys but I think in the rain it became that much worse.  People wearing new t-shirts and wet clothes for extended periods of time just caused them to bleed a lot more.  Thank goodness I am a girl!
  5. Give yourself time to digest on race day!
    • I woke up at 345 for my 730 race to give myself time to eat and digest a little bit. When I woke up I ate in 15 minutes and then went and laid back down to try and get some sleep until 515.  In all honestly I didn’t really get much additional sleep but I also didn’t feel tired (thank goodness for adrenaline!).
    • When I got out of bed I made myself a half cup of black coffee and drank that along with more of my water. Then hopped in the shower.
    • By the time I left the hotel at 620ish I was all set (runners use your own inferences).
    • Honestly having to go during the race was one of my biggest fears and I was in the clear and left the hotel knowing I would be.
  6. race hydration stationsTake a little bit of water or Gatorade at every station during the race.
    • Even when you don’t feel like you need it, down the line you are going to wish you had especially because you can’t chug water when you need it and keep running.  I made sure I took a glass of something while running from every station (sometimes I took both the water and Gatorade).
    • By the end of the race my hands were so puffy from being dehydrated and soaking wet for over 5 hours that I could barely close them but I guess that comes with the territory.
    • I also recommend having some kind of nutrition whether it is the course offerings of gels or jellybeans and you take a few from the volunteers when they have them or you bring your own PowerBar, gels, granola bar, beans, whatever you use, it will make a difference because you are burning so many calories throughout the race that your body needs to know it isn’t going into starvation mode.  It needs carbs and sugar (in moderation).  I ran with just my sports beans while Brian ran with a protein bar and sports beans.
  7. Bring a change of clothes for after the race!Change of Clothes
    • After the pouring rain, running through puddles, sweating and just being in my clothes for over five hours I was so happy to have dry clothes to put on.
    • I recommend bringing a change of everything including underwear, sports bra, socks, shoes (I had recovery crocs), sweats or shorts, shirt and sweatshirt (depending on the weather).  I forgot underwear and a clean sports bra which was silly on my part but just wasn’t something I even thought about.
    • Brian didn’t bring an extra pair of shoes and socks so he had to stay in his race shoes waiting for me.
    • There also aren’t a lot of areas to change so be prepared to change in a port-a-potty.  I ended up changing in the handicap one so I had more room.
  8. Be prepared there are very few places to sit down!
    • I grabbed a chair from the med tent to put my shoes and socks on because I refused to do that in a port-a-potty.
    • Races really want you in and out of the space, plus I finished about an hour before the race was scheduled to finish so they were almost in pack-up mode. But even when Brian finished there was no where to sit down aside from the med tents.

I hope that my crazy list of things I wish I knew or things that I think are important when training helps out some first time runner or even helps out an active runner.  Running isn’t an easy sport but it is a sport with a huge community and I recommend joining a running community whether it is in person or online!

Stay tuned for my next post about the running blogs and community I chose to join – remember you aren’t going through it alone!

The Morning of the Marathon

The last I left you Brian and I were off to bed at the Hyatt Regency.  I had an alarm set for 345am in order to eat a good breakfast and be able to digest before the run.  Brian’s alarm was set for 5am.

The starting lineI woke up around 3am on the morning of the marathon and thankfully was able to fall back to sleep for the next 45 minutes until my alarm went off.  I hoped out of bed, grabbed my water bottle, banana, small thing of peanut butter, a greek yogurt and instant oatmeal that my mom and brought me and went into the bathroom so I could turn the light on.  Since the room we had did not have a microwave or a fridge Brian and I had to get creative.  We kept our yogurts in an ice bucket filled with ice and I used the coffee maker to have hot water to make my oatmeal.  But hey, you gotta do what you gotta do! I drank an entire bottle of water while eating my meal and was back in bed trying to fall asleep at 4am.  I laid in bed half asleep half thinking about the race for the next hour and 15 minutes.

Brian was up at that point and he showered and I helped make his oatmeal.  Then I was able to shower and start putting on my marathon clothes.  It was a surreal experience thinking about running the race in a few hours and also thinking about how it would all be over in just a few more hours.  For those of you who are wondering, I was able to be fully digested before heading out the door at 6:20 to head to the start of the race.  I would say for a first timer I timed that right.

marathon morningWe met my mom in the hallway and headed out the door all race ready though according to this picture I look pretty much asleep.

Now here is where it gets a little interesting.  As we left the hotel it was drizzling.  Just a light rain.  We walked the mile from the hotel to the area where the corrals were set up for the start of the race which was at the Museum of Natural History. We grabbed the little bottles of water they were handing out (they had fruit as well but we were all set) and then it was off to gear check to drop off our bags which of course they made you walk up a hill to get to the UPS trucks waiting in order of last name.  This meant mine was at the exact opposite end of where Brian’s truck was.  Then we hit up the port-a-potties that were set up at the top of the hill rather than fight the lines at the bottom.

That is another piece of advise I would give to runners – go to the bathrooms that are away from the crowds so you don’t have to wait as long and they also have been used less.

After that little stop it was starting to rain a little harder as it approached the 7:15 mark. The sun was also starting to rise behind the clouds – so at least it was no longer total darkness.  We got to our corrals at about 7:20: Maddie, Maya, Kristy and I were in corral 17 while Brian was up in corral 2.

A corral for those of you that do not know in a race is the wave you start the race in.  Each corral at least for this race started approximately 2 minutes behind the previous and each corral is set based on your projected finish time that you select.

Marathon racers readyMy mom took pictures of us in our corral and getting ready to start. And then it was time to get serious as the corrals started to move each going at their own pace.  And then it was on, the countdown for our corral, the start of the race, my heart was beating and I was at the start line.  Everything I had worked for 18 weeks for was leading up to this moment….3….2….1….Stay tuned for the race!DC Rock n Roll Start

Marathon Weekend Begins

After a week of MDP training, Brian and I flew into BWI on Thursday in preparation for the marathon weekend.  I kind of goofed up and booked our flights thinking our training was the following week so it wouldn’t conflict.  My advise to future MDPs, check your schedule and if you do have a conflict with a training time be honest about it as soon as you find out.  Sarah and Jillian were both really understanding because I was genuinely concerned and it had been an honest mistake. Thankfully we worked it out and missed training that Friday and took a floating holiday, I call it my marathon holiday.

Brian and I wanted to get the flight out of the way and give ourselves time to adjust and get two good nights sleep leading up to the marathon, rather than worrying about work and flying the day before.  Plus we were worried that the Buffalo winter goes until it feels like ending so we didn’t want to chance a weather delay and not get a good night sleep the night before.  Best to limit the stress in the days leading up to the marathon; as well as, enjoy the entire marathon weekend rather than just go for the day.

So we arrived in BWI to bright and sunny weather. One of my friends who was running the race with me picked us up from the airport and we drove to her apartment in Baltimore.  Maddie is a saint, she did not have to pick us up at the airport which was 25-30 minutes away from where she lives.  Maddie is one of those friends who we could talk for hours and never get tired of each other which is why she was perfect to run a marathon with.  By the time we were all settled and Maddie had taken her dog to camp for the weekend we were all starving.  We then headed to an awesome dinner at Golden West Cafe and had amazing burgers.  Followed by a treat of a Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie which we brought back to enjoy and ate about half.

The next day Maddie dropped us off at the train station (she had to go to work until 3) and we headed into DC to pickup our bibs at the Expo.  We also picked up Maddie’s because we weren’t sure how traffic getting there would be and it was only open until 7 that night.

Tip: If you are running with a friend and one of you can’t make the expo ask them to pick up your race packet or offer to pick up theirs- it will save you the headache because as it gets later in the day the expo gets more crowded and the lines get longer.  For Rock n’ Rolls you a copy of their ID and their original race form.  I had Maddie write a note granting me permission as well just to be safe.

After checking into our hotel (The Hyatt Regency) we walked to the expo which was about a mile from the hotel.  This was about 1pm.  The expo was interesting there was a lot of sales going on and vendors that wanted you to test out their latest products.  One thing I was surprised at was the limited amount of free things that were there.  I had heard marathon expos were all about sample products.  Jelly Belly was passing out their variety pack of sports beans which I love and planned to use already at the race and PowerBar was handing out small samples of their bars that were going to be at the end of the race the next day but as far as free products go that was about it.  There were also some contests you could enter and a few games you could play.  Brian and I picked up our tags, got our shirts and bags that were given to us by the race, took a few pictures and bought a pint glass with the marathon logo on it (pint glasses are kind of our thing) and then we determined it was time for lunch. DC Rock n' Roll Expo

At this point it was about 230 and we decided we would head to the Corner Bakery Cafe that was just up the street from our hotel.  It is very similar to Panera Bread and looked delicious (I had never heard of the company before and we actually found out there is one right in Buffalo).  He and I both got a panini and a soup, it was a little pricey but we were on vacation, don’t know how often I would actually go in Buffalo but it fit the bill that day.  I had the chicken pomodori which was awesome! Unfortunately when we left we forgot to check the bag because we were both so tired and hungry and they had forgotten Brian’s soup.   We called and they said we could walk back – even though it was less than half a mile the day before a marathon we just wanted to rest.  So he and I split my soup and ate our sandwiches, after all we were planning to go to dinner with my family that night.  Then after eating we both passed out for well over an hour.

Sadly my mom and sister weren’t able to get into DC until almost 10pm so there wasn’t much time to enjoy with them before really needing to fall asleep.  But we were able to go to Carmine’s with my Aunt, Uncle, Cousin and her daughter.  Brian and I walked from the hotel to the restaurant (approximately half a mile if we hadn’t gone in the wrong direction for half a mile).  But it all worked out.  My cousin had plans to run the full but hurt her knee in training (must run in the family) so she decided to run the half instead.  It was a delicious family style meal and Brian and I hitched a ride back with them and at that point we started getting in the race mindset.  race gearAfter laying out all of our clothes for the race and taking one last look at the weather (it had been another gorgeous low 50s day in DC that day but was scheduled to rain all day the next day), we turned on the ACC tournament and did a nice long stretch out and waited for my mom to arrive.

Without realizing it Brian and I had walked nearly 6 miles the day before we were slated to run 26.2miles!

Advise to future first time runner – be mindful of how much you are walking – don’t just sit around the day before but also just be careful about how much you are walking.  We ended up being fine but could have been rough.

We also probably were not drinking as much water as we should have been that day, even though we carried around my CamelBak water bottle the entire time we probably needed more water.

Another tip for runners, make sure you are carrying a water bottle with you at all times.  One of my friends who has run several marathons with her mom goes out and buys a gallon water jug at the store and just carries that around with her the day before a race.  That way she knows exactly how much she is drinking and makes sure she is hydrated.

My mom and sister arrived around 9:45, we said hello and good night to them (they dropped off our breakfast for the morning it was off to bed as we had a big day ahead of us!  Stay tuned for the morning of the race.