Thursday, May 8, 2008

Take It and Run Thursday: Marathon Mania

Today, we are celebrating “Marathon Mania” over at the Runners Lounge. Now, for most runners, marathon “mania” probably refers to their enthusiasm and excitement about running marathons. In my case, though, it actually refers to my tendency to turn temporarily bipolar in the weeks leading up to a marathon. I’m totally serious. Prior to my first marathon, I went through waves of “TOTALLY EXCITED OMIGOD I CAN’T WAIT THIS IS GOING TO BE AMAAAAAAZING!” This mania was complimented ever so nicely with waves of, “Uh oh. I have to run a marathon in a couple weeks, (tomorrow, in 5 minutes, etc.). But . . . I’m not ready! I still have so much to learn! Omigod, I have to look up everything there is to read on the internet regarding marathoning RIGHT THIS SECOND . . . or I’m just not going to finish!” Yeah. I was a joy to be around during those weeks, I’m sure.

While I laugh about it now, I did spend approximately 150 hours of my life researching marathons, and compiling a 10-page list of “marathon tips and information” that I all but memorized (you think I'm kidding, don't you?). Thus, I figure I might as well share the “greatest hits” version of the tips I’ve collected (both through frenzied internet research, and through the experience of having run one very painful marathon--with many more to come, of course).


1. The schedule is not meant to be followed as though your life depends on it. I repeat: The schedule is not meant to be followed as though your life depends on it. Sometimes you need rest. Sometimes you need cross-training. Sometimes you need a trip to the Bahamas. If your body is giving you not-so-subtle signs that what you’re doing is too much, take a step back. Seriously. I promise that missing one run will not force you to DNF (and if you go to the Bahamas, bring me with, please!).

2. If you’ll be training alone, make sure you have one hell of a marathon playlist . . . OR get yourself some good, long podcasts (FYI, Pheddipidations is a great one)! It can get pretty damn lonely out there . . .

3. Ice baths are great (except for after winter long runs—yay, hypothermia!)

4. Do not bother making plans for after your long runs. I can’t tell you how many times I told myself, “I don’t want to go to the grocery store now—I’ll go after my run” and then went hungry for the next week.

5. Make sure you use at least one long run as a “dress rehearsal” of sorts for your marathon. Try out everything from the food you'll eat beforehand, to the clothing you’ll wear, to your hydration/fuel strategy, to the super cool pose you’ll do while crossing the finish line (this may be embarrassing, but practice makes perfect!)

6. Moleskin and body glide are beautiful things.

7. Try to keep a record of your training—whether it be in one of those little journal logs, on looseleaf paper or in a blog (I, of course, vote for a blog—your friends and family will probably get sick of hearing you run at the mouth about blisters and gels and chafing . . . but we sure won’t!)

8. Training for a marathon is just as hard on your significant others, kids, parents, siblings, friends, etc. as it is on you. Be understanding when loved ones get frustrated with your ridiculous training schedule. Try to do special things for them (especially things that don't involve much movement) in order to make up for the fact that training has stolen so much of your free time.


9. Tapering is a necessary evil. You will go slightly crazy, but luckily there is “google.” You can waste more time than you’d imagine googling anything and everything having to do with marathons. (What on earth did people do prior to google?!)

10. Watch your favorite running movies. (as an aside, this plan kind of backfired on me . . . I went to go see Spirit of the Marathon (highly recommended!) two weeks before my first marathon. While the movie served its purpose and got me really motivated and excited, it also got me REALLY terrified. In fact, I had a small panic attack right there in the movie theater. While beautiful and awe-inspiring, the aerial shots of the HUGE crowd of runners at the Chicago start line were a bit overwhelming. Apparently I had never thought about how many people would actually be lining up at with me until that very moment. Wilson tried to make me feel better by saying, “but there will only be like 25,000 at LA!” Yep, shockingly, it didn’t quite help).

11. Take the time to thank those who have helped you get through your training. This includes, but is not limited to: your boyfriend who cooked you dinner a million Saturdays in a row because you were too tired to move; your mother who listened to you complain about how that one time your boyfriend actually asked you to clean up after dinner, when you had just run 18 miles; your friends who dealt over and over again with rejected Friday night invitations (“sorry, I have to run x-miles tomorrow morning”); your sister whose phone calls you never returned because you were too exhausted to hold the phone up to your ear and your phone’s speaker function was busted; the random coach/friend/etc. who inspired you to run the marathon in the first place; your fantastic and supportive blog readers who encouraged you the most when you were having an off day. It’s nice to feel appreciated!

12. Do not allow yourself to think negative thoughts. Seriously. The moment they pop into your head, b*tch-slap them right out again and replace them with those cheesy affirmations we all love. (“I am a strong woman. I am worthy of completing a marathon.”) You have worked hard to get to where you are . . . you really should have nothing but positive things to say about yourself. And besides, I know a dude who once ran a marathon without really training for it. So yeah, if HE can do it, you can totally do it. There’s nothing to be nervous about . . . it’s JUST 26.2 miles!


13. Try to keep your diet relatively boring and as consistent as possible. Now isn’t the time to try sushi for the first time, or sample that “nuclear hot sauce” you just bought.

14. Carbs and fluids, my friends. You should totally have this one down by now!

15. Trim your toenails a few days before the race. If you accidentally cut one too low, it will give it some time to heal up before race day. Isn’t it weird how the littlest wounds can hurt SO damn much?

16. Make sure to get a crap-load of sleep TWO NIGHTS before the marathon. If you’re like me, you won’t get a wink of sleep the night before the race . . . yay, nerves!

17. Stay off your feet as much as possible the day before the marathon. Yes, I know the expo is exciting, but so is finishing a marathon without dying.

18. Make plans with your “fan club” the day before the race (or hell, if you’re ambitious—even earlier than that). You won’t want to do it the morning of the race, trust me. Also make backup plans. Depending on the size of the race, there could be tens of thousands of people looking for one another in the post-race “family meetup” areas. (and guess what? Even though there aren’t a hell of a lot of people whose names begin with Q or X, there are a ton who think it’s a genius plan to meet at those “not so popular” letters—just sayin’)

18. Try to eat your “Marathon Eve” carbo-load meal earlier in the afternoon . . . a big, fat tummy full of carbs can contribute further to the no sleep issue. Later on (when you would presumably eat dinner), eat just a light, bland snack. One day of boring food won’t kill you when you have the juiciest, fattest post-race cheeseburger on the face of the planet to look forward to!

19. Lay all of your clothing/gear/drugs/etc. out the night before the big race. It will eliminate the stress of having to find everything on marathon morning.

20. If you are staying in a hotel, bring your favorite pillow with you. This sounds silly, but I can distinctly remember getting unreasonably pissed off at the pillow I was trying to sleep on the night before my first marathon. Bringing your own pillow with you is just a little thing that will make you a bit more comfy, and therefore more likely to sleep.

21. Set approximately 64 different alarms . . . just in case you actually do fall asleep. Make sure you set the alarm for a time that will allow you to get ready at a leisurely pace. You don’t want to feel rushed to get to the start line on time!


22. DO NOT WEAR ANYTHING NEW. I cannot repeat this one enough, but seriously. DO NOT WEAR ANYTHING NEW. Just don’t do it.

23. Put Body Glide or Vaseline on anything that could potentially rub against anything else (but again, test this out in your training runs first!) I’ve hear horror stories about people using the stuff on their feet for the first time ever and having serious issues!

24. DO NOT EAT ANYTHING NEW. If you have to, bring your own breakfast from home . . . sometimes finding even simple items like bananas and bagels can prove difficult. Bring out your inner scout and be prepared for anything!

25. Sun block is your friend. The only thing worse than being totally sore and unable to move after a marathon . . . is being totally sore and REALLY unable to move due to the blistering sunburn all over your body. Yeah. Not good.

26. Pack yourself some toilet paper to use in the start area. You’ll thank me for this one, I promise (and hey, if you don’t end up needing it, you can always just toss it—or use it later around mile-21 to dry your tears)!

27. Give yourself plenty of time to get to the start. You’ll probably have to relieve yourself like 13 times before the gun goes off, so get there early!

28. START SLOWLY. I know it’s exciting and you feel like you can fly, but guess what? You can’t. If you start too fast, it won’t be long before you REALLY wish you could fly. If you start slowly, this desire won’t kick in until at least mile-16. Starting slowly is money.

29. Thank any and every volunteer you can. Your marathon would not be possible without them (you don’t have to be cheerful, just make sure you mean it—and remember, the volunteers didn’t sign you up for the marathon, you signed yourself up. Same goes for your fan club)!

30. Make sure to jot down everything you can about your race soon after you finish (in the blogging world, we call these gems “race reports.”) You’ll be really glad to have it later on, and if you plan on running future marathons, re-reading these tales can fill you to the brim with inspiration and motivation.

Other than that, folks, it’s a piece of cake! But really, I do believe that anyone—and I mean anyone—can train for and successfully complete a marathon. Just do me a huge favor and don’t make the same mistake I made: Please do not train all winter in a cold climate, and then suddenly throw your poor, confused body into a hot-weather marathon. Your body will NOT be happy about that one!

Until next time . . .


merrymishaps said...

I love your lists. Great advice!

The one thing I've never been able to do is the ice bath. I've tried soaking in just cold tapwater, and can only make it a minute or two before I drain the water and refill with a nice warm bubblebath!

The Laminator said...

Spoken like a true marathon veteran. Now I believe you when you said you spent like 150 hours googling...Nice comprehensive list.

Betsy said...

Wow, this is a great post! I especially agree with your suggestion about bringing your own pillow. I have a tendency to strain my neck if I sleep on the wrong pillow, so it's especially important to me!

Anonymous said...

Some excellent pearls of wisdom. Thanks for the great avise. I'm currently training for my firstl 1/2 marathon and some of this stuff will defintiley come in handy.

chris said...

Great info, Irish. I won't be doing a marathon until next year (opting to do a half first), but I know this stuff will come in handy. Thanks for sharing.

Jason said...

Great post!!!

You haven't run a half yet? You don't know what you're missing. Like a marathon, but without the pain.

And, you get the medal :)

Laura said...

First marathon in two weeks, and this list is invaluable - THANKS!!! I've already broken a lot of the rules but will try to be good from now on :)

*jen* said...

Great list, thanks for sharing!