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Marathon Training: What Worked For Me
I’m happy to dish out advice on plenty of things. In fact, I would like to write a book called How to Create the Perfect 16 Handles Concoction. (2 frozen yogurt flavors, heavy on the toppings, leave plenty of room in the cup for mixing.)
I will also give you advice about how to find great sales (outlets > malls) and other ways to save money (don’t get a haircut for at least two years at a time).
But giving advice about running?
That would be dumb. Because if there’s one thing marathon training taught me, it’s that I know pretty much nothing about this fun little sport…or activity…or hobby.
See? I don’t even know what to call it.
I wasn’t on the track team in high school and the closest I came to running in college was bolting from my dorm room to the nearest box of wine (which was never very far away to begin with).
I will never tell you how to create a half marathon training plan and I will definitely not tell you what types of shoes you should be wearing.
But I did recently manage to complete a full marathon, and while it wasn’t in record time, I got to the start and finish lines injury free and with a giant, goofy-ass smile on my face.
So I will gladly share what worked for me during marathon training. None of this is science.
I ran five days per week. I know lots of runner/bloggers who swear that “‘running more than 3–4 times per week leads to injury.” I’m going to go ahead and say that’s not necessarily true. I became a better runner because I practiced running — not because I did lots of yoga or strength training. Those things are valuable, sure, but running was the bulk of my training.
Coach Cane’s plan for me involved five days of running every week, and I loved it. I also firmly believe that running five days — and giving each run a specific purpose — made me so much stronger.
Tuesday runs were speedwork, Wednesday runs were short and slow, Thursday runs were tempo runs, sometimes on hills, Saturday was long run day and Sunday was recovery run day.
We mixed it up constantly, and that kept me motivated. Every run had a challenge so it never got boring, and I was always utilizing different muscles in my now-extremely-thick legs.
I foam rolled the crap out of my legs as often as I remembered. I probably didn’t do this enough, but whenever I went to the gym at night, I would foam roll my quads and IT bands. I also like sitting on the foam roller and rolling out my butt muscles. Try it if you haven’t. It’s a delightful feeling. My legs were tight almost every day during training, but foam rolling gave me good relief.
I still did core and arm work, but it wasn’t my priority. I do 200 crunches every morning. I don’t know that this does anything since roughly 8 million “fitness professionals” will tell me that crunches are ineffective. But I do planks, too, and I love doing tricep dips whenever I can. Sometimes at the end of a run I’d stop in the park and do 100 dips. I kept doing this things because they were part of my regular routine. Did they help my running? Probably not. But did maintaining my routine keep me sane? Definitely.
I did spinning as cross training. I cross trained on Mondays (and, for a while, secretly added the occasional Wednesday night or Friday afternoon spin class). Spinning forced me to work different leg muscles than the overworked ones I was using to pound the pavement every morning, and it gave me a different adrenaline rush. Running will always be my first love, but I don’t mind dabbling in the occasional affair with the spin bike. And truthfully, during most spin classes, I didn’t turn the resistance up very high and I had a tendency to close my eyes and think about running.
I made myself my priority. My friends and family were all incredibly supportive during training, which made it easy on me. They knew my weekends would revolve around long runs. There were, of course, some people who didn’t understand, and I found myself distanced from those people during this time. But training for the Hamptons Marathon was so important to me, and if people didn’t get that, then fine.
Some people like to try to fit everything in during training. That’s admirable and it’s fine, but since this was my first time training for the full 26.2 distance, I didn’t want to risk ruining a crucial long run due to lack of sleep or a hangover. It just wasn’t worth it to me.
I listened to my coach — not my friends. I know that I am very lucky and privileged to have been able to work with Coach Cane as I trained for this race. Without him, I would have been lost. I also probably would have been injured. I have lots of smart runner friends in my life, and I value them and what they’ve learned. But whenever I had a question or concern, I made the expert my go-to guy.
I’m sure he loved received 6 – 40 emails from me every. single. day.
Having a running coach is an expensive luxury. So while I said I wouldn’t dish out running advice, I will say this: Consult an expert when you can. Even if it’s not a coach, Runner’s World and other such forums are usually your most reliable resources.
I planned my long runs around where bathrooms were located and what time they opened. This is normal. And I was never caught in the middle of nowhere, desperate for a pit stop. I discovered fantastic new bathrooms in Central Park (at the northwest end of the Bridle Path next to the tennis courts, and by Columbus Circle), and I memorized what time each bathroom in the park opens. I should have made a spreadsheet or something. That would have been cool and handy. I could have laminated it…
I ran no matter what. I’ll never forget my first attempt at 16 miles on that 100-degree day in NYC. It was brutal, but I did it. There were also many training runs that I did during intense humidity or torrential downpours. I never skipped a training run because of the weather.
Then, when I thought rain was in the forecast for Marathon Day, I was annoyed, but I wasn’t nervous. The conditions weren’t looking to be ideal, but I had run plenty of times in rain, so I knew I was capable of it.
I ran with friends, but I also ran alone. The solo runs may not have been as much fun, but they were the ones that really boosted my confidence. My two favorite training runs were my 15.5 miler with running buddies and my 20-miler by myself.
Running with friends was great for me because it helped keep my pace solid and usually the miles flew by. But those long runs I did alone came in handy at the marathon when there were long stretches of time during which I was surrounded by no one. It was a small field of runners, so I didn’t have company. The 20 mile run I did at the very end of training made me feel so confident. I knew I could run for 3 hours without anyone pushing me, encouraging me or getting sprayed by my forearm sweat.
I ate what worked for me. Yeah yeah yeah, you all love your toast with peanut butter and banana. I tried it, too.
And I freaking hated it. I just don’t like banana, and that breakfast — though it’s the perfect combination for some people — was way too much for my stomach to handle at 5 am. I wanted to like it, I really did. So many people swear by this pre-run breakfast.
But for me, two Entenmann’s “Granola Bars” are the ideal mix of chocolate chip-cookie taste and pure sugar.
I stopped racing for a while. Marathon training slowed me down big time. I was logging lots of miles and short, fast distances weren’t my focus. It took several frustrating races — and several tears shed over failed new PRs — that I realized an important lesson.
I wasn’t training for 4-mile or half marathon PRs. I was training to run 26.2 miles. I spent the spring months working toward my New York Road Runners 9+1 credit to get into next year’s New York City Marathon. As much as I wanted to complete my requirements by the time the marathon came, it was too discouraging for me to keep racing without success.
So I didn’t register for summer races and focused all my time and energy on one goal: the Hamptons Marathon on September 24. It was humbling for me, but it was necessary to refocus and re-prioritize.
I finally gave in to rest days. Blech. I used to hate them. But then on that fateful day, Mrs. Coach Cane told me that if I “didn’t like rest days, it’s because I wasn’t working hard enough.” I love her and her tough love. Eventually I started actually resting on Fridays, like Coach Cane told me to, and I pretty much always felt better during my Saturday long runs.
Now back to writing my 16 Handles book…
TELL ME: If you’re up for sharing, let me know what works for you during marathon training.