I find myself in a post-race lull following last week’s Route 66 Marathon. The goal was set some 21 weeks ago (it should have been 18 weeks, but that’s what happens when I mix calendars and math), and now calls for some reflection.
Oh, and if you’re looking for a post that looks at a marathon as a metaphor on life, this ain’t that piece. I look at things more pragmatic than that, at least on this subject. Some things I learned:
It’s wise to make a plan, stick to the plan, and trust the plan. Sure, there might be a variance here and there. But folks like Hal Higdon and Bart Yasso have done this a few times and know what it takes for people to run 26.2 miles. If you’re using one of their training schedules, or that of another reputable running coach, trust the plan. It will work for you if you work within it.
It’s also wise to vary things up. You’ll be tempted to train on flat, friendly terrain, especially on long runs. They’re hard enough as it is, right? Think again. You need hills. You need training runs where you pick up the pace. Hill repeats and track work will help you run stronger. You’ll need that strength on race day, whatever your goals might be.
Stick to the plan, but allow for variances. Life happens. Illnesses happen. Sometimes you need a road trip, a vacation, or a day when a workout is cut short. On a day where I was supposed to run 12 miles, I raced in a 15K instead. In September, during a step-back week, I drove to Colorado to go climb a mountain. I stuck to the plan, but there were some weeks where I made exceptions. I don’t think it hurt my performance, and life was just a little more fun because of it.
Mix some trails in there. Trails are a great break from asphalt and concrete. Imagine how many miles on pavement you run during an 18-week training program. If you can mix in some unpaved surfaces in there, it’s that much less pounding you’ll endure. Your joints will thank you.
Don’t miss your workouts. Especially the long runs. As you progress through your training program, those long runs can be a source of dread. You’ll be tempted to cut them short. Make up the miles later. Take it easy to give yourself a break. Well, don’t. An occasional exception is fine, but you don’t want to get into the habit of cutting yourself slack. Get those miles in, especially on the long run. Your body and your mind need that experience to prepare you for the test to come.
Adjust your diet. Unless you’re cool with losing a lot of weight, you’ll need to up your caloric intake. This is important, because distance training can have a catabolic effect on muscle. There’s nothing wrong with losing dead weight, but you’re going to want to keep that muscle intact. You’ll need to eat more, and if you’re smart, eat clean. I maintained my weight at 175 pounds and put away between 2,800 to 3,000 calories a day on average. I did not want to go much lower in weight than that, so that meant eating more.
The caveat here is I am no expert. These were just some things I learned along the way, as well as some advice I applied from runners who are much more experienced than me. But I am also proof that, barring injury or illness, anyone can run a marathon. I’m no track star or cross-country stud. I’m just a dude. But I’ve been through the process. So if you’re thinking about taking that leap into a spring marathon, keep these things in mind. You can do it!
On Twitter @RMHigh7088