There were MUST DO’s, so first-time marathoners can get off to a good start in their training.
Now it’s time for a few PLEASE DON’Ts. I am sharing the deadly sins I committed when I completed my first marathon back in 1994 in New York City, in hopes that you avoid the same mistakes.
1. Just run more. Though Nike’s slogan is “just do it,” just running more than your average weekly mileage may not do the trick when preparing for a marathon. When I trained for New York back in that hot summer of ‘94, my strategy was to bump my total mileage/per week. I never read any books or researched any training programs, and didn’t even have a magic mileage number I wished to attain. (Not sure if that was a false sense of confidence or sheer ignorance!) Today, there are a plethora of resources available online: Runner’s World, Marathon Training, Furman First Training Program, and more.
You can read about Jeff Galloway’s run/walk strategy. My recommendation is to start with an end goal of mind. How fast do you want to run? Do you want to quality for Boston? Break four hours? Or walk/run the race and simply finish? Next, be realistic about how much time you’ll have to train. Would running 3 days/week or 5 days/ week better suit your style and schedule? By establishing these two objectives up front, you will find a schedule that works far better than simply “running more.” You can read about others’ success in various training programs in my blog post.
2. Avoid speed workouts. Many of the aforementioned schedules suggest the incorporation of speed workouts, whether it’s a tempo run or intervals on the track. As much as I dislike doing it, I’m now a believer. According to Rick Bergeson, former University of Oregon runner who has broken the 4 minute mile barrier, “It’s important to integrate speed work into marathon training because if you do nothing but run ‘long and slow,’ you’ll be good at nothing but running ‘long and slow. ‘” Sadly, it took me eight long marathons before I figured out the benefits of speed work. My suggestion is not to wait this long before you give it a try.
3. Drink water only if thirsty. In fact, if you get thirsty on a run, it may already be too late. If you have never been dehydrated; believe me, it’s not something you want to try. The first time it happened to me, on a hot, humid 14-miler in Williamsburg, Virginia, I found myself on a country road far away from 7-11s or water hoses. By the time I got water, I was already sick; and it took me several days to recover! This is a topic that merits a dedicated post, but a good rule of thumb is to drink 8-10 ounces every 10-15 minutes. And if exercising longer than 90 minutes, sports beverages may be more beneficial than water. Be sure to note that sport drinks may or may not influence your need for energy from food.
4. Don’t eat during runs/races. This is another lesson that took me many marathons, bonks and walls to learn. In fact, I barely remembered those last three miles through Central Park; and I still think of lack of fuel was one of the primary reasons why. And though nothing makes you completely resistant to the infamous marathon wall, food can sometimes help. Food not only gives me an energy lift during a long training run or race, but it also helps me recover more quickly. My recommendation is to experiment with a variety of food types – gels, food bars or even home-made brownies – and see what works best for you. And practice eating a variety of foods before a race so you know what to do/not when marathon day approaches.
(I just tried the mint chocolate and it tasted just like a peppermint patty. YUM!)
5. Skimp on calories.
Though this is the one deadly sin I didn’t commit, I sometimes fail to eat as much as I should, when I need it most. Your diet while training and racing deserves focus and attention, not deprivation, so you don’t end up running on empty. If you are only running a marathon to lose weight – stop now! Though you may drop a few pounds and increase your muscle mass during the training process, your reason for making the marathon commitment should never weighted too heavily by losing pounds. The reward in completing a marathon is feeling good, being in great shape and accomplishing a phenomenal feat. After all, that is a reward that’s hard to beat!