Bonus points if you read the title of this post in your head to the tune of blink-182.
As I am about to embark on this marathon training journey, I’ve been thinking a lot about the little things outside of the actual running that I can do to make this training cycle, and hopefully the race that ensues, the best one ever! For me, the actual running isn’t really a problem. Don’t get me wrong, the actual running is VERY IMPORTANT. The principle of specificity tells us that if we want to get better at running, we need to … run. At this point in my running “career,” I know that I can and will do the work. I also know that there are plenty of other small things, that potentially become big things when all combined, that I have neglected a bit in the past.
I’ve been training and racing pretty consistently now for close to 10 years. Consistency has always been something that I’ve had going for me in various aspects of my life and it’s been especially beneficial with running. I’ve run over 150 races since 2010. I’ve improved tremendously since I first started running. My dad jokingly told me one day that he was surprised that I stuck it out with running since I wasn’t really very good at it when I first started. Ha! I’ve taken my 5K time from 24 –> 18, my 10K time from 50 –> 38, my half marathon time from 1:48 –> 1:24 and my marathon time from 3:24 –> 3:02.
I’ve worked very hard to get where I am now and I am very proud of where I am. I feel like I have almost reached my full potential as a runner. While I definitely think that I have some more PRs left in me, I am not going to be making drastic improvements. I am fighting for every second of improvement at this point.
This got me thinking, what else can I do that I haven’t really done (or maybe haven’t been consistent with) in the past? I came up with a pretty good list of things!
I have pretty much completely neglected strength training during past training cycles. I actually have been somewhat consistent over the years with keeping core exercises as part of my regular routine, but that’s been the extent of it. I was looking for something that I could easily add to my routine that would complement my running. Enter Pilates.
I have been going to Pilates for about four weeks now and I am really enjoying it. I am only going once a week for 45 minutes, but that time will definitely add up over the course of the entire training cycle. Pilates has reminded me that core strength is not just about abdominal strength. The term “core” encompasses your entire torso, including your hips, abs, back, shoulders and neck. Your core acts as a stabilizer and a center for you to transfer forces through when you are running or doing other activities. A stronger core enables you to better produce force during activities such as running and helps you to better control and maximize the forces you are producing.
Pilates also increases your joint mobility and improves flexibility. Flexibility is definitely a weakness of mine. Specifically, I have zero hamstring flexibility. If Pilates can fix that, it’ll be a miracle! I am also doing regular stretching and foam rolling. I plan to keep that up throughout the training cycle as well.
Another thing that I have pretty much completely neglected in past training cycles is practicing my race day nutrition during my long runs. I know. It’s terrible and it’s basically a rookie mistake. For my first marathon (pictured above :)), I really didn’t know any better, but now … I really have no excuse. I *know* all the things that I need to be doing, but I just haven’t actually done them in the past like I should. That is going to change this training cycle!
A general rule of thumb is that you need 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrates for each hour if you are running longer than 75 minutes. You should be fueling as early as 30 to 45 minutes into the run. Another general rule of thumb is that you need to drink approximately 5-7 ounces of fluid every 15-20 minutes (enough to replace fluid loss). I am terrible about carrying water with me when I run (read that to mean that I NEVER carry water with me). I drink plenty of water throughout the day, but I don’t drink it on the run. I’ve got to start practicing with both gels and water during my long runs.
I’ve had good luck with Generation UCAN for a couple of my past marathons (specifically, for my two best marathons). For both of those races I took one packet of UCAN (using a flavor with protein) before the race and then I had half a packet of UCAN (using a flavor without protein) at two points during the race (at miles 13-14 and 19-20). I got away from using the UCAN before my long runs during my last marathon training cycle after I had one run where I felt like it didn’t sit well in my stomach. Of course, that could’ve been due to a myriad of other factors and I think I will probably need to give the UCAN another try (especially since I still have a lot of it at the house).
I might experiment with taking UCAN before the run and then taking gels during the run. I used Huma gels during my last marathon and there are some flavors of those that I really like. I’ve never had an issue with them upsetting my stomach either, which is definitely a plus. Using gels during the race would definitely be a bit more convenient as well.
Another important piece of the fueling equation that I would be remiss not to mention is that it is of the utmost importance to make sure that you are eating a balanced diet filled with protein, carbohydrates and fats throughout your training. You can’t run well if you don’t fuel your body properly! I would say that I do pretty well on this front, but there is always room for improvement. My biggest concern is not getting overly obsessed with what I am eating. There’s a fine line between keeping track enough to know that you are getting enough and going down the rabbit hole of obsessing over all of the numbers. I definitely won’t be counting anything, but I will be trying my best to make sure that I am getting enough of everything that my body needs.
I haven’t done a ton of work on my mental game in the past. I guess it’s probably fortunate that I haven’t really needed to! I am usually just thankful and happy to be running. With that being said, I know there are definitely things that I could do to up my mental toughness. I actually started reading Matt Fitzgerald’s “How Bad Do You Want It?: Mastering the Psychology of Mind over Muscle” during my last marathon training cycle and I just couldn’t get into it. The only logical conclusion I can come to is that I must not have wanted it badly enough! I’m going to give that one another shot this training cycle!
I must say though, I am really jazzed about this training cycle. I haven’t been this excited about running a marathon in a long time (possibly ever!). I feel like I am giving myself every opportunity that I possibly can in order to be successful. I mean, I’m flying across the country to run a marathon on one of the best courses in the United States! If that isn’t setting yourself up for success, I don’t know what is. I am going to approach the race with an A, B & C goal. I don’t know exactly what those will be at this point, but I will likely share them with you guys when I get it figured out. I appreciate it when other runners put their goals out there and I’ve done the same in the past.
In the meantime I will try to stay focused and patient, trusting that my training and all of these “small things” that I am doing will get me where I want to be when the time comes.