Thank you all so much for the kind words on the recap from my first full marathon in Richmond on Saturday! The girls and I are still riding the runner’s high, and are now surprisingly kind of sad it’s all over.
I’ve gotten some questions about the marathon and my training, so I wanted to share some reflections. Obviously doing one marathon does not make me an expert on training for them, but if you do have any other questions on what I personally did, happy to answer them! Also, just a note that of course while this is what worked for me, it might not be what’s best for you. Listen to your body.
Would you change anything about your training?
No. When I first signed up for the marathon (remember that whole “Never Say Never” post?), I asked all of you whether it would be doable to run a marathon only running 3 days a week for training, and a lot of you said yes, referencing the “Run Less, Run Faster” book & approach from Runner’s World. I’d been doing 3 days a week of running and 3 days a week of cross training for years and it was what worked for me, in terms of not getting burned out or injured, so I decided to stick with it. My running coach Mary came up with a plan for me that had me doing the following:
Marathon Training Plan
3 days a week of running:
- 1 long run
- 1 speed/tempo workout
- 1 mid distance run (usually hilly)
3 days a week of cross training:
- 2 days of higher intensity workouts – either CrossFit or kickboxing/bootcamp
- 1 day of lower intensity – either yoga or swimming
1 rest day
The tempo workouts were nothing too crazy – no track workouts or anything, just basically just doing a faster run once a week. I wasn’t super intense about these and just made sure I ran with faster friends on those days. More deliberate speed work would of course mean a faster race, but that wasn’t my overall goal for the first marathon. My tempo run pace was about 45 seconds faster than my race goal pace – between 8 and 8:30ish minute miles, but with a short warm up and cool down at a slower pace. My long runs were done about 30 seconds slower than my goal pace, so between a 9:15 or 9:30 minute mile on average.
In terms of mileage, I was supposed to do two 20 milers and one 22 miler, but I ended up skipping one of the 20 milers because my foot was bothering me (the issue ended up resolving itself – I think it was a bruise from a really long/hilly bike ride). I think this actually ended up being a good thing because I didn’t ever feel burned out on training since I had some down time/dialed it back right around the peak mileage weeks. My biggest mileage week was 33 miles three weeks before the marathon, but most of the weeks totaled between 20 and 30 miles. I realize this is pretty low mileage for many people training for a marathon, but again, it’s what worked for me. One thing I think was really key for me, though, was doing a 22 miler before the race instead of just topping out at 20 miles. At first I was nervous when I saw that on the plan, but Mary wanted to make sure I felt prepared for the distance, and having a 22 miler under my belt helped BIG time in terms of confidence and feeling prepared. I’d really recommend it to fellow first timers.
Another thing that helped me was to schedule a few races within my training schedule so that I’d be forced to run faster – I did the Parks Half Marathon and the Beach to Beacon 10k as fast training runs which were great to incorporate. The only thing I wouldn’t recommend that I did was the Tough Mudder a month before the marathon. By the time I decided to do the marathon, I was already signed up for the Mudder and had gotten friends on board, too, so I couldn’t bail. It ended up being a blast and no one got hurt, but it could have easily led to some really twisted ankles, which would have been a waste after all that training.
I logged all my training runs into DailyMile so that I could look back on my training. Here’s a graph of my week-by-week mileage. Just a note that the jump from 22 miles to 29 miles in weeks 35 and 36 wasn’t really accurate because one of my shorter runs was done on Monday for the previous week, and it grouped it into the week after. As you can see, the week where I only did 10 miles was when I skipped my long run, and I dialed it back a little the weeks after, too, until I made sure my foot was okay. Week #46, the last week, includes the marathon!
In terms of cross-training, I stuck with the CrossFit/kickboxing/boot camp plan until my foot started bugging me, when I switched to doing only swimming and yoga as cross training until after the race. I usually went swimming the day after long runs and I think it really helped with successful recovery. Great way to stretch out my legs without impact and the water pressure felt good on my sore muscles, too. My rest day was usually the day before a long run.
Other things I did that were important were a lot of foam rolling – before and after long runs and also after shorter weekday runs, too, plus anytime I felt like I needed it. (Here’s a nerdy video I made a couple years ago on how to use a foam roller – you can also use it by holding yourself on sore spots to release them, but I usually just roll around slowly like a massage.)
I also iced my knees, ankles, feet, and calves constantly – usually a couple times a week, plus after long runs (I use Paradice Packs and they rock). I also started doing ice baths once I reached about 16 mile+ runs, and that really helped. In addition, I took one low dose ibuprofen before long runs and usually one during them, too, and another after, to keep inflammation down. Again – this is what worked for me and I’m not an expert.
I also wore compression sleeves during my long runs and compression socks around for the days before/after long runs, and occasionally during the week when I felt like I needed them. This also really helped with recovery! Fun fact: I was totally wearing compression socks under my jeans in the photo below at the marathon expo.
Did you gain or lose weight while training?
I’ve gotten this question a lot, and the answer is: I don’t think so! I don’t own a scale and never weigh myself – I just go by how I feel and how my clothes fit. My clothes still fit fine and I feel good, so I’m going to go with no, I didn’t gain weight. That said, I think I probably lost some upper body and core strength from doing less CrossFit/kickboxing/boot camp type workouts the past couple months, so I’m looking forward to incorporating those again now that I’m done training. I’m also really excited to go back to OutRun! It will be really nice to be more flexible with workouts again since I don’t have to worry about saving myself for long runs or being too sore after them.
What did you eat during/before long runs?
After some experimentation I found what worked for me and I stuck with it: a combination of one mocha Clif Shot Gel with caffeine in it, some Margarita Shot Bloks (delicious and salty), and a low fiber/low fat granola bar near the end of the really really long runs when I wanted real food. Before long runs, I usually ate toast with almond butter and sliced banana. I also always had a water hydration vest with me on long runs – on the longest runs, I drank up to 2 liters of water. I didn’t do any sports drinks since the food I took in was enough. After long runs, I usually had something immediately (chocolate milk rocks after long runs), and then once I showered I had a normal meal.
How did your overall appetite/diet change while training?
I didn’t really change the composition of what I was eating much, but I definitely ate more food, especially on long run days and the day after long run days, where I found myself to be really hungry. I follow an intuitive eating approach to eating (which is what I work with my AnneTheRD clients on as well), so I just made sure to eat when I was hungry, even if I felt like I was eating a lot. I found myself craving carbs as well as meat and protein a lot more than usual, too, which makes sense since my body needed it.
I definitely indulged some on long run days, but overall I tried to stick with what makes me feel my best – whole, nutritious food, with the occasional treat thrown in there when I really wanted it.
It’s crazy how addictive long distance running is. A few years ago, I decided to do a half marathon “just once,” to say I’d done it. I did the Annapolis Half Marathon back in 2010 as my first half, always saying I’d never do a full, and that I’d only maybe do another half. Well, 8 half marathons and a few years later, and we know how that ended. So I’m sure it should come as no surprise to you all that I definitely want to do another full marathon!
As of now, I’m thinking my plan is to do a bunch of spring half marathons and shorter races, working on getting back some of my speed. And then I’d like to train for another full marathon next fall! I’m thinking the Marine Corps Marathon this time, because you guys keep raving about it and I’d love to do a DC marathon.
And now, for some accolades, just for fun:
- Most awesome run: our 20 mile training run. Felt great and seeing a mileage number that started with 2 on my watch was so cool.
- Hardest run: a 16 miler with Kathleen back in August. It was hot, and this was the first time that we really felt like we were training for a full marathon, not a half. It wasn’t a terrible run, but it was really challenging, and we both finished totally spent. Runner up: a total strugglefest 13 miler, also back in August. Weather makes all the difference for me – it’s interesting to look back and remember how hard those early long runs were, because our more recent even longer runs felt fine, surprisingly. Must remember that next time I run in hot weather and convince myself I’m a terrible runner or that I hate running.
- Most thoughtful post: The Beauty of an Early Morning Run.
- Most beautiful running sunrise: this early a.m. 7 miler back in September.
Training for this marathon has been such a journey… it’s so fun to look back on all the training, but I can’t believe it’s over! I’m glad it’s done and I can relax a little, but I’m definitely experiencing some post-marathon blues. It will be good to get some new goals on the calendar. Onward and upward!
One final thought: another thing that was huge for me while training and running this race was the power of positive thinking. Repeating mantras in my head, reminding myself I can do this, and thinking about how far I’ve come with my running go a long way in terms of keeping my legs moving. There are a ton of articles and research studies out about how much the power of positive thinking really impacts your endurance, and I’ve found it to be true, big time. Stay positive out there and have fun – you really can do this, you just have to believe it; the second you start thinking that it sucks, it will. Another thing I was thinking about while out there running the marathon on Saturday was how I really love the simplicity of running. Life is complicated, so there’s something really beautiful in the fact that with running, all you have to do is keep moving your legs, and you will get to where you want to be. Nothing less, nothing more. It might not always be easy to keep going, but as long as you don’t give up, you WILL get there. And that’s pretty amazing.
So now, a question for you guys: when can I run again?! My legs are starting to feel normal again today (Sunday and Monday especially I was SO SORE). On Monday morning, I did a low key swim and some walking later in the day. Yesterday I did some light elliptical and walking. Today I’m doing a not too intense yoga class. Tomorrow, maybe another yoga class? Friday morning, I was thinking of doing a light, easy run (3, maybe 4 miles) with a friend. Too soon?
Want to read all my previous marathon training long run recaps? Click here: marathon training – that will pull up all the posts I tagged as marathon training related. And in the future, you can find that link on my right blog sidebar in my “categories” drop down menu.