Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Totally an Expert Now, or Five Things I Learned Training for My First Marathon

When I woke up this past Sunday in the early afternoon at a totally reasonable hour, it really sunk in that, barring any sort of awful tragedy, in two weeks I would be done with my first marathon. (Hopefully eating in the finishers' tent and not lying on the ground in agony.)

Of course, I've always had the race at or near the front of my mind these last 16 weeks, but now it's knocking on my door. I'm planning to do a pre-race post in about a week, but suffice it to say I'm currently vacillating between complete confidence bordering on hubris and an impending sense of utter doom. Sometimes I even feel both of these at the same exact time.


Even though I'm not ready to hammer down my race strategy enough to blog about it, I've been doing a lot of reflecting about my training. Without further ado (and in no particular order), five things I've learned while preparing for my first marathon:

1. Compression socks are amazing.

I had seen various sources of running information, including Runners World and bloggers, tout compression wear, especially socks, for quite some time. Usually it seemed runners used them to boost performance. I don't remember when or how, but I became aware that they could also be used for recovery. In the past, I had only used my trusty Stick and the legs-up-the-wall pose to ease my tired legs. I thought I might treat myself to some new gear, but I almost backed out because of sticker shock. $30 for one pair of socks?

And then I paid extra so I could get purple instead of black.
I'm so glad I made the investment! Whenever my legs feel tired, I put these on and within 20 to 30 minutes, I can feel a significant difference. My Stick works great on tight legs, but my compression socks are better suited to fatigued legs. I also have discovered an hour power nap while wearing them makes me feel like I can conquer the world.


2. Active recovery days feel even better than rest days. 

I was a little nervous going into training without any complete days of rest. At the beginning I definitely felt like I was over-training (read: I turned into an insufferable cranky monster), so I did skip one run. However, after that initial week or two, I never really noticed. Two days out of the week I only swim and strength-train, so they're certainly no- to low-impact workouts.

I wouldn't want to run every single day, but I've started looking forward to hitting the pool or the gym. They give me a nice endorphin high and keep me from feeling like a lazy blob without beating up my legs.


In fact, the day before the fall semester started, I was stressing out getting ready for class and thought about skipping my run. I had pretty much committed to this decision, but I got so antsy that I ended up going out late to get it in. Even though I got a little less sleep than I would have otherwise, I felt so much better. I'm now sort of terrified for next week when I have three whole days of complete rest. I may have to impose a sequester on myself so that no one (very understandably) murders me.

3. Strength-training is a great way to round out my running.

Over the summer I went to a strength-training class twice a week. It was definitely targeted at women, most of whom were out of shape. In the beginning it was great; they had plenty of light dumbbells for me to progressively work through, and I got good explanations and demonstrations on proper form. I knew it was time to move on, however, when our instructor warned us we would do a "killer" leg day, and I wasn't sore at all the next day, even though I used the heaviest weights of anyone in the class. They were still pretty light, but when everyone else hobbled in two days later, I knew I was ready to move up.


At the beginning of August I started following the New Rules of Lifting for Women program. I really like it because it lays out each workout for me exactly. I've obviously no expert in the gym, so having clear instructions helped me transition from having an instructor to being on my own. While it feels strange almost always being the only woman on the floor, I actually haven't had any awful experiences. (Though I will pay you if you can explain to me why gym bros are apparently allergic to wicking fabric.)

Two weeks ago I finished Stage One, which is six weeks long and meant to build fitness. It kicked my butt in a good way. I'm really pleased with how much I improved over that time.

How does this relate to my running? In the last week or so, I've noticed my easy pace has improved without feeling any harder. The first time it happened, I was completely baffled, but I realized I must have added some muscle. I have no problem with speedwork, but so far this seems almost like a "cheat" way to get faster.

4. Food is amazing.

Or, as Michael lovingly put it, I "really put it away when I eat." (I promise this was actually a supportive comment in context!) I have a sort of "make better choices" weight, where, if I hit it, I really think about my food choices aka I stop eating so much crap. I've heard and read a lot about the marathon munchies and how weight gain can easily creep up on long distance runners. I've always been extremely fortunate to have a fast metabolism, but it's slown down a lot since puberty, so I assumed this would still be an issue for me.

Since the beginning of June, I haven't even gotten close (in relative terms) to my MBC weight. And I have been putting it away and then some. I sometimes feel bad having people over because then others are witnessing my constant eating. I don't mean this in an eating disorder/I feel ashamed way, but more in that, as an adult, eating every hour is not necessarily socially normal.

I refer to myself as a hungry hippo on a regular basis. True fact.
I was still worried that during taper I would gain some weight but decided not to worry about it. While I eat a lot and don't always make the healthiest choices, I do try to insure I get enough protein and I eat to my hunger. I might eat a piece of candy if I'm stressed, but I certainly don't binge. These fears also seem misplaced as I've actually lost weight. I know it's early into taper, but I'm going to keep an eye on it. (I secretly hope I was eating too little so that I can justify even more food next training cycle.)

5. Running is so much more mental than physical.

This is one of the standard axioms that any runner worth their salt can spit out, but some hard workouts really emphasized this. Before this training cycle, I had never gone past six miles in a tempo run. (I've run longer training runs and races, but that's the farthest I had ever pushed the pace really hard.) The whole week leading up to my first eight mile tempo run, I felt physically nervous. I knew I could slow or even stop the run at any time, it was all a mental fear of failure. 

This saying is cute until you're in pain.
I went slower than I would for a normal tempo run just in case, but it actually felt great. When I had to run another one later on in the training cycle, I wasn't nervous at all. In this same way, my first 20-miler sounded scary, while the second didn't really phase me. (Not to say it wasn't hard, but I knew I could crank it out.)

While I might actually be more worried about the Mount Desert Island Marathon because it's hilly in a way I can't replicate in training, I think I am/will be less nervous for it overall because I'll already have one (knock on wood) marathon under my belt. I'll have pushed through that barrier already.

I guess none of these revelations are earth-shattering. Re-reading this post, I realize I've heard them all before. Still, it's completely different to live these things for four months rather than just read about them.

Now it's time to read a million last-minute advice articles while making unhealthy choices.

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