With spring marathon training cycles officially (or almost) underway, I’ve been reflecting on where I was a year ago.
This time last year, I was gearing up to train for marathon numero uno (my only one so far) and I didn’t really know what I was getting into.
Ignorant lil’ Jake assumed the only thing that went into marathon training was running long distances!
Although that is OBVIOUSLY a major aspect, I now know that quite a bit more goes into it.
So here it is, another Jake Smith List Extravaganza going over the things I wish I knew when training for my first marathon!
1. It’s not about pace!
This one boggled my mind for the longest time.
I always thought I should be pushing to hit my goal pace EVERY RUN, because if I can’t hit the mark for 5 miles on a training day, how am I going to do it for 26.2 on race day? Makes sense, right?
Your easy runs should be just that… EASY. And your long days? Take those easy too.
So much of marathon training is just about spending time on your feet and getting to the starting line injury free. That’s it. If you have a 20 mile day, don’t go pushing to run race pace the whole time. Take it nice and slow, at a conversational pace, and just get used to running for a long, long period of time.
It seems counterintuitive, I know. But there’s plenty of research backing it up. Lemme hit you with that link action:
The “elites” tend to follow the 80/20 rule: 80% of your runs are easy, 20% are hard.
There’s also a book on this theory (that should be on my doorstep tomorrow… Thanks Amazon) by Matt Fitzgerald, appropriately titled 80/20 Running.I’ll probably write a book report soon after finishing it.
My advice? Grab those headphones and catch up on your favorite podcasts. Multitasking. You’re so efficient!.
2. Nutrition is HUGE.
This is another one I never thought of until I started doing some research. We’re talking mid-race fuel here.
If your ‘re going to be out pounding the pavement for 3+ hours, you’re going to need to fuel your body every 30-45 minutes.
Thankfully, there’s a plethora of different brands of energy gels and chews, and a lot of big races will have real food options at water stops (usually fruit).
Now, you’re going to have to find what works for your body/stomach. Everyone is a little different. That’s where your long run comes in.
Use your long run to dial in your race day nutrition and figure out what works best with your gut. I had to go through a few different types of gels and chews before I settled on spearmint Clif Bloks for my first marathon. Which brings me to point number 2b.
Find a couple of options. I went through my first marathon trying to ONLY use Clif Bloks, mainly because after I found that those worked for me, I quit trying new things.
I REALLY wish I would have found a gel of some sort to swap in, as I got very tired of chewing and the same flavor over and over again started to make me feel queasy. I stopped eating them, which I think contributed to my hitting of the wall.
This time around, I’m planning on using Honey Stinger Fruit Smoothie gels (they’re delicious) and some sort of chew.
After the Blok Debacle of 18, I found that the my body reacts better to more “natural” products. I HIGHLY recommend Honey Stinger if you’re someone like me.
3. Sometimes it’s about pace.
So you remember how I said it’s not about pace?
Sometimes it’s about pace.
That “80/20” I briefly touched on? This is the 20.
You’re going to do a lot of your runs at a slow, steady pace. But you’re going to want to get some speed work in 1-2 times a week.
This could be hill repeats, intervals (Yasso 800s are popular), tempo, or goal pace workouts.
Adding regular speedwork can help improve your lactate threshold (the intensity at which lactate enters your blood faster than it can be cleared) and increase your VO2 max (maximal volume of oxygen that the body can deliver to the working muscles per minute.) I’m not going to pretend that I’m an expert on these terms, so here’s a little more info.
You may be asking why speed matters in marathon training?
Short answer: speed work will help improve your running economy, and introduces a different type of stress, allowing your body to learn how to use different fuel sources.
4. Cross Training is okay.
Is your body feeling SUPER beat up? Try some cross training.
Cross training can be a lifesaver in a lot cases. If you’re feeling aches and pains from yesterday’s run, there’s no shame in swapping an easy day for a day on the spin bike, elliptical, in the pool, on some cross-country skis… Basically a little-to-no impact day that can give your joints a break but still build some cardiorespiratory fitness.
Personally, I hate it. After a stress fracture and spending upwards of 400 minutes/week cross training in college, it’s the bane of my existence.
But, if you want to be your best, it’s a necessary evil.
5. Missing a day is OKAY.
Is your body feeling super beat up, muscles sore and the thought of going for a run makes you want to cry? Take a rest day. You don’t have to feel guilty about it.
Listen to your body. Remember your training plan IS NOT GOSPEL.
There are going to be days where rest is going to sound way better than five easy miles, or 45 minutes on the bike.
It’s okay to take that extra time to rest, recoup and recover.
Through my first marathon cycle, I felt SUPER guilty if I didn’t get my run in for the day, even though my body was aching and it hurt to walk.
It’s still not easy, but I’m learning to listen to my body when it’s telling me it needs some extra recovery time.
6. Hydration is IMPORTANT.
Figure out your hydration strategy and stick to it.
Drink early and drink often. Grab a cup at every water station, or maybe every other (whatever works for you) but just make sure you’re taking in fluids.
This is just as important as nutrition. And just like nutrition, don’t try anything new on race day.
During marathon number one last year, I didn’t take in nearly enough fluids during the first half, and by the time I realized this, it was too late. The sun was beating down on me, I tried taking some Gatorade to replace some electrolytes (never did that in training) which caused my stomach to hurt.
That made me not want to take any more chews, which led to me bonking. It wasn’t fun.
7. Chafing is the worst.
Seriously. This sucks.
Buy some Body Glide. If you have an amigo meeting you somewhere on the course with water or anything, make sure they have it.
Use it. And thank me later.
This is the most important of all.
I talked briefly about swapping cross training or taking an extra day off, but recovery starts the minute you finish your run.
Take in some fluids and get some protein/carbs/sugars in as soon as you can after your workout (the 30 minute window rule is a good one.)
Light stretching and/or foam rolling (something I’m trying to get better at) seem to be highly regarded. Compression is one thing that I’ve noticed helps me quite a bit.
Even if you aren’t sore, I would recommend doing “the little things.” They may help you feel better for longer.
So kick your feet up and take it easy.
Those are eight things I wish I knew going into my first marathon. I guess more going into training for my first marathon.
I’m no expert, these are just things I learned from my first journey to 26.2.
Some of them may be obvious. You may have done a lot more research than I did before doing the thing. You’re better than me, I get it.
But I hope this helps in some way, shape or form.
Is this your first marathon? Have you done 10 before? What other things do you want to know, or do you wish you knew going into YOUR first marathon? Let me know.
If you have any ideas, comments, questions or concerns, feel free to use the “contact” tab to send me an email, or you can leave a comment below.
Again, thank you so much if you took the time to read this. Please let me know if there’s anything else you’d like me to write about! I’m always open to requests.
Keep ‘er Movin’.