Fall–the BEST time of year for running! And marathon/half marathon season is upon us! This is one of my favorite times of year because we get to see all sorts of “regular folks” who have worked all summer towards this goal and are finally about to execute. We celebrate in the victories and empathize with the defeats, but we know that these people are going to change from their experience, however it went, because they were brave enough to try something new and uncertain.
And so, with so many Crozetians running the Richmond Marathon and Half Marathon on November 16 (I’ll see you there!), here are my tips for racing your best fall marathon and half marathon. Warning, these are not your generic race tips!
1. Sign up for your next race now. Some of my worst races have been those that I have approached with a singular focus. Having signed up for a race, you have given yourself a very tangible goal and a very tangible timeline. But what happens when there is nothing on the schedule after the race?
First, we put way too much pressure on ourselves with the result of the race. Most of us can’t avoid the internal and external pressures to do well at that event, and that quickly translates to a feeling of self-worth that is directly tied to your performance.
No! Remember this: the transformation of your marathon or half marathon accomplishment happens in the training, NOT in the race. All of those mornings of waking up early and all of those miles that you did when you didn’t want to. Those are the things that change you. Sometimes race day is a great reflection of how your training went, but sometimes it’s a total bust! I like to have another race on my calendar to make sure that I “peek forward,” past the current goal.
Second, having nothing next, you can fall into the “one-and-done” category of participants. That’s okay if distance running isn’t your thing. However, it takes about two years for your body to truly adapt to distance running. A 20-week half marathon training program? Well, sure, it’s a good start, but if this is a first race, your body is completely new to all the stresses of longer distance and you also don’t have any experience. Really successful half/full marathon training and racing takes a few years as your body gets stronger and as you get smarter. Don’t throw away all the work you’ve done, keep it going!
2. Don’t be stupid! The 2-3 weeks prior to your race can be ripe with anxiety–have I trained enough? Even though there is nothing you can do 2-3 weeks before your race that will increase your fitness, it is all too common for people to feel anxious about their training and try to “catch up” just before the race. “Warning! You’re about to do something stupid!” Doing a hard workout or a long run when you shouldn’t makes the end result of these “cramming sessions” predictable: an injury or fatigue that is going to negatively affect your race. These types of mistakes will be made, and only with experience will you look back and say, “Wow, that was stupid!” So, don’t be stupid. Rest up and keep your head on straight before the race.
3. You must eat. Let’s talk about bonking. Bonking is when your muscles and body run out of glucose, its preferred energy source for distance running. Most of us have enough glucose (stored as glycogen) in our muscles and liver to last about 90-120 minutes before it starts running out.
Why do so many distance runners “hit the wall” late in the race? Because they are tired? No! Because they aren’t eating and they are running out of energy. They’re bonking! (…and they are tired.) When your muscle glycogen and blood sugar start to run low, you feel tired, shaky, and worst of all, you get a negative mindset.
You’ve done all this training, why sabotage your race by under-fueling? While there is no perfect fueling recipe for everyone, a good rule of thumb is that many people do best with about 200 calories per hour of mostly simple carbohydrates. At the upcoming Richmond Marathon, I will be taking one gel every 30 minutes for the entire race and drinking water (gels are usually about 100 calories each). My stomach doesn’t always love these, but if I’m not going to meet my race goal, it’s gonna be because I didn’t train enough, not because I ran out of gas. If you haven’t practiced eating on the run yet, practice now!
4. Don’t take it too seriously (until the very end, then take it very seriously). Your best race will happen if you’re relaxed. This is hard. We get so anxious about what we cannot control. You can’t produce magical fitness by worrying about it! You will show up to race day as fit as your training and genetics allow, no more and no less. Try to be relaxed and remember, it’s just a race.
However, towards the end of the race, when things will start to get hard, you should be serious. You are going to get tired and mentally fatigued and negative thoughts will start to flood. This is where you get ask, “Can I keep going? Or do I give up?” I don’t want anyone running through an injury here, but so much of the difficulty of the last few miles is mental. This is where grit lives. The times where you ignored the negative thoughts, sucked it up and kept giving your all, and then actually did it, are defining moments. So, when things get tough, be tougher! This is what it’s all about!
5. Your spouse doesn’t care about your marathon. Okay, maybe they do because they are generally supportive of you. However, remember you are an amateur! Your family income is likely not growing because of your first marathon effort. Distance running can quickly start to become obsessive and become a negative drain on the family. You need to keep this in balance! So, when you come up from your first marathon, you’ll be even more impressive if you mow the lawn, play with the kids, or change that lightbulb vs. sleeping on the couch all day. You can do it! Be a good spouse first, then a marathon runner…sixth?
I am so excited to hear about the stories many of you will create this month. My final thought for you is to be sure you reflect on the experience. It may or may not go how you think it will, but it will be a significant life experience and you should reflect upon it and allow yourself to learn and grow from it. Good luck!