Thursday, October 15, 2009

The 3 Ps of the Marathon Virgin

The Chicago Marathon has come and gone and the fall marathon season is in full swing. Every week more and more runners will lose their marathon virginity and much like that first time, they are nervous, edgy, excited, panicky, freaked and frustrated. With that in mind, everyone take a nice deep breath, hold it for a count of five … exhale … and RELAX!!!!! Remember, this is supposed to be FUN! I know, not quite the ‘F’ word most people associate with running a marathon, but, honestly, it really is Fun!

So, for all you newbies out there that are getting amp’d up for their big day, here are my three-Ps to a primo first 26.2!

This applies to couple of areas. First, for the last 2-3 weeks you have been tapering, reducing your weekly mileage and gearing up for the big day, remember to be PATIENT during that time. Trust in your plan. Don’t get all jived because your runs are short, slow and simple. They are designed to be that way. The leading cause of injury and DNFs (Did Not Finish) in marathoners is overtraining. The reduced miles and slower paces are there to help your body recover and be fresh for race day so you can put forth your best effort possible. It also helps reduce the possibility of getting injured. If you are really having a hard time settling into it, reach out to someone who HAS done a marathon, – coach, friend, teammate, Tweep – and let them help you get grounded. It is better to be a little undertrained and fresh than to be overtrained and fatigued.

Secondly, when you do get to the starting line and you are in the swarm of your corral waiting to cross the starting line and hammer this thing out, be PATIENT out the gate. It is an amazing adrenaline rush in that moment when the gun goes off, you're ready to tear the course up and you end up going out a full two-minutes per mile faster to start out ... Oops! I know you have all heard of ‘the Wall’, right? Well, if you get caught up in the thrill of the chase at the start I can promise you that you will have some serious face time with him when you get to that region around 17-19 miles in. The introduction will be quick and then he’ll ask you if he can hang around for a while and I can assure you he will. First time out, hit the wall so hard I was practically in tears, it was unbelievable and yet completely avoidable. Here’s a tip to help those of you that are like me and love to blow the doors off early, stand in the very back of your corral. Let the swarm build in front of you all but ensuring for a slow handful of miles at the start and allowing you to ease into the race properly. It sucks and can be frustrating, but the benefits are felt later on as you realize you still have a lot in the tank and you have passed a quarter of a million people on the course!

Getting ready for the marathon is like getting ready for a family trip overseas, the more you plan and prepare everything the easier it is on you. For ridiculous travelers like myself, who are always early, have back-ups for everything and are just otherwise nervy and paranoid, a marathon checklist is the way to go! Presumably you’ve been rehearsing for race day morning with every long run that you have had, fine tuning your routine until it is on cruise control. The less you have to think about the better, ease the stress! Here is the breakdown I use for my checklist:

- Pre-Race Clothing (All depending on Temperature): Throw away clothes to wear in the corral, Blanket/Card board to sit on, etc.
- Nutrition & Hydration: Pre, During, and Post Race.
- Race Wear: singlet, shorts, socks, calf & arm sleeves, sunglasses, sunscreen, body glide, arm sleeves, etc. Prepare for all contingencies.
- Post Race clothing: Sweats! You will feel a little chilled at the end from dehydration and from sweating a lot, so be prepared and have a towel and loose fitting clothing to change into.

One other situation you need to prepare and plan for is your goal(s). This is more important psychologically speaking. The marathon is a real test of wills and if you have problems with the first ‘P’ you can have a really hard time hitting a time goal, especially if it is a lofty time goal. For your first time out, make things simple, have three goals in mind: Achievable, Within Reach, and a Lofty. My first marathon I did this and it served me well: Finish without walking, 3:30 or better, Boston Qualify. I ended up walking thanks to a moron that I ran behind, which caused my hamstring to knot, but I still finished in 3:26. Next time around it was: Finish Injury Free, Finish under 3:26, Boston Qualify. The second time I hit 3:07 and hit the lofty goal, learning from the mistakes I made the first time around.

This doesn’t mean go buy yourself a Garmin! I mean be present for the entire day! Live in the moment. Forget about everything else and savour every nuance of this amazing achievement. This is a feat that you have undertaken the likes of which a relative few can even fathom. 26.2 miles of running in one day!! You trained for this moment for months in whatever conditions Mother Nature felt like throwing at you, pushing your body to its limits with your lungs burning, sweat pouring, blisters swelling and you willingly did it day after day to get to this one moment. Keep all that you have toiled over in perspective as you soak it all in. The long runs. The shin splints. The countless disgusting gelatinous supplements. The friday nights given up for more sleep for long runs on saturday mornings! Coffee not first thing in the morning, but only AFTER you put your miles in. All of that to be revered by crowds of cheering people with music playing, your name screamed, doing what you even thought at one time was unthinkable … it is simply GLORIOUS!!!! It is your moment. One that you will relish and relive every time anyone asks about it. You become immortal!

Newbies, go forth and dominate! Live, breathe and amaze the World! Good Luck!!

A Few Other Tips for Race Day:

- Do NOT try anything new. Keep things the way you have trained. Little alterations can have a big effect in a long race like this.
- Have your name on the front of your shirt … the crowd calling your name will give you that added push when you need it!
- Dress as if 10-15 degrees warmer than it is. Once on the course for a while you will feel like you are on fire OR wear pieces you can peel off (arm sleeves, beanie, gloves, etc.).
- Don’t break rhythm. When you go to a water stop, don’t stop shuffling your feet in rhythm; keep them going because you use a lot of energy just getting them going again.

For more tips hit me up on twitter or leave a comment and I will be sure to address it.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Last 10k & the Lil' Voice

Over the last couple of months training my gallant, gaggle of galloping gals I have been posed numerous queries about running and training, but none so tricky as this one to explain: How do you train the brain to own the last 10k of the marathon without ever having run that far or run that race distance before?

There are all sorts of answers to this question that I am sure you can find on every coaching website or training book, and to some extent they are all correct. But since this is my little plot of lovely on the interweb, I shall only speak for myself and what I have come to understand and believe.

From this coach’s perspective there are a few ways to train and prep your brain for that ominous final 10k without ever having run the full 26.2 miles before. Honestly, a lot of it seems like common sense, but it still seems to elude people. Anyway, the most effective way, and best answer I have to this question, is to do a shorter distance – say a 21 to 23-miler – and do a focused workout over that distance. This past weekend I took three of my current runners out for a nice 21-mile stroll over the George Washington Bridge and through Pallisades Park with a focus on hill work.

For one in particular, Jo (aka LIrunner9), I broke her run into three parts, which ultimately resulted in a hill focused progression run, which is how we are approaching her ‘A’ race. Her focus through the first half of her run was to temper her pace, taking it easy right up to the 9.5-mile marker, which is set off by a nice 1-mile continuous climb. Tasty!! From that long climb through the back half of the run, Jo did a hill digger – pushing every incline – for the rest of the distance and then a hard push over the last 2-miles to test her finishing kick. Seriously, this is one of my favorite runs I do and it always kicks my ass and I always go back for seconds!

Anyway, for the ‘why.’ We started out at little slower pace to get the legs loose and to get comfortable with some unknown terrain, since she had never been through this section of the Park before. Also, this was a GROUP run and I didn’t want to edit out the social aspect at all, because the running community is amazing and it is fantastic to know that everyone out there is really pulling for one another to succeed. Furthermore, for the NYC marathon, one of the great tools that can be used to achieve your goal is to fall into one of the many pace groups that will pepper the race route and use them to help motivate and keep your rhythm nice and steady, which can often times be hard to do when you go out solo and get swept up in the adrenaline surge of marathon day.

Getting back to the run, the big hill climb was the launching point for digger portion of this run for a few reasons: 1. It is unlike anything that Jo will encounter in her race in terms of length, pitch, and difficulty. 2. It was dead in the middle of a very hilly course, which is lighter on the way out than on the way back, so burning the legs heading into the turn around ensured that the back half would be more work than coming out. Taking into account that approach, you can much closer simulate the full marathon distance without actually having to run it. 3. By pushing the 1-mile climb and forcing the issue you prompt the most difficult aspect of this run and the last 10k of the marathon, the mental side. At this point that lil' voice starts with the questions in the runner’s head: How am I going to finish this? What the hell am I thinking doing this crap? Where the hell is the top of this thing?! How am I going to be able to stick to my plan after I crest this friggin’ hill?!

By making the back half of the run a digger, every hill, every minute incline tests the runner’s conditioning and resolve to fight through the pain, fatigue and self-defeating psychological torture. It is supremely important for the runner to KNOW that this moment is exactly what they have been training for and that there is no stopping them. This is where you tell yourself, “My mind doesn’t work for my body, my body works for my mind. Now move!!!” The mind is an amazing thing and if you can truly wrap it around that very simple idea, and I mean REALLY believe it, you will begin to see just how far and how much you can push your body.

The last two miles of this run is where you take the aforementioned mentality and really put it into action testing your conditioning as you kick to the finish. Those last miles are the culmination of everything that you have done, the hill repeats, the track work, speed drills, strength exercises, and especially your core work. I’ve had Jo, as well as all of my other runners, on a strictly regimented core routine that is done after every workout, to prepare them just for this moment. When you get to this point in this run or the marathon, your legs are tapped, or at least should start to really feel that way, and you start to depend more and more on your core to help pull your knees up and forward, keep your legs turning over, and driving yourself towards the tape. For Jo’s run, the last 2 miles were pretty flat and consistent and after all of those hills it was the first opportunity she had to really open her stride and legs back up and she really pushed through them.

So, what are the last 10k of the marathon like? It is pain. It is sweat. It is tears. You’ve hit the wall, busted through it and are looking for anything and everything within yourself and the crowds along the streets to help push you through to the finish line. It is the ultimate test of your mental toughness. The point where that lil' voice in your head that you have trusted to this point now begins to cast doubt over the tone of your mantras. You wince. You really start to question everything that you are doing in terms of your pace and planning. Your watch and the course clock hang heavy on you as you constantly check your time, doing the math as quickly as your strained brain can handle. And you know what, you WILL get through it.

Running that last 10k is as much about your training as it is about who you are as a person. When you hear that lil’ voice in your head telling you that there is nothing left, that this is too much, do you listen? Or, do you tell yourself the most basic mantra I know, which got me through my first marathon, “You’ve worked too hard for this. There is NO stopping until it is done!” I have the utmost respect for anyone, and I do mean anyone, that has the stones to go out and train and run a marathon, whether it’s a three-hour Boston qualifier or a six-hour run-walker. The mental and physical toughness that this event tests you with from the starting gun to the moment they place that metal around your neck is phenomenal!

So, to answer the question with a question: When you get to that last 10k and that lil’ voice starts to chime in, what will your response be?