For the Sports Backers Marathon Training Team, we are about to enter what I affectionately refer to as “hell month.” It’s the time in our training plan where the 18 and 20 mile runs are done, and for new marathoners, the most intimidating parts of training.
I’m already there. My marathon will be October 11th as planned now. My team is planning to run theirs on November 8th. I ran 18 miles on Sunday!
As a coach for a novice marathon training team, my fellow coaches and I get lots of questions about how to prepare for the long run each week. Since we no longer have single digit runs in the plan until taper, good preparation for your traditional weekend long runs is essential for a happy, successful training cycle. And even though most of us are running virtual races this year, it’s still important to treat these long runs with respect! Our coaches preach to treat every long run as a dress rehearsal for race day. Here are a few things I’ve figured out over the years:
- Hydration begins at least the day before the run. Make sure you are drinking enough water and pre-loading with electrolytes. I will typically have at least one serving of Nuun sport and plenty of water as well the day before my long run.
- Alcohol is not a friend before your long run. It’s easy to over-imbibe, contributing to dehydration. Plus, it affects the quality of your sleep, and consuming too much can also cause tachycardia, or elevated heart rate. If your heart is already working hard to recover from the effects of alcohol, there isn’t much room to accommodate activity on top of that stress. This article sums up the issues nicely…
- Avoid trying new foods before your long run. Try to stick with foods that you know settle well. After a while, you start to learn what agrees with you. Oddly, a vegan Chipotle bowl is something that settles well for me. It’s nice to know foods you can eat from a chain restaurant, too, when traveling for a race. Nothing is worse than having stomach issues on your run, and especially on race day!
- Eat breakfast. You can’t expect to have a great run if you haven’t fueled properly. For me, I try to have something quick with whole grains, ideally hot oatmeal (see my 5 minute breakfast post for ideas!), whole grain frozen waffles, or cold cereal. I may pair the waffles or oatmeal with fresh fruit and peanut butter. Overnight oats or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich are other good choices.
- Bring hydration with you on your runs. Even if you have support from a team with available water stops, it’s so much easier to stay hydrated if you carry water and electrolytes with you. I personally use a Nathan trail mix XL belt with two bottles: one with water, the other with Nuun endurance. I have several friends who love a hydration vest, which I have avoided trying because I get so hot while running! I also have several friends who are happy to carry a handheld for an entire marathon.
- Experiment with fuel for your long runs before race day. It seems like each season, I have to figure this out again. There are a plethora of choices available, but I recommend not choosing all of them with caffeine. (See my earlier post about this here!) There are chews, beans, multiple types of gels, salt taps and chews, and even candy or real food like chips/pretzels to try. I generally go with a mix of some type of chew, a couple of gels, and potato chips for my fuel, and I start using these during 14-16 mile training runs. You must replace the calories you are burning on these long runs, or you will bonk! It’s also important to see what settles before race day.
- Choose the right gear. Nothing new on race day! Find that favorite pair of shorts and a singlet that don’t chafe, and stick with it! (See my post about choosing run bottoms here.) Try your new gear on shorter runs. Speaking of chafing, some places will always be hot spots. You will learn where these are, so to help out, use some type of anti-chafing balm on these places before you dress. Your skin will thank you! I generally hit my bra line, my upper arms, and my feet with Body Glide. Some runs are so humid that you will still chafe regardless of what you do to prevent it. Diaper rash cream will soothe these areas better than anything else I’ve tried! I also recommend a pair of sunglasses and/or a hat. It’s amazing how much energy you waste squinting.
- Post-run fuel is also important! Make sure you eat something substantial within an hour of finishing your run. It should have a mix of carbs and protein.
- Develop your recovery rituals. If you’ve been through a few marathon or half-marathon training cycles, you probably have done this! Mine includes post-run stretching, food, and a nice Epsom salt bath. Yes, I’m #teamepsomsalt, and not #teamicebath. For one, as hot as I get running, I really hate to be cold. But I also subscribe to the theory of trying to help move my body through the inflammatory process as quickly as possible. Heat speeds this up, ice slows it down. (Read about this in my book review of Good To Go by Christie Aschwanden.)
- Learn the difference between “soreness” and “pain.” General soreness all over is a product of surviving your long run. You may also experience this phenomenon after a weightlifting session (which you should be lightening up on in the last weeks of marathon training!) You are feeling the inflammation I just mentioned, and this will signal your body to start the repair work that will build new muscle and improve your tolerance for the long run. However, pain in a specific area and with specific activities is your body’s way of telling you something needs attention, possibly warranting a trip to the doctor. Don’t ignore these signs!
I hope this was helpful, especially if you are tackling the marathon for the first time.
If you are still looking for a fall race, don’t forget that the Richmond Marathon will be run on an official course this year with a timing chip, and qualifying times will count toward entry to Boston! In addition, you can now run all 3 races (8k, Half Marathon, and Marathon) anytime between November 7-22 to complete the Richmond Challenge and earn a special medal! It’s a brand new way to #RunRichmond!
Are you training for a fall race? I’d love to hear how it’s going! I’d also love to hear your tips for a happy training season! As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy.