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Marathon Training: A Practical Overview (Part 3)

Halloween Runners

Welcome to Part 3 of the Marathon Training Overview. If you haven’t yet, please read Part 1 and Part 2 where we explored goal setting, how to choose a race, run metric measuring and developing the aerobic system. We also touched upon modifying typical race programs to serve your needs if you are experienced, older or often injured. Lastly, we explored the importance of keeping the body in motion, i.e. running, as well as strength training, which is the glue that holds us together. The following is my last block of wisdom to share for now. Either learn from my mistakes or repeat them, it’s really up to you. Enjoy, and be sure to share or comment!

  1. Eat! Your body needs calories. You need to replace calories lost and need to keep your muscles strong.  While eating can (and will be) a stand-alone topic of discussion, understand that you need calories during all long runs as well as replenishment of calories after runs.  Recovery drinks can be helpful taken within 30 minutes of any run of intensity (long, tempo or speed) and a healthy combination of carbohydrate, protein and fat after.  If it was a particularly long run, a little more protein may be warranted.  If it was a particularly hard run, then a little more carbohydrate. While there are many ways to eat healthy, realize the indisputable commonality between ALL diets is to eat more plants and limit processed foods and sugar.  Just because you run doesn’t mean that a Starbucks Frappuccino isn’t going to do damage.  Also, treat all long runs as Marathon prep.  Drink the fluids you will have at the race and drink as often as you would at the race.  Take your gels, gu’s or energy foods as you plan to during the race.  This will help to train your gut, which is as essential as running itself.

  2. Sleep! If you are a parent, work, have responsibilities that require much time AND you run, how do you make the time to sleep? The golden number is 8 hours.  Finding 8 hours of sleep for me might occur on the same day I spot my first Unicorn.  My goal isn’t to be perfect, it’s to just sleep more! This becomes especially important in the final 3 weeks (taper period) before a race and especially race week.  Though I rarely watch TV other than sports, I make sure I have all electronic media away from me by 8 pm as there is a causal relationship between sleep quality and electronic media and TV.  Also, IF my body feels tired during this period, I will happily SKIP a workout to get extra sleep/extra recovery.  The goal of running during the taper period is to stay sharp, not to gain fitness.  The extra 30-60 minutes of sleep is a far greater use of your time than a 30-minute run.  If you need the run, do it later in the day if you are a morning runner.  Sleep is also crucial in the days following long and hard efforts.  There are very few methods of recovery for your body better than sleep, and you must make it a priority! Ironically, while it’s nice to sleep the night before a race, I find it extremely difficult to get quality sleep.  Between race nerves and excitement, and the fact that most races start early and require earlier than typical wakeups, this is normal and expected.  Knowing this, I make the evening 2 days before my race the single most important night for sleep and adjust my life accordingly.

  3. Race Recon. So now that you have trained properly, eaten well, slept more to help aid in recovery and have a solid pacing plan set up, it’s time to put the final touches on your preparation.  Understanding the course you are about to run can be a difference maker.  By choosing the right course for you, you will already know if it’s to be hilly, flat or rolling.  It matters if it’s a point to point race (like the Boston Marathon) or a loop (single or double or more) like most marathons which start and end at the same place. Knowing where the big hills are going to be, knowing how many aid stations are available and what they will be serving and understanding if it’s going to be a well spectated race can help with keeping you mentally focused during the run.  It’s so easy for your mind to wander aimlessly over 4+ hours of constant moving, despite the fact that you are running a marathon.  Some pre-race reconnaissance will help you develop a plan and strategy for when to push, what to look forward to and how to set up your nutrition with what you may need to carry. Lastly, printing out and wearing a pace band during the race can be really helpful to keep you focused on the mile to mile, aid station to aid station intervals that help to break up the 26.2 mile run into smaller and more manageable parts.

  4. Smile! In the days leading up to my 1st 100-mile run, a very good friend gave me this advice. Albeit a little unusual at the time, over the 21 plus hours it took me to complete the race, it was without a doubt the best advice ever given. Every time I felt pain, discomfort, felt my mind wander, I thought of that advice and it made me smile.  The simple act of smiling took over and limited the other issues I was dealing with at the time.  There hasn’t been a race since where I haven’t smiled throughout, happy as can be, doing what I love to do, and experiencing the fruits of my labor. As it turns out, the advice was ahead of it’s time as smiling during a race has even been proven through research as explained in Alex Hutchinson’s book, “Endure”.

I hope you have enjoyed reading my practical overview on Marathon training. While it is not, and can not be a full and comprehensive Tome on all things Marathon, it has all of the essentials to keep your marathon experience a positive one. There are many ways to train and accomplish what you want to accomplish. The beauty of running is that you really don’t need to have a plan, a watch, telemetry strap or $200 shoes. Heck, you don’t even need shoes! You can just get out there and run. The fable of the Tortoise and the Hare shows that we don’t have to be fast or slow to succeed. The take home message is that those who are both Tortoise AND Hare are most likely to run the race of their lives, whatever that may be. Smile! Neil Feldman, DPM


The Tortoise and the Hare

Dr. Neil Feldman Dr. Neil Feldman is a Podiatrist at Central Massachusetts Podiatry, in Worcester and Westborough. As an ultramarathoner, runner and triathlete, he loves to help his patients remain consistent with their regular activities, assist in getting patients back to health and dedicates himself to patients achieving their goal events and races from walking the Camino de Santiago, to a first 5k run, to Ironman to a 250 mile run…and yes, that’s a thing!!

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