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Getting Schooled on Marathon Training Runs

September 21, 2010

Wanted a cool image of a rainbow, but my kids are shrieking so this one will have to suffice!

Training runs aren’t just about conditioning your body and toughening your mind. Often, once you have the energy to reflect back on them, they provide valuable lessons to take with you on race day. Things to do–and things not to do.

Take this weekend, for example. With several popular marathons on the propitious date of 10/10/10—like Chicago, Portland, and Steamtown—there were a lotta ladies out logging their longest training runs. My running buddy Sheila and I included. On Sunday morning, we were graced by the weather gods: Dire predictions of thunderstorms had monopolized the airwaves, but the sky was partly cloudy with intermittent sprinkles that graced us with three partial rainbows. (I’ve rarely seen someone get SO excited on a run as Sheila whenever we saw colored stripes in the sky. You’d think she’d spied a shirtless Bradley Cooper running toward us…)  Sheila and I hadn’t run together all month, so we had plenty to talk about. Our loop-course that was mostly on paved multi-use paths, so we rarely had to stop. As we happily churned along, I had to remember to ask if we could stop so I could GU-up. (I always walk when I take in energy on a training run: I’m no good at multi-tasking while exerting myself!)

Toward mile 17 and 18, I contemplated doing my final Roctane, but figured we didn’t have far to go. (Ah, the warped marathon-mindset!) Idiot-girl: By mile 20, I was dragging and out of water. (I don’t down a gel unless I have liquid.) The previous week, when I ran 20 solo, I had finished strong and triumphant. Now, sitting at my desk, rested and refueled, I realize it’s because I’d done two energy gels with a lot of water at mile 15. (Thanks, Portland Fit rest stop, for helping out a rogue runner!) I finished Sunday’s 22 miles, but at the end, I was chunking it up into tiny, bite-size portions as a mere mile seemed daunting. My take-away message for myself: Take in energy in the last quarter of the race, no matter how good—or queasy–I’m feeling. Suck it down, Sarah, you’ll be glad for it later.

As I said, I wasn’t the only one learning lessons. My RLAM pals Ashley and Julie are also training for Portland Marathon, following the advanced training plan. As Julie recounts, she realized, “No cowboy boots, no more races, no amusement parks. Things have to be cut out, sacrifices made, if I want to perform at my best. I haven’t learned the balancing act quite yet.” And Ashley grasped she needs to take in more fluids, especially an electrolyte-laden one, if she wants to stay speedy (and away from the medic tent, or at least the porcelain god).  What have your long runs taught you?

32 Comments leave one →
  1. Lisa permalink
    September 21, 2010 6:09 am

    My long runs this year have been so much faster than other years (8:55 vs 9:30 ave) and I think its because I eat alot more often during my run and alternate my bloks from sodium to caffeine. I’ll have my first blok (sodium) at 5 miles then every three miles I’ll eat another shot blok (caff) and some sport beans. I’ll also eat right up until mile 20 of a 21 miler, its worked my last 2 20+ milers my last mile has been in the 8:30’s! Maybe I’ll finally get that BQ this year!

    • Jackie permalink
      September 21, 2010 2:31 pm

      That’s the strategy I’ve been using. Good to see someone else is too 🙂

    • Beth permalink
      September 22, 2010 8:00 pm

      I have a similar strategy for marathons & marathon training runs over 10 miles. Finish 1/2 a power bar by mile 5, the other half by mile 10…And, drink 1 8 oz bottle of water by mile 3, then a 3 oz bottle of gatoraid by mile 6, flipping back and forth.

      About an hour and a half before my long runs I need to drink a big glass of gatoraid also. I’m very electrolyte sensative.

  2. bowenshea permalink*
    September 21, 2010 6:47 am

    No DOUBT you’ll qualify for Boston, Lisa! That’s amazing your pace has dropped so significantly! Thanks for sharing what is working for you. Best of luck–which marathon are you doing?

    • Lisa permalink
      September 21, 2010 10:34 am

      Baystate in Lowell MA 10/17. My last 2 marathons I just missed 3:50 by 2 and 3 minutes hopefully 3rd times a charm! The other thing I think has worked is I’m running 50-60 miles a week now vs 35-40, I’m so much stonger. Good luck in yours!

  3. Natalie permalink
    September 21, 2010 7:02 am

    This week’s long run (I’m running Chicago on 10-10) was 20 miles. My longest run ever. And it taught me something simple but important: Trust your training. Because, honestly, after feeling like ALL of my long runs have been from hell, something clicked on this run, and it was absolutely perfect. It was as if every single training run I’ve done in the past three months came together to crystalize in this one perfect run.

    I blogged about it here: http://my2girlsrock.blogspot.com/

    I am so happy to have my 20-miler out of the way and so glad it boosted my confidence as much as it did!

    • bowenshea permalink*
      September 21, 2010 11:56 am

      That is SO cool that the stars all aligned on your 20-miler!! A major confidence-booster, to be sure, Natalie. Let us know how Chicago goes. Best of luck!

    • September 21, 2010 5:49 pm

      Awesome, Natalie! Congrats on your first (really) long run! I’ve never run 10 miles, so the idea of a 20 miler seems so far away. I don’t know if I’ll ever go that far, but it was fun to read about your success. 🙂 Good luck in Chicago! ~K

  4. September 21, 2010 7:35 am

    Long runs have taught me that persistance pays! Even if I don’t complete everything on my training “plate”, doing long runs helps me to clear my mind and give me the confidence that I need to go out and do my best when it counts. And a bonus payoff is that I have a longer time to be by myself and lost in thought – which is something that never happens at home – too many kids/husband and their distractions! It’s good for my sanity as well!

    • Natalie permalink
      September 21, 2010 7:45 am

      LOL, Amy. At first I read this as “too many kids, husbands”!! I think an extra husband could really come in handy during training, eh? 😉 Or an extra wife for that matter.

      • September 21, 2010 5:04 pm

        I’ve always said I need a “wife” just for the secretarial duties that I would love to have done that no one else around here seems to be able to do! 😉

  5. Jenny C. permalink
    September 21, 2010 7:56 am

    I also learned a valuable lesson on Sunday (my last long run before Victoria, 10/10/10). The run had been really chopped up due to thunderstorms and torrential downpours. I had to go home after 2 miles and did 2 miles on the tm before hitting the road again. The thunder and lightening was terrifying! But when I got back out there, I forgot one of my water bottles. The run went pretty well until the last half mile when my calf started cramping up! What a great reminder about the importance of fuel. I was lucky I was nearly done and didn’t have any serious issues. I have only had that happen once during a marathon and I forgot what it felt like. I know I won’t forget again!

    • bowenshea permalink*
      September 21, 2010 11:58 am

      Jenny–AMAZING perseverence to switch from outside-inside-outside. I don’t even go anywhere near my house once I leave for fear I might be sucked inside onto couch. Well done! And thanks for letting me know Victoria Marathon is also 10-10. I bet it’ll be gorgeous! Have fun!

  6. September 21, 2010 8:16 am

    I’m still trying to learn something from my runs. 🙂 I had my last long run this weekend. I’m only doing a half-marathon on Sunday, but I was in so much pain this past weekend. I’m still looking for the learning experience. Hmmm… Maybe the lesson of not quitting?

  7. Michelle permalink
    September 21, 2010 10:08 am

    When training for and running a marathon, the more you can eat (without puking) the better the end of the run will go. period.

    • bowenshea permalink*
      September 21, 2010 11:59 am

      Amen, sista, amen!

  8. Jen B permalink
    September 21, 2010 10:09 am

    I learned when to play it safe this past weekend on my 36km. I had a pretty good run, when suddenly at 30k my SI joint started acting up. Within the next 1/2 k it really started to hurt. So rather than run through it in order to get to 36km, I called my hubby and he came to pick me up. I rested, took lots of Advil and used this very groovy theraputic heat pad/belt thing that my mother-in-law gave me, and I am feeling good! Ran 7km near to goal pace this morning and I did not feel any pain at all. SO the lesson: listen to the body!! And my brain knows that 30km IS enough to be ready for 10/10 in Victoria.
    To all of you who are running somewhere on 10/10: may all your marathon dreams come true!!

  9. September 21, 2010 10:18 am

    I learned to not run “fast,” even if it feels good. For me, that’s between a 9:30 and 10:30 pace for 10 miles. I ran with my running buddy who I totally love to run with, forgetting that she’s faster than me and that I would need to rein her in if I wanted to finish strong and recover well for the next week’s 16 (my marathon’s not til mid-November).

    Well, it felt really good to run fast and talk, and we always run faster when we talk politics. I finished okay, but I forgot that pushing the pace makes recovery harder even if the distance is shorter.

    Doing 16 solo this Friday and going to keep the pace nice and easy for a good LR and good recovery.

    • bowenshea permalink*
      September 21, 2010 12:01 pm

      I hear you on this one, Beth. I wear the Garmin in my running relationship, and I had to reign Sheila (and me) in a few times. It helped that early on in run, she turned to me and admitted, “I have NO CLUE about pace, so just tell me if I need to slow down or speed up.”

      A coach once told me: “I’m not going to be impressed if you tell me you did your recovery run or long run faster than you were supposed to.” Good thing to remind oneself of. Enjoy Friday’s run.

  10. BigDogMom permalink
    September 21, 2010 10:38 am

    I ran my 20 in training for Chicago on 10-10-10 this past weekend. It was a great run wil a new partner which made for great conversation. This was her longest run ever. I had to be the cheerleader this time…not something I was prepared for that day. I learned that I have more energy than I thought. I learned that I need to hear the positives just as much as the next person but when I am saying out loud to someone else…I internalize the message a great deal more!
    I also learned running the last 3 miles in a torrential downpour with feet heavy as bricks due to ankle deep water and wet shoes….that I can do most anything I put my mind to. Nothing can stand in my way. I can also run in any weather…no excuses!

  11. misty permalink
    September 21, 2010 10:41 am

    Thank you, that’s all I have to say. Two weeks ago was 10 miles and I felt like I was walking on sunshine. Last saturday was 11 and I wanted to give up (training for Detroit Free Press Half on 10.17). It is helpful to hear you talk about chunking up the distance and even then struggling. And the reminder to stop and re-fuel. My long runs teach me that I can do freaking *anything*.

  12. September 21, 2010 11:23 am

    While my long runs aren’t near the 20 mile range yet, I hope the big lesson that I’m learning now will still apply when the time comes. That my body is capable of much more than my mind gives it credit for.

  13. September 21, 2010 1:33 pm

    They definitely give me the confidence that I can *train* for the next big one. Back in April, 2 months after graduating couch 2 5k, my 6 miler gave me the confidence that I could train for a half…. Which I ran in June.

    Last weekend’s 14miler has given me the confidence that I can tackle training for a full. I still know there is a race to run, but just knowing that I am running long runs that actually *exist!* in a training plan gives me confidence that I could finish the race.

  14. Rebecca permalink
    September 21, 2010 2:29 pm

    Thank you for this post…I SO needed this. My marathon is 11/14 but I’ve seem to let some of the basics fall by the wayside during the training recently. Thanks for the reminders!

  15. September 21, 2010 2:33 pm

    I’ll have to second “Trust Your Training”! I finished my last long, long run (32km/20miles) for Victoria (10.10.10) this past Sunday. We had a field trip to another local running store which supplied us with a route. I got there and found only 2 other runners (total strangers) who were going my pace. One of the ladies turned around after about an hour as she wasn’t actually training for a marathon and so the two of us plodded on. We were both familiar with the area, but had the route out often to know where we were going – thankfully they’d marked 2 extra store locations as stops for water/bathrooms. We were starting to question the distance once we hit 25km. We just *knew* that we were going to run long – and uphill. We ended with 34km/21miles. I totally did not think that I’d be able to break 32 – I had this fear that in the marathon I’d just struggle/fail for the last 10km. It’s great to know that I can run further than I thought. I couldn’t have finished 42.2 on Sunday, but now I have the confidence to know that I’ll be fine in October.

  16. September 21, 2010 3:51 pm

    My long training runs have shown me that I am wwaaayy stronger than I ever gave myself credit for being!!! This has spilled over into other areas of my life as a person and a mother…very empowering, pounding out 20 miles alone! I love it…

  17. September 21, 2010 4:04 pm

    Yes, I have learned the hard way as you have witnessed SBS… I think each time we train we learn something new about ourselves, our style of running and training, and what our bodies are capable of. What works for one, may not work for another. Each new race/training cycle is almost like parenting the second, third child…you may tweak a few things, make fewer mistakes, and hopefully do it better each time. At least, this is what I hope for in my future races/marathons. I’m sure having fun in the process though. 🙂 I’ve enjoyed reading the comments and learning from other runners in the process through the blog world and the RLAM community. I have a lot to learn and hopefully many more marathons in my future to do it better the next time!

  18. Jess M permalink
    September 21, 2010 5:12 pm

    that a good night’s sleep is the so critical to a good run! and always charge your ipod and sportwatch the night before!

  19. Katy permalink
    September 21, 2010 8:22 pm

    I have learned that if I am going to do a race in the light of day, I am going to have to train in the light of day! My first 10K was done on a day with relentless sunlight and humidity. I was completely zapped even though I had completed the same distance before, but under the cloak of darkness.

  20. September 22, 2010 11:26 am

    I crave long runs! When I am not marathon training, I truly miss it. I love that there are times I feel better at mile 16 than mile 4. This marathon training round is the first time I have done the “Fast Finish” and it has been fantastic! My best run was my 2nd 20 miler. I met up with Kirsten, who had just gotten back from a year in Spain and she had plenty of stories to keep my mind occupied. We ran a faster pace than normal and when she finished the first 12 with me I was on my own and feeling great. The last 4 miles I did at my goal Boston pace (8:23) with the last mile just under an 8 minute mile! I will tuck that run in my back pocket and bring it out the last mile of St George! I learn something every long run. What I learned in my half marathon August 7th was that I hadn’t spent enough time in the “uncomfortable zone.” I had done mostly slow miles, which was great for building my endurance, but I needed to feel the burn because no matter what happens I WILL feel it the last 6 miles of St. George. I am so glad I made that realization in time to tweak my training. So, in 10 days I will find out where my training has taken me. I have been following the Runner’s World Marathon Challenge. I have done about 100 miles at my goal pace. Let’s hope my body locks in!! It’s almost go time!! Thanks for all your inspiration. Can’t wait to hear how Portland goes for you! You are going to rock it!

  21. September 22, 2010 3:12 pm

    hmmm…. probably to take walk breaks early & often! i’m training for my first marathon for the 4th time. (got that? 2 injuries, 1 pregnancy put the breaks on my 1st 3 attempts!) in light of my previous injuries, i was searching for a marathon plan that would help me be careful & wise… enter jeff galloway’s walk break program. i still have a hard time feeling like a ‘real’ runner when i take walk breaks every 6-7 minutes, but i suppose i’m still covering the miles… feels like it, anyway! and here i am at 15 miles with no injuries… here’s hoping i can last until the memphis st. jude marathon in december! : )
    i’ve also learned to appreciate my city- parks & playgrounds with clean restrooms abound! my only complaint is that they are locked in the winter months. i don’t know about you, but i poop year round… i need the potties to be open!

  22. September 22, 2010 5:51 pm

    I was just trying to plan my “refueling” and I think I realize that I need to do it close to the end of the race, for that kick, & so I don’t drag my ass across the finish. Great post, reiterating the power of re-fueling w. h20!

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