Friday, December 9, 2011

Reflections on Marathon Training: What I Did Right

I began training for the Rock 'n' Roll Las Vegas Marathon on July 25 with a training plan based on Hal Higdon's Novice I program that looked like this (click to make it larger):

I finished the marathon on December 4 after having completed the training plan like this:

I knew all along that my training wouldn't exactly follow my initial plan, and I prepared to be flexible and not freak out about making changes.

I skipped a few runs. I moved things around. I added a triathlon and a 5K race. I got sick. I bailed out on all cross-training after the tri. Speed intervals, tempo runs and hill repeats were practically non-existent.

But even though my training wasn't perfect, I never walked during the marathon, I finished strong and I hit my 4:15 goal time. I'd say I did a few things right.

It wasn't always easy...

For 19 weeks, I lived and breathed marathon training. I worked full-time right up until the Wednesday before the marathon and got home around 6 p.m. every weekday. I was usually out running or at the gym by 6:30, and oftentimes I'd run and then go to the gym to lift weights. I'd get home around 8 or 9, depending on how far I had to run, then shower (sometimes...), have dinner and blog about my workout on Dev on Running. Then I went to sleep.

Those were my nights, every night.

I had the advantage of being single and generally fine with only seeing my friends a few times a week — on my rest days and on weekends. If I didn't want to miss out on an event, I would just switch around my workouts and take a rest day on that day. I also spent time with friends new and old by doing many of my long runs with buddies, which was really great.

I spent lots of good money on the marathon registration fee, flights and hotel — I wasn't about to half-ass my training! The commitment really paid off in the end.


Right after my 20-miler — 3:15 of running.

I ran 12 miles in the pouring rain, 14 miles while extremely hungover (the run went great; the aftermath... not so much) and 18 miles immediately following four days of being completely flattened by an illness.

A few of my long runs went awry, but most were fantastic. The most important part was that I did them all!

It's not fun to wake up early on the weekend knowing you have two or three hours of running ahead of you, especially if you're training in Seattle's cold, gray autumn months. But long runs are so important because they help your body get used to the stress of racking up double-digit mileage, and they're essential rehearsals for figuring out how you'll drink, fuel and pace yourself in the actual race.


Hammocks save lives.

I tried to stick to my training plan, but I didn't beat myself up if I felt really exhausted and needed to take an unplanned rest day.

I listened to my body and learned to recognize the difference between when I actually felt worn out and when I just had a crappy day at work and needed to suck it up. Sometimes I genuinely needed an evening in my hammock; other times, a speedy 10-mile run made me feel good as new.

This is why I abandoned pretty much all cross-training after my triathlon. Long runs took a lot out of me — I needed the whole rest of the day to recover — and the other weekend day, I wanted to relax and have some non-training fun! Super-serious marathoners may look down on this, but the extra rest days really kept me from burning out.


The Las Vegas marathon course was almost entirely flat, and I cut out all my planned hill repeats because of this (and because wet leaves + running up and down hills = death).

As for tempo runs and speed work... I just got lazy. I did some speed intervals during treadmill runs to keep from getting too bored, but I didn't make a concerted effort to become a faster runner during this training cycle. I was more concerned with hitting my planned mileage each week and remaining injury-free.

If (when...) I run another marathon, I'll shoot for a sub-4:00 finish and definitely focus more on hill endurance and becoming speedier.



I did most of my training in Seattle, but I also ran while on vacation in Vancouver, B.C., and in New York City. I even racked up 14 miles while I was in California for my granddad's memorial service.

This goes back to the most important thing I did right: I made marathon training my #1 priority.*

I packed my running shoes first. I brought everything I needed, including my fuel belt, Clif Shots and Nuun. I always ran first thing in the morning to get it out of the way. Trust me, it can be done!

*When I went to California, spending time with my family was my #1 priority. Running never interfered with family time, and it really helped me work out the stress and sadness I felt over my granddad's passing.


My first drink in Vegas after the marathon. Has a margarita ever tasted so good? I think not.

I ate A LOT during training, but I stuck with proteins, fruits and vegetables rather than carbs. Sure, I ate tons of bagels in New York City, but things like bread and pasta generally make me feel bloated and lethargic — exactly how I don't want to feel while running.

My go-to foods were apples, bananas (at least two a day), Larabars, almond and peanut butter, yams, asparagus, zucchini, salads, soups, chicken, fish and candy (I blame Halloween for that one). And then after long runs, I ate whatever the heck I wanted, like an entire box of Stovetop Stuffing after my 20-miler. Yum.

The point, again, is to listen to your body and do what works for you. Carb-loading isn't necessarily vital to marathon training, although some people swear by it. I found that generally avoiding bread, pasta, etc. and dairy (even though cheese is my lover) made for happy, cramp-free runs.

As for alcohol, I quit drinking for a month prior to the marathon. I'm not a huge bar/club/party person anyway, so it wasn't difficult. However, that very month was also when I was in the midst of quitting my job, and I often got super-stressed and frustrated at work. I would've loved to have several glasses of wine on many occasions... but I just ran instead. I also got lots of quality sleep and didn't have to plan my long runs around hangovers, so it was a total win.


I didn't come up with this, but I wish I did.

Every marathon training guru will tell you that the focus of your first marathon should just be about finishing, not hitting a certain time.

I chose to believe in myself more than that.

Call me crazy, but based on my typical long run pace (9:40-ish) I identified a reasonable goal (a 4:15 finish), then trained for it and hit it. I think self-confidence had just as much to do with it as training.

Regardless of my finish time, I wanted to run a race that I would feel proud of, and I knew I would be proud of pushing myself. If I went into it with the mindset of, "Well, I'll just try to finish," I probably would've let myself slow down and walk multiple times. There's nothing wrong with that — a marathon is tough, people — but I know I'm capable of more.

I had an incredible network of family, friends and blog readers who encouraged me throughout training and assured me the race would be great. I can't say I would've had the confidence that I did without their support!

Completing the physical training is only a piece of the puzzle; having the mental strength going into the race is what really carries you through to the finish line.


Since I hit my goal time and truly had a great race — aside from the factors I couldn't control, like the overcrowded course and the depleted water stations — I wouldn't change anything about the way I trained for my first marathon.

Will I run another one? Of course! ...eventually. I need to forget the pain of the first one before I can even think about signing up for another.

Aside from my post-race stomach issues, I could barely walk the next day, and later my feet and ankles swelled up like crazy. It took a lot of rest, ice, compression and elevation to get them back to human proportions. Now, five days post-race, I'm finally feeling back to normal, and I'll probably go for a slow and short run this weekend.

Even though I won't train for another race for a while, I just can't imagine my life without the rhythmic sound of running shoes hitting the pavement.


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  1. And most of all ... you ran with DetermiNation!

  2. I really appreciate your reflections on why you had a successful race. I agree that it's those big picture things that make you a strong runner, not stressing over adapting to unexpected changes or the nitty gritty details of pace and HR for every single mile you do. I've been marathoning for awhile, but I plan to take your ideas and apply them to my own training this spring!

  3. Wow, I have MAJOR respect for you, your accomplishment is amazing. You make me want to start running now! Congratulations, I really enjoyed following along, even though it was only from the comfort of my sofa!

  4. @David: The valuable things I learned from training for my first half with DetermiNation last spring definitely helped me prepare for this race!

    @Emily: Thank you! Wow, if you're an experienced marathoner I have no clue what you could learn from this newbie, but I'm flattered!

    @Hannah: Thanks so much! I've only been running for just over a year, so trust me, it is possible to go from couch to marathon if you put in the work.


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