Pardon me for yet another post about my marathon. There is just so much to talk about! Hopefully this will be my last post about Lakefront, as I’ve pretty much exhausted everything there is to say about it.
It’s been over a week, so I have had some time to digest this experience and also to analyze it. Luckily for me, there’s not too much to analyze: the race went really well and was pretty much a resounding success.
But this being my first marathon, expectations were not quite the same as they will be for future marathons. With that in mind, there are many things I will need to do differently for my next marathon.
I have no regrets. There’s no way I could have known on June 16th what I know now. Even with this experience under my belt, there is still a lot I have left to learn about marathon training and what works best for me. And when I learn those things, I’ll certainly talk about them but for now, I want to take a moment to assess my training – what worked, and what I need to do better next time.
Let’s start with the one thing I think went really well: long runs
There is a lot of debate in the running community about how long your longest marathon training run should be. Some say you don’t need to go higher than 16 miles. Some brave souls do 26+, many do somewhere between 20 and 25, and it seems most do one 20-miler right before taper.
I did 22 as my longest, and I also did 2 20-milers, 3 18-milers, and 2 16-milers. Many people thought this was a LOT and were surprised I did multiple 20 and 18 milers. Fair enough. But I thought it worked REALLY well for me. Unless I were an experienced marathoner, I would not feel confident going into a marathon only having run 16 miles. I mean, geez, that’s 10 miles less than the marathon, which is equivalent to another long run!
Running these distances more than once was a great confidence builder. Long, uninterrupted runs allow one to simulate the marathon experience as closely as possible without running the actual marathon, and that’s what I wanted. It helped my mind and body feel prepared, and by the time race day rolled around, 26.2 was simply another long run, only a few more miles longer than what I knew I could do already.
If doing something else worked for you, I want you to do that. I’m certainly not trying to judge anyone who didn’t run as much as me. But let’s just say you will probably never see me top off at 16 or 18 miles when training for a marathon!
With that in mind, there is also much about my training that will need to be done differently in the future. The rest of my training wasn’t bad or wrong, I just know that I might not have been challenged enough and I can definitely do more in the future.
Here are some of the changes I will be making for Marathon #2:
Gu has got to go
Sorry Gu. You’ve done well for me, and I thank you for getting along with my stomach. But I just can’t deal with you anymore. You taste awful, and I’m wondering if you even make that much of a difference.
I actually did my 22-mile training run with no Gu. Yes. I ate before I went out, but all I took in during that run was water and Gatorade. And I was fine, in fact, as you may remember, I had one of the best training runs of my entire cycle that day (good weather helped too).
During my marathon, I took 3 Gus, and I dreaded having to take each one. I just think it’s time for a change.
When I start marathon training again next summer, I’d like to start experimenting with more natural fueling techniques, aka, real food. I would also like to minimize my dependence on fueling on the run as much as I can. I’ll still emphasize a good pre-run meal first and foremost – that seems to help me out more than any on-the-run fuel. I’ve been having GREAT luck with a little bit of coffee, toast with peanut butter, and some combo of banana, granola bar, and some dry Cheerios. It can be hard to strike the right balance between getting enough fuel and eating too heavy.
Higher Weekly Mileage
People who run more miles in training tend to get faster times. Many people shooting for a BQ, for instance, had weekly mileages almost double what mine were. To prepare themselves for the demands of their goals, they do longer speed work sessions and longer tempo and easy runs to build their bodies’ endurance for running hard for many miles.
I’m not going for a BQ yet, so I can probably dial down the intensity for now, but I know for sure that I could handle a higher weekly mileage load. As much as I grumbled about having to do 5-8 mile runs on weekdays, I often felt like I wasn’t quite doing enough and that my training wasn’t challenging enough.
Speed work, speed work, speed work. And maybe a little more speed work.
This is the biggest change I want to make for next time. If I want to run marathons faster, I need to be doing regular marathon-specific speed work. That means 800s and, more importantly, 1600m repeats. Once a week.
People who do speed work run faster. It’s science.
It’s not just about getting faster finish times, though. Speed work is good conditioning for the demands of the marathon, and it seems to help marathoners boost their endurance to run more efficient races.
Hills and Strength Training
Lakefront Marathon, bless its heart, is a pretty darn flat marathon. It’s no Chicago, but it’s quite modest. So naturally, I really didn’t do much (read: any) hill training. The rolling hills in most of my regular routes seemed like they would be enugh preparation enough for Lakefront’s demands, but it would have been to my benefit to incorporate more hill work anyway. And not every marathon I do will be so blessedly flat.
Plus, speed work has the benefit of killing two birds with one stone: you get stronger AND faster! As they say: “hills are speed work in disguise!”
I also want to incorporate more strength training into my routine. I’m going to be doing this for my current training for shorter races, so hopefully by the time I’m training for marathon #2 I’ll have made a habit of it!
Stop comparing yourself to other people already
I recently heard someone say “there are just as many marathon training plans as there are marathon runners.” Marathoners are like snowflakes and tie-dye: no two are alike, and that means none of us are going to train the same way.
I’ve seen training plans that range in length anywhere from 12 weeks to 24 weeks. Some people do speed work practically every other day, some people don’t do it at all. Taper periods range from 1 to 4 weeks. I’ve seen longest runs as low as 16 miles and, for a few brave souls, as high as 26+. Some do more cross training and not as much running, while others only run. And on and on and on, with the point being: every one of us is simply trying to do what works for us. We all have different bodies, different skill levels, and different goals.
So don’t get so caught up in what everyone else is doing, no matter how many online articles are being thrown around about what every runner “should” be doing and “should NOT” be doing. Just focus on you.