Marathon tips
April 21, 2014 5:01 PM   Subscribe

I'm running my first marathon in a few months and need your advices!

I'll be running my first marathon in a few months. I've run a half-marathon before and have been training for several months using the Hal Higdon method (but mostly fast walking, not running).

I believe that will be able to go the distance at a fast walking pace. I'm hoping I can meet the 6.5 hour maximum time, which is not at all a sure thing at this point. I also need some race day tips.

- How do I get my speed up so I know I can walk/run the whole thing fast enough to meet the maximum time limit?
- Are there any drawbacks to fast-walking rather than running? (Health-wise, etc.)
- Other tips for just finishing (I don't really care about speed at this point.)

Race day tips:
- Things to remember on race day/ carry with me (Should I wear a backpack? A fanny pack? Bring protein bars? Drink espresso that morning?)
- Anything else you think might help!

Thank you all!
posted by 3491again to Health & Fitness (14 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
- Other tips for just finishing (I don't really care about speed at this point.)

It's just one 5K after another- you're doing one 5K, and then another, and then another, and everybody knows 5Ks are easy-peasy!

- Things to remember on race day/ carry with me (Should I wear a backpack? A fanny pack? Bring protein bars? Drink espresso that morning?)

Nothing new on race day. If you don't normally drink coffee before a run, don't. If you don't normally eat gel packs during a run, don't. Your tummy will thank you.

Eat lots of carbs the night before if you'd like; but eat/drink whatever you normally do before a long run.

Pack minimally; a small drawstring bag to hold wallet/keys/whatever should be enough. There should be a gear check if it's a properly run race. If it's likely to be a bit chilly on race morning, invest in a cheap sweater that you don't feel bad about tossing halfway through (some races will have it set up so that they'll donate any tossed clothes).
posted by damayanti at 5:27 PM on April 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

I did two marathons as a back-of-the-pack fast walker. I wore a spibelt which was enough to put a few things in without being disruptive. Gummi Bears worked really well as race fuel for me - little bits of energy that you can chew on for a while. I also carried ChapStick.

Don't be devastated if you don't finish in the official time; they normally keep things going for a little while after that, and you won't be the last one.

Savor everything, you only get one first marathon - good luck!
posted by Fig at 5:35 PM on April 21, 2014

You should definitely treat every long run as a practice for race day. Meaning: wear the clothes you think you want to wear for the race, wear the shoes you'll wear, wear the pack you'll wear, etc. So if you think you'll need new gear or shoes, get them NOW and do your long runs in them to make sure there are no fit or chafing issues. Figure out a nutrition strategy and practice that on your long runs. Different people have different preferences, so I'd recommend looking up some articles on Runner's World or get some general guidelines, then trying a few things out to see what works for you. I personally don't do energy drinks and don't like gels, but I have no problems eating solid foods so I tend to stick to gummies/pretzels/peanut M&Ms on my runs. YMMV.

As far as a pack, it depends on what the race has available and how much extra "stuff" you think you'll need. Many large races have aid stations every mile with water, sports drink, and (maybe) food. If you think you would like your favorite foods with you, consider getting a hydration pack. I would recommend getting something specifically for running (as opposed to a regular backpack/fanny pack)--it will be more likely to be ergonomically designed and wick sweat and all that good stuff. Hydration packs can be anything from a thin belt with a few small water bottles to a large backpack-size thing with a bladder and hose, and everything in between.

To get your speed up, do speed work at least once a week. If you have access to a treadmill, try doing intervals where you run at a fast pace for a set distance (quarter mile, half mile, etc) and then take a walking break before doing it again. Your pace should be slow enough so that you can sustain it for the whole interval but fast enough that you can't sustain it much longer. They should be challenging and maybe unpleasant, but not make you want to kill yourself. If you don't have treadmill access, designate at least one running day to speedwork, and run intervals on the street, track, or trail where you run. There are a lot of different ways to do speedwork, consider googling about "tempo runs" and "fartleks" to get more ideas of ways to mix up your workout.

Oh, and sunscreen and BodyGlide are your friends! If you have trouble with blisters during training, try taping your feet (or using the really tough band-aids) on problem spots. Good luck!
posted by Bella Sebastian at 5:40 PM on April 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Seconding Spibelts: they're the Tardis of running belts and will happily expand to hold alot of stuff.

I've found a good, light breakfast to be two hard-boiled eggs with salt (as you'll be losing sodium during your marathon). No heavy bagels or other carbs - YMMV.

A Big, Floppy Hat is very, very useful when you're looking at a 5 or 6 hour marathon. I usually wear a "beekeeper" style that has wide brim in the front and a floppy neck guard in the back. Works really well in conjunction with sunscreen on your face and neck, of course.

(You feel a bit eccentric, but so what? You'll see runners in tutus and so forth, a big floppy hat isn't too off-color.)

good luck!
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 5:44 PM on April 21, 2014

Did my first marathon last year, alongside my friend who was hurting by mile 9 so we slowed way down and wound up not getting official times, but we still finished (and I had a great race!). I have a two-bottle hydration belt with a small pocket that's just big enough for a chapstick, a tiny portable BodyGlide, a sunscreen wipe or two, and my nutrition of choice. The water bottles turned out to be key for me because as a back-of-the-pack slowpoke, they were tearing down water stations as we were going past, during the last leg of the race - this way I could stop and refill my bottles from their water jugs and just continue on my way and not be super freaked out about if there would be water ahead. Oh, also - salt pills. My hydration belt has a tiny pill pocket on the front, so that was caffeinated salt pills. And advil (which my friend appreciated). I know some people don't like the hydration belts, but I've worn mine for training runs for the past couple of years and I really like it, much more than a handheld bottle (my hand gets stiff after a while with those). So yeah, I vote hydration belt. And definitely chapstick.

Also, have a friend wait for you around, oh, mile 19 or so with a cupcake. Trust me.
posted by sldownard at 5:59 PM on April 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

I had friends at every 5 miles with cupcakes, they are really motivating. You probably can't actually eat that many cupcakes, but it made me run faster trying to get to where I knew they were.
posted by katinka-katinka at 6:07 PM on April 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Just wanted to mention that I'm traveling to the race. I'm going a few days early to beat jet lag. Any related tips would be great. And no cupcakes. Oh well.
posted by 3491again at 7:20 PM on April 21, 2014

I've found that one of the most important things for me before races is to get good sleep and eat/drink well. So, hydrating the day before is key. If you are the sort of person who knows what to eat so that you have your morning constitutional that is good. Running, or fast walking, for hours with weird gastrological stuff going on is the pits. And, sleep! If you can do something so that you know you will be tired and be able to sleep the night before, that is awesome. I usually have trouble sleeping because of nerves - but, the times I've been able to sleep well have made a big difference. Also, have fun.
posted by fieldtrip at 8:05 PM on April 21, 2014

Solely on the question of fast-walking vs. running, humans have an optimal "transport cost" (or energy consumed over distance) at what you would think of of a normal walking speed. The cost, as you'd imagine, increases as you go faster, but what's interesting is that it kind of levels out at at a running pace, and fast-fast walking actually goes above this level. So you could be better off switching between a jog and a normal walk.

Friends with cupcakes is a good idea; you want to delay "hitting the wall" -- when your glycogen is depleted and you shift to lipid oxidation (which takes longer -- i.e. not enough time when you're in the middle of a marathon -- to convert to the ATP you need) -- so sugar's a fine thing.
posted by transient at 8:11 PM on April 21, 2014

As soon as you get to the race city, pull out your race gear and inventory everything. Every single thing. If you've forgotten anything you'll have time to buy it.

Go to the race expo on Friday during work hours - it'll be empty and you'll be in and out in no time. That's good, because many expos are held in convention centers with concrete floors which will suck the energy out of your legs.

If you haven't had some coaching on speed walking, it's worth the effort to do so. Small short strides, not long ground eaters. Speed comes from fast foot turnover, not long strides.

Follow your training plan. I've done the Higdon method (more than once). If you follow it, it will work for you.

For running, I like a Amphipod Handheld. When I've walked an event, I've used a hydration belt, but didn't like it much.

For long, long workout I carry some Justin peanut butter packs. You're looking at a long, long day. Some protein and fat is satisfying. (Of course, try this in training first. Everyone is different.)
posted by 26.2 at 11:45 PM on April 21, 2014

I wear this belt with large bottle for anything longer than a half marathon. From trial and error, I learned what to pack in the small zipper pocket:

*petroleum jelly (for feet and all purpose chafing)
*wad of tissue paper
*sanitizing hand wipes
*favorite endurance snack (Strawberry Bloks for me)
*ibuprofen (200 mg tablets)
*caffeine pills (100 mg dose)

As for race day, I apply BodyGlide before getting dressed. Petroleum jelly for my feet before getting in the car. Once at the site, I apply sunscreen and insect repellent. I look around at how other people are dressed and make a final adjustment to my clothing. Items like knit hat, gloves, poncho, etc. are in the car if I need them.

I have never figured out a good strategy for using a drop bag (if this event allows for one). Basically I pack up the poncho, an extra pair of socks, an extra pair of shoes, and the first aid kit that normally lives in my car.

If you are seriously concerned about being swept from the course, write to the race director ahead of time. You can take a peek at previous results to see if the 6.5 hr limit appears firm. Some events allow velocity-challenged participants to take an early start -- they are official finishers but ineligible for prizes.
posted by 99percentfake at 10:18 AM on April 22, 2014

You will know what to do/bring/wear/eat/drink on race day, because the month or two before race day you will be going long runs/walks. As you increase your distance, you will know things like "I really need more than 1 power bar/gu if I am going more than 10 miles" or "wow that cliff bar really wasn't good for my stomach, don't ever eat one during running!" or "I needed to bring body glide with me, dang it!" or "this shirt starts to chafe around mile 5, but the one I wore last week didn't." You really should do enough long runs/walks as part of your training that you know what you will need, clothes, food, and drink-wise. The only thing is, if you are traveling to a place with a different climate, try to really get to know how you feel in the temperatures that you are training in, to figure out what you will be most comfortable in on race day. It is better to start off with too many layers and be able to throw them out/wrap them around your waste, than to be too cold the whole time or wear clothes that you can't take off/throw out.

And yes, hydration belts are awesome because you don't have to stop for water towards the end of the race, make sure you refill your bottles whenever you get a chance.

I think alternating between walking and jogging might be a good strategy. I've seen people doing that and going faster than they would have been able to if they tried to jog the whole course, because some people's jogs turned into a speed almost slower than walking. You might as well "rest" by walking and then run again when you have energy. But again, with training you'll be able to tell what's best for you and be able to estimate how long it will take you to finish.
posted by at 1:16 PM on April 22, 2014

For race day definitely do the same things as you do during training. No new clothes or shoes or gear. In fact you might need less gear since unless this is some weird marathon there is going to be very regular water/gatorade stations and likely many opportunities for other fuel too. Depending on your training location you might need to bring these things with you but you likely won't need it for race day.

I do second the idea that you should have plenty of sunscreen on and a floppy hat since you'll be out on the course for a very long time.

Good luck.
posted by mmascolino at 3:57 PM on April 22, 2014

A few more things -

Do not depend on the course having water, hydration mix or gel/shotblocks after the first few miles. You'll be at the very end of the course and many of the water stations may have been broken down by the volunteers. I've mentored a ton of run/walk teams for one of the big charity training programs. We tell our walkers that they need to self support for the last 10 miles. (I have had the job of being the "pace sweeper." That's, literally, the final person on the course - once I pass you the race organizers put you in the wagon. I can tell you from personal experience that the volunteers will break down the water stations before you get there.)

Get a wide mouth water bottle and open it before you get to the aid station. Always leave the aid station with a full bottle. If you fall behind the course pace, that might be your only water in the last few miles.

If you need sunscreen mid race, stop at one of the medical tents. They will have it. Also if you need water after the aid stations have been shut down, medical will have it. They will quickly assess, give you the water and usually mark your bib.

At the race start, you may want to try to go to an earlier chute. At a big race, crossing the start line takes twenty or thirty minutes and that would give you a buffer to finish. (Generally, the time limit starts after the last participant crosses the start line.) If you move forward in the chutes, please remember to go to very outside of the pack and stay single file until the pack thins out considerably. Faster runners need to be able to pass you safely.
posted by 26.2 at 10:06 AM on April 23, 2014

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