Final preparations for a first half-marathon
April 27, 2008 5:31 AM   Subscribe

Final half-marathon preparations: I'm signed up for the Sydney Half-Marathon (my first ever!) on May 18th, and I've just got a couple questions as I enter these last few weeks of preparations. Do I need to start investigating energy gels or GUs or something? And is this a *really* bad time to get new shoes? I'm getting a bit jittery so I'd be grateful for any wisdom and advice from the MeFi running contingent...

I did my longest run ever today - ten miles! But man, am I sore right now. I had plenty of Gatorade and water throughout the two hours (yes, I'm SLOW), but I've since been googling and it seems like ten miles is about the magic number when folks start taking energy supplements with them. I've read enough to know that I shouldn't take anything for the first time during the actual race. So should I try out some in these last three weeks? What kind of results can I actually expect from them? My legs were feeling pretty dead by the end of today's run, but I just chalked that up to the effort of going farther. Would sucking down a gel or two have made me feel noticeably more peppy?

The other culprit for my soreness could be my shoes. I've done 430km (about 270 miles) on this pair, which I bought last September. Most of the articles I can find online suggest replacing them between 300-500 miles. I'm a fairly big girl, so I'm sure I'm putting a bit more wear and tear on them than a lighter runner would. So should I get a new pair as soon as I can and start rotating them for my last few workouts? Or would it be better to stick with what my feet are used to until after the race?

I'm grateful for any additional advice you guys can offer! I'm actually kind of excited to "graduate" into longer distance running. I've tried several times in the past to become a runner but it never really stuck until this year. Wish me luck...
posted by web-goddess to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (18 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Congrats on sticking with your training plan! I am on the bigger side of average for a female and have run several half marathons in my life. I have never finished on in less than 2 hours, so I am SLOW too. My opinion only:

1. I got new shoes once with less than a month before a race. Not the end of the world, but not ideal. If you get new shoes - do it now and start transitioning them into your runs.
2. I've only used gu/ gels/ power bars with marathon training and running. I don't think it is necessary for a 13 mile run. You will see people using gu/ gels for smaller races, but they are typically people who are competing.
3. SMILE AND TRY TO ENJOY THE RACE! Races are so much fun. The 13.1 mile distance is perfect. It is long enough to be an awe-inspiring accomplishment, but short enough that it doesn't take over your life.
4. Do something great for yourself the next day/ week. Get a massage; mani/ pedi; new running clothes...something. You should be proud!

posted by beachhead2 at 5:44 AM on April 27, 2008

I just ran my first half marathon a week ago, and it was a blast. I was feeling the need for some more energy right around the ten mile mark (As were many runners.), but I didn't take anything more than water and sports drinks at a few water stations. I wish I had. I think a gel would be a great idea, but take it before you feel the need for it. At ten miles you're pretty much done, and you want that energy to be put to use during the race.

I too was in the need for new shoes, but I held off. I did strongly consider getting a new pair and training in them for a few weeks, then making a choice on race day about what pair to wear. If you keep your old pair around you can always go back to them if you don't break in the new ones fast enough.

I recommend thinking about food now. I did all my training runs after work, so on race day I didn't know exactly what or when to eat for a race early in the morning. It worked out fine, but I was concerned. Use the restroom as close to the start time as you can, I didn't and at 11 miles I needed to, badly. I'm a guy so I could have just stepped behind a tree, lots of people did, but I was also racing for a specific time. Also, walk when you drink. Who knew it was so hard to drink and run at the same time? At the first water station I got a face full of sports drink that left me sticky and coughing.

Have fun.
posted by Science! at 6:01 AM on April 27, 2008

As I'm sure you're aware, if you get the proper shoes (i.e. Asics, Brooks, Mizuno), then there's not much breaking in. They usually feel like melted butter on your feet right out of the box. Three weeks is definitely plenty of time.
posted by netbros at 6:20 AM on April 27, 2008

I agree with beachhead2 re: getting new shoes; it's not ideal but it won't ruin your run. If your old shoes are worn out and not supporting you anymore then go for it. The brand isn't so much the important thing as making sure they fit your feet and your running style - so if you haven't already, go to a specialty shop where they can watch you run and recommend shoes for you.

GU/gels: Probably not necessary, but they do give you a nice boost! There's always a little bit of race-day energy giving you a little extra push too, but I'd take one gel with you just in case. Mile ten or so you might want it.

Stretch out really well and take an ice bath afterwards! You would be shocked how much that helps. I didn't ice after my last half marathon, and I was walking stiffly for days. I iced after my marathon, and I was mostly fine within about 24 hours.

Good luck!
posted by AV at 6:47 AM on April 27, 2008

During a 2 hour run your biggest issue is hydration - make sure you're hydrating well during the race. Most people actually do recommend a sports drink.

In race nutrition (gus gells etc) are not going to keep your legs from getting sore but they can make a difference in keeping you from "bonking". At your pace you may want to try getting something in about half way. Definitely try something now and see how it works for you, I personally can't do gu it makes me gag, so I use shot blocks and or energy beans. But I also am doing tri's where I eat mostly on the bike where its a bit easier to digest.

Definitely get shoes now. What some recommend is for the first week or 2 alternate between your new and current pair of shoes. This allows you to break in the new shoes but save your feet a little.
posted by bitdamaged at 7:10 AM on April 27, 2008

Congrats on training for your first 1/2 marathon - It's going to be a blast.

I just finished my third marathon (20-something female) not long ago and have finished three 1/2 marathons. As Web Goddess pointed out, your main goal should be to enjoy the race. You've been training for a long while and race day is where you get to enjoy all that! So have fun. That said, here are a few tips.

1. Yes, GU or PowerGels can be useful in a 1/2 marathon, just be sure to get in a few practice runs where you take them. It took me some trial and error to find GUs that I liked and didn't make me sick. You don't want to find out that GUs give you stomach cramps during the race.

2. Is the race early in the morning? Simulate race day as much as possible. I am usually an afternoon/night runner so morning races can throw me off. The week before a morning race I will get up early everyday and run a few miles before work. That seems to get my body useed to the idea of running early instead of late in the day.

3. Have fun!
posted by heatherbeth at 7:13 AM on April 27, 2008

Here's my advice:

1. Get the new shoes, ASAP. Walk around with them for a day or two, then run in them. As long as you run in them 3 or 4 times before the race without any problems, you'll be fine. The wear on your shoes makes a HUGE difference and using old shoes can lead to or exacerbate stress and impact related injuries. Take it from someone who has dealt with plantar fasciitis.

2. I never use gels or supplements but that's because I'm prone to ..ahem..the runner's runs. For a half, you should be fine with water or gatorade. One thing I have done in the past is carry a couple of hard sugar candies with me- I like coffee flavored nips because they have some caffeine in them as well. I give myself a goal, like "At mile 10, I will eat the candy" which gives me something to look forward to as well as a little burst of energy (mental more than anything) for the last stretch. Sucking on the candy usually lasts me for a couple of miles, and provides a welcome distraction (my legs are tired...but mmmm, this candy is soo good!). If you find a Gu or gel you like, go for it, but it's definitely not necessary.

And since I am your former roommate, I'll also tell you that I'm very proud of you. Don't fret about your slow time- who cares? Did you ever imagine yourself running ten miles? Probably not. (heck, I never dreamed I'd ever run more than five, and now I've done two marathons.) But you just did. And you can certainly do 3.1 more. Good luck!
posted by emd3737 at 8:52 AM on April 27, 2008

Congratulations! Breaking in new shoes shouldn't be a problem, as long as they are exactly the same model (not the updated version) of the shoes you are currently wearing. Two weeks out is a perfect time for new shoes, especially if the ones you have are feeling a little flat and worn down. Skip taking in anything like GU and stick with what your body is already used to. Be careful not to over hydrate.
A previous question about pre-race eating for a half marathon is here.
posted by stagewhisper at 9:45 AM on April 27, 2008

I think at this point you'd be fine skipping the gels - they can take some getting used to, and your race is coming up soon. I've done a 10 mile race without anything, and a half with one gel, and both worked out fine.

Good luck! Have fun!
posted by jetskiaccidents at 10:04 AM on April 27, 2008

I say go for the GU, and try it on a long run in advance. Here's why:

Like you, I'm a bigger girl; I ran my first half-marathon a few years ago at a 12:30/mile pace. I hadn't run that distance before, and the race was poorly equipped, so they ran out of Gatorade by the time I showed up. I felt awful, had no energy, and was zonked for the rest of the day. (Too bad; it was my birthday.)

A week later I ran a second half-marathon (long story). This race had a tougher course, but I figured I'd try it. The course was much better equipped, AND I had GU around 8 miles in. (I have found that I should take something before I start to feel I need it.) I finished it at a 12:00 pace. Of course taking one shot of GU can't change your entire race, etc., but I definitely think it kept me feeling much better. Since then, always made a habit of running long distances with Gatorade and a pack of GU.

If you have a sensitive stomach, it might not be for you, but personally I've found a need for something. Two hours is a long time to exercise continuously.

Have a great race!
posted by stonefruit at 10:40 AM on April 27, 2008

Good luck! I've seen you on Runner+ and you've been working hard. You're going to be great.

I have my first full marathon this weekend. These last few weeks, I have been experimenting a lot with nutrition and hydration, trying to figure out what will be optimum *for me.*

My experience has been that gels help *a lot* in preventing my legs from turning to total jello at 16 miles in. I also find that gelling earlier and less frequently (at one hour, two hours, three hours, then every half hour) works better, ie before I've worked to the point of total fatigue when it's too late. This is not true for my training partners though. One guy starts gelling when he's totally spent and another guy doesn't gel at all, he eats a Clif Bar right before the race and another about half way in.

So the ideal thing would be to do a little experimentation. For a half, my opinion is that you don't *have* to gel, but you *might* benefit from it. If you eat right the day before, you probably will be fine but I think sucking one down at mile 9 or so isn't going to hurt anything. My coach recommends lots of carbs for breakfast and lunch the day before and a lighter dinner with cereal an hour and half before the run.

For new shoes: if you go to a store that knows what they're doing as far as fitting shoes, this shouldn't be a problem at all. Here in Seattle, there are a lot of running stores where they film your gait and try to fit shoes according to the movement of your feet. I found the right shoe about 4 years ago and now I just get new pair of those every 6 months or so and they've always been fine for a long run right out of the box. Make sure you have a chance to go for a couple of longish runs before your half -- you could always go back to your old shoes if there's a problem.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 10:47 AM on April 27, 2008

Chiming in for one more suggestion that you try a Gu out on your next long run and see how you feel. I'm also a pretty slow runner (my halves have been about 2:15) and I find it helps to have one when running more than 9-10 miles. I am a serious caffeine addict, so what I do is have about half an espresso Gu (Espresso Love? Coffee Love? something like that) pretty early in the run/race and then the rest about two-thirds of the way through, or whenever I get really tired. (I need coffee within a couple hours of waking up, so I just felt tired and headachey if I didn't get caffeine, but I also can't drink coffee before running--the Gus fixed this issue.) Once or twice I've done two Gus on a 12 mile+ run, if I'm not feeling it that day. I don't think it's the distance so much as the time it takes you to run the distance, so while a faster runner might be fine with Gatorade, all my slow friends swear by Gu.

On being really sore today--I've found the 10-mile runs to be the hardest. I don't know if it's mental or physical, but I've found the 9 mile training week and the 12 mile training week to be much easier than 10 miles. (oh yeah, and one more unrelated thing--you might find your last run before the race, even if it's only three miles, is awful. This doesn't mean you can't do the race! It's just some weird psychological thing, happens to me and my friends every time.)

Good luck! Half marathons are really the best distance IMO--you will have a fantastic time!
posted by min at 6:44 PM on April 27, 2008

I think a good rule of thumb for race day is to go with what you did while training. The consequences of this is if you want to try Gu or new shoes, you need to incorporate this stuff now.

Good luck.
posted by mmascolino at 7:22 PM on April 27, 2008

I've been seeing your numbers of the mefi challenge as well... it looks like you're prepared. You'll do fine. The most important thing to remember is have fun.
posted by ph00dz at 8:02 PM on April 27, 2008

Wow, such great advice! Thanks everybody. For that folks that mentioned it, I do most of my weekday (shorter) runs first thing in the morning, but my longer weekend runs tend to be in the afternoon. (It's coming on winter here so it gets dark too early to run when I get home from work.) The race will be in the morning but I don't think it'll be too harsh an adjustment.

I get my shoes (currently Asics) from Joe at the Runner's Shop in Clovelly. I won't have a chance to get in for a proper fitting before the weekend, and it appears from their site that my particular shoe has been superceded. I dropped him an email today to see if the new version would be suitable for me to use. If it is, I'll get it sent over so I can start breaking them in right away. Otherwise I can always wait til after the race. (In fact, that might be a nice reward for myself...)

I'm going to pick up some Gu packets and give them a try too...

So thanks again! I haven't marked any best answers because, seriously, everybody gave great advice. Hopefully I'll be able to come back in three weeks and update you all with my successful PB finishing time... :)
posted by web-goddess at 8:08 PM on April 27, 2008

for someone who's considering training up for a half-marathon, what are GUs? energy gels, shot blocks, energy beans?
posted by canine epigram at 10:38 AM on April 28, 2008

Clif Shot Bloks. Basically energy meant to be consumed during your athletic performance. The difference being different flavors, manufactures, chemical compounds and form factors.
posted by mmascolino at 11:23 AM on April 28, 2008

Hey, MetaFilter... I did it.

Thanks to everyone for their great advice. I actually had a discouraging setback two weeks before the race - I caught a nasty cold. I guess it was good for enforcing my taper, but I really stressed wondering whether my lungs would be recovered enough to run. Fortunately when I stood at the starting line this morning, I felt great. I finished in just over two and a half hours, which was pretty much my goal. I'm happy.

And just to follow-up on specifics:

I *did* get new shoes, but given my health I was only able to do a couple of short runs in them. I did the race in my old shoes. It'll be nice to be able to alternate for a while.

I successfully used a Powerbar gel during my last long run (the 18km I did the day before I got sick), so I carried one with me today. I ended up really needing it at about the 14km mark, so thanks to all who suggested it.

Who's up for the Melbourne half-marathon in October? :)
posted by web-goddess at 9:06 PM on May 17, 2008

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