First Marathon: What Went Wrong

Science at workOne of the things I have enjoyed most about having run a marathon is how much I learned along the way. I am very aware that I have barely scratched the surface of most topics related to running and training and I find it encouraging that there is always something new to learn about the sport. Part of running is science and understanding how the body works and how all the muscles work together, and part of running simply personal and figuring out what works best for you.

Training

Considering I was able to finish the marathon, I think it’s safe to say that not that much went wrong, but there are certainly some lessons learned from this first experience and some things I will do different next time. I’ve mentioned before that my running friend and I took a 16-week plan and crammed it into nine weeks. Definitely lesson number one. There is a reason they don’t make a 9-week program and it’s because your body really does need time to adapt to mileage. At one point I caught myself feeling grateful that we were doing the training in only nine weeks because I dreaded the idea of running multiple 14, 16, or 18 mile routes for several Sundays in a row. It seemed fine at the time to simply add an extra 2 or 3 miles to the long run every weekend.

When my IT band pain kicked in I quickly learned the reason for slowly building miles. Lesson number two came with the pain. It hit me at the end of a 21.5 mile training run and instead of immediately researching what it could be I went to a girlfriend’s birthday brunch. I ran on that pain for two more days attempting to ignore it until I realized I needed to nip it in the bud, which is what I should’ve done when it first started. I did follow the rule of nixing running in favor of cycling, but I waited too long to start icing and I definitely dilly dallied in adding a foam roller to my treatment routine. Once I discovered I could buy the foam roller at my local Target, I was kicking myself for having waited until three days before the marathon to buy one. In the end, I think I got lucky. I knew I would have pain running, and I did, but perhaps I could have had less, or none at all if I had 1.) done a 16-week training plan and 2.) used stretching, ice, and the foam roller all at the onset of the pain.

Eating

Despite the fact that I spent plenty of time researching and learning about hydration and proper diets for runners, I still did not practice all that I learned. By no means I was I unhealthy, but I could have trained myself a little better with hydration while running and I could have made smarter eating choices the day before the run.

Pasta and carbohydratesI read a great article on Active.com about how to run a marathon and Jeff Galloway, the author, makes a pretty good point about not over carb-loading. Unfortunately, I made an amazing loaf of bread and a good mix of pasta and did the exact opposite of what Galloway suggested for dinner. There is no question in my mind that I over-carbed the day before the race. I had a small piece of lasagna for lunch (ironically, the meal served at a baby shower I attended that afternoon), and the pasta, bread, and salad dinner. The other glitch with dinner is that I think we ate a little too late in the day (8p.m.) and with a 5:30a.m. wake-up call I don’t think my body had enough time to digest the enormous dinner.

My fuel belt carries four 8oz. bottles and I have only ever run with two of them. On my longest runs I only consumed one Gu pack. Most things I’ve read suggest 8 oz. of fluid for every hour you run past six miles. So at the very least I should’ve gotten used to running with and consuming a third 8oz. bottle of water. Race day it was cold and usually the last thing I want do in the cold is drink something cold. I also don’t seem to get thirsty when I run so I had to force myself to drink the two bottles I had in my fuel belt and when they were finished, I was too stubborn to stop at any of the water stations and drink more. If this is the science part of running, I should get used to drinking more while running.

During the race I took two Gu packs, one Vanilla Bean (my favorite) and one Lemon Sublime (surprisingly good). At the risk of sharing too much information, let’s just say they went right through me and I was grateful for well-placed porta-pots. Perhaps it was the combination of race day adrenalin, maybe it was all in my head, or maybe Gu is just not the best fuel for me, but they didn’t sit well and I was bummed having to take two potty breaks. I had plenty of training time to experiment with different energy foods, drinks, gus, and chews but I didn’t. By the time the next race rolls around I just may be an energy food connoisseur and I will have definitely figured out what combination sits best in my stomach and boosts my energy.

Post-Race

During the race itself, I think most things went right. The weather cooperated, the course was easy to navigate, my pace was comfortable, and I tried to be cognizant of my form especially whenever I started to feel tired. I had been determined to sprint through the finish line and as with any other race you are to continue walking and moving to cool down. According to Galloway, you should walk for at least a 1/2 mile. I maybe walked 100 yards. I was too excited about having just finished, I had family and friends to hug, hot chocolate to drink, and a brunch to get to. Unless the extra lengths across the parking lot to my car count, I never completed a sufficient cool-down walk after the run.

The afternoon and day after the run I am sad to admit that I have not completed sufficient stretching or movement either. The pain in my IT band continued after the race and through most of the day after and I know it’s critical that I continue the ice, foam roller, and stretching for that muscle if I am to run pain-free in the future. However, there is no question that I should have spent more time on proper cool-down and stretching immediately following the race.

All in all, plenty of things could have been worse and I’m grateful for each thing that I learned from this first experience. Each run is a chance to learn something new and to improve and I look forward to discovering all the things I don’t yet know.

If you have any lessons learned from your own training or running experiences, please feel free to share them.

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