Thursday, October 13, 2011

First Marathon Lessons


I learned a number of things from my first marathon (Steamtown 2011) and as I think of them I wanted to jot them down before my aging mind starts to forget.  Some things went well, others not so well.  I read all the books, the articles, the tweets, and listened to the advice of others.  But sometimes this hard-head of mine has just got to figure it out on its own. 
What Went Well
·         Getting there the night before and staying in a hotel not far from the start line.
·         Bringing my own breakfast and keeping the morning routine as ROUTINE as possible.
·         Finding some quiet time before the race start to reflect on my running plan
·         Listening to my favorite music before the run
·         Showing up prepared to run in any weather condition
·         Putting a generous layer of Body Glide on my feet and between my toes, my crotch (and I should have done my nipples too – ouch!)
·         Getting to bed early and taking a melatonin to assure steady sleep in an unfamiliar place/bed
·         Advance preparations – directions printed, read the pre-race materials, learned everything I could weeks before about the course and challenges
·         Run in the very same ratty shoes and socks that I did all my long runs in (unlike some of my friends that ran in new shoes - Nice Toe Blisters guys!)
·         Limiting time at the pre-race expo and doing touristy things, including finding Dunder Mifflin (which I guess doesn't exist but I suppose I already knew that!)
·         KT taped anything that morning that hinted at causing a problem later (in my case, my right ankle and shins)

What Didn’t Go Well
·         I shouldn’t have messed with stuff during my final month and taper period – buying supplements and trying new “things” that would give me an edge.  30 days before the race I was as prepared as I could be and should have trusted more in my training, and not spend money and effort on gimmicks.
·         I should have spent more time building upper leg strength with hill sprints, squats, lunges, etc., and doing more high intensity interval bike training and less bike “cardio” in the 3 months before.
·         To the extent possible, I should have driven the course the day before to collect visual cues and progress markers. 
·         I should have packed my night-before dinner instead of waiting at a crowded restaurant for 2 hours for a bowl of pasta.  Lots of stress expended there!
·         I should have spent more time during race week mentally preparing with visualization and positive affirmations.  I should have been confident on the start line, not apprehensive.
·         Stay focused during the race in any way possible.  I could not find my zone – too many distractions from conversations, spectators and course challenges.  It’s not a problem to find my zone when running solo – what I needed were my headphones so I could get to a mentally familiar place with music where I could relax. 
·         Don’t wear the clothes you bought at the expo the day before.  I did that with my running pants – which were close to what I packed but a bit hotter.  I should have worn my Brooks Running pants that I packed for the race.
·         I shouldn’t have worried about getting enough carbs the week before.  As a vegan I normally get enough anyway since that’s all I eat.  I over carb’ed, and felt heavy and sluggish.  I was about 4lbs heavier at race start than I wanted to be.  That was not the weight my legs were accustomed to carrying for 20 miles.  (4lbs x 160 steps per minute x 4 hours = 76.8 tons!!
·         Say hello to your support team when you see them on the course, but don’t make it an event.  Save it for the end when there’s time and the mental liberty to enjoy it.  At mid-race it’s not about their feelings, it’s all about my mental focus and what I need-- fresh water bottle, gel packs, slice of bread, whatever.
·         Don’t stay in a dive motel the night before no matter the cost or convenience.  A hot shower, a clean sink and a sparkling toilet are not to be underrated the night before your biggest personal event of the year. 
·         If you want a fast race, start speed work 3 months before.  Don’t decide you want speed on race day because you have adrenaline.

Overall Observations
Steamtown is a challenging course and I wouldn’t recommend it for a first time marathoner.  The downhill course was the attractive part to me, but when I signed up for it in April I was a runner of different capabilities and thought the downhill would make it a cakewalk.  Unfortunately I had no idea of what 8 miles of aggressive downhill running would do to my legs. 
People tell me I should be proud of my accomplishment.  I am, but the first thing that crossed my mind when I broke the finish line was “I WANT A DO OVER!”  The most disappointing aspect was that I had to walk.  Above all else, I wanted to just keep chugging, and my time would be my time – whatever it was.   Injuries happen and I understand that, but I wanted better for myself.
Determination – if you don’t already have it by the time race day arrives, you’re not finishing.  Period.  Months of preparation takes determination.  If you’re prepared and you show up for the race, you’re finishing that mother unless you get crippled by an injury.  It’s just a question of how well you finish.
That's it for now.  

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