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Thursday, January 26, 2012

How I train: Racing

Day three of how I train...
Today let's talk about races. After all, they're kind of why I run.

Races: I run a lot of races because they give me a goal to work for. Who cares if that makes me a moron. I like to schedule them close enough together that I don't have to start training all over again and I've always run better at my second race.
I feel like full marathons are my best distance, but I don't know if that is really true since I almost never run any other distances. I will do the occasional half, but short distances don't appeal to me. I know I am definitely a distance type because I generally underperform at short distances. For example, I have never run a 5k under 21 minutes! (Edit - have run under 20 now). And not for lack of trying, either! I've noticed that if I use the Mcmillan calculator to estimate my race times, I will always outperform at the marathon distance and underperform at shorter distances.  Meanwhile, if I attempt to do speed work at my extrapolated "5k pace" or "2 mile pace" I struggle to complete the workouts.

Training plans: I am not good at following training plans. I prefer, instead, to stay at half-marathon shape all the time, and build up to a marathon over the course of 4 to 6 weeks. However, I do usually use a training plan as a general guide, although I often jump in half-way through. I used training plans for my first two marathons, and they were not tough enough. They didn't challenge me, and they didn't have enough long runs or mid-distance runs. This is probably because they were beginner's plans and just had too much time off.
Sorry. I doodle a lot.
This is a plan I downloaded for the Louisiana marathon and sorry, I don't remember where from. As you can see, this one I started at week 7, since it actually included THREE marathons - two of my three 20+ milers were replaced by marathons. I did a lot of hand-correcting, and I was very liberal with this plan - it called for very high mileage (including a 28 mile run) and I cut almost every week down. Then I lost it completely around Christmas, when my husband took over my desk to put up my new computer, and it just resurfaced in a stack of files yesterday. Lot of good that did.

Recovery: After a long or hot run, I love love love club soda. Club soda and eggs are all I want. I actually rarely have carbs after a race or run - unless it is race beer, which is a good club soda substitute - but sometimes I will make toast to soak up egg yolks or put scrambled eggs in a tortilla. I don't do anything specific for my muscles to recover; I do like to walk around a lot the same day to shake out any stiffness. I am rarely sore after a race - or ever, really. I don't take days off after a race - I get out and run the next day. Like I said, not a fan of days off.
When I was a jogger I ate what people told me to eat (carbs), but now I eat what I crave.

Marathons: I have done ten marathons, and I don't claim to be an expert. But here's a general idea of how I run a marathon.
For training, like I said, I jump in in the middle. I stay ready to do 13 on any given day, so generally my first long run will be 16 miles. I might do one, two, or three 20's and kind of decrease mileage the week leading up to the race.
I have the very worst race preparation ever known to man and I've pretty much just assumed that something will go wrong pre-race. I will have a dinner of hot wings and wine, have the busiest 9-hour work day of my life the day before, stay overnight with friends who never go to sleep, be late to the start, have a dead ipod or watch, whatever. Not one single race has started out well, and that's just my life. Like I said, it's complicated.
Race morning I give myself two hours to get up, have a little oatmeal, get ready, go to the bathroom, and make it to the start. I don't warm up before the race because I just don't know how. I heard someone last week say they were going to "stride it out" before the race and I had no idea what she was talking about.  I bring music since I think having a beat helps me in later miles, although I'm happy to talk to other runners until I start feeling like a pile of crap.
I would love to say that I pace well and negative-split, but I'll be honest here. I've never negative split in my life. I start too fast and those last miles hurt! (Oddly, miles 20 - 26 are my favorites. I feel like I'm almost home and it's mentally easier for me than, say, mile 16 or 18). Once in awhile I hit the wall - twice this season - but I am ok with that. As long as I started adding glucose early enough, I can push through it.
I am a big fan of cheering others on the course. Anyone out there is working hard and could use the encouragement, and it distracts me a little! So I'm pretty generous with the clapping, high-fives, and shouted encouragement. I always talk to people I pass, too, if it's a spread-out race: I'll tell them they look good, hold the pace, etc. I feel kind of mean and guilty passing people! Is that normal?!
Another distractor, besides cheering others on, is running tangents. I am a very good tangent runner and rarely go much over the race distance by Garmin (even in large RnR races I will be at 26.3 max). Tangents are like a game: I will think, "See that corner up there? Run a straight line to it". Then I reach the corner and pick the next object to make the shortest line.
When I get to mile 25 I always tell myself I will sprint and I never do. I am too exhausted. But those last fractions I'll hit it!

So what tricks do I have for successful marathons? 
- Well, the biggest change I've made is having confidence going in. I literally cried after my first marathon, I was so miserable. I was slow, injured, and in agony. That didn't help me much going into marathon number two! But as time goes on and I have more races under my belt, I know what's coming and I can judge my own fitness for the distance. I am a very reasonably confident person. That is, I'm good at knowing what I can and can't do and being quite confident about it. I usually call my races like pool: I can tell you the night before that I will run a 3:15 or a 3:30. When I hit the tough later miles, I remind myself that I am in the shape to run a 3:30 marathon, and it is well within my ability. I reason myself out of the low-glucose panic that can set it around mile 18.
- I've gotten better at fueling. This is entirely a personal thing, so do what you have to do to stay fueled! But I will tell you two things that have helped me:
1. I underfuel for regular long runs. This is partly because I'm cheap and Gu is pricey, and partly to encourage my body to convert fat to fuel in an attempt to go longer on a tank of energy on race day. And to get rid of my Armenian butt (it's not working).
2. I follow a set-in-stone fueling rule during races: If I'm between miles 13 and 22 and I feel a surge of energy, I immediately take some fuel. I know that this is a sign that I've moved from blood glucose to secondary sources of fuel like muscle glycogen, and while I feel good now, I'll crash soon if I don't supplement. This usually hits at mile 16 or 18 for me. Last race I couldn't stomach the gel I took at this point - it nauseated me immensely - and sure enough, I hit the wall.
- I start in the right corral. Like I said, I have a lot of confidence in both what I can and what I can't do, and one thing I can't do is conserve energy while passing slower runners. I get caught up in bunny-hopping and the next thing you know, my first mile was a 6:42 and I ran a good bit over 1 mile to get around people. All my bad races were ones in which I started too far back. The corrals are there for a reason, and being correctly corralled at the start is safer, faster, smarter, and more polite to other runners.
- I set a general finish time or pace goal. No more of this, "I just want to finish" crap. And you know what? It is crap. If you set that as your goal, well, then you can do better than that. You trained hard for your marathon, and you know how you're doing. Set a reasonable goal and work for it. ANYONE can "just finish" a marathon. Challenge yourself to a goal, work for it, and beat it at your next race!

Tomorrow we wrap up with some odds and ends and the mental aspect of training.
And then this weekend I will get to some questions!


  1. This is interesting!

    2 things on fuel- I order GU by the case on Amazon because it is a lot cheaper. And the little honey packets from coffee shop and restaurants work well too. You just have to master opening them without making a sticky mess out of yourself.

  2. Awesome! I have yet to even run a marathon, let alone race it... I have bookmarked every single part of this series! Thanks for being so real. :)

  3. I like the corral bit. It has taken me some time to get used to the idea of getting at the proper pace marker. Larger races can be daunting.
    I usually under fuel for all my runs, but experimenting this time around.

  4. This is great stuff, Gracie. So interesting. Fascinated by your observation on fueling (re: taking more after an energy surge). My last marathon was the first race that I didn't overeat (cue cramps/pooping), but I still continue to over-hydrate and get into bladder buster situations. Fueling/hydrating is so tricky.

    McMillan always places me better in the shorter runs!! Based on my most recent 10K, I should have run a 3:34ish marathon. It was a pretty hilly course though, so who knows.

  5. People who get in the wrong corral annoy me! Usually it is slower folks in the faster corral, rather than the opposite. I just hate having to pass a bunch of people right off the bat.

  6. Thanks for being so open and honest!! Good stuff! I need to take a few lessons from you about running the tangents. I always off- by more than all my friends for long runs and races. I need to figure that out better in race situations.

    Good advice about corrals and having pace goals. I will NEVER understand how someone could show up to a race with no time goal or pacing strategy.

    I am like you in that I like to race too. If I can work it out financially and child-care wise I love to race. Putting in races of varying distances makes a training plan much more exciting. : )

  7. Club soda is prob my favorite drink in the world.....never crave it after a run though. Oh man, I wish I had one of those home-brew club soda machines, that'd probably pay off in no time.

    Regardless, love these three posts, thanks for sharing your running thoughts.

  8. i think the always-in-shape-for-a-half helps you out a good bit -- that's a good base. course it's not the only thing contributing to your awesomeness.

    the plan looks like a runner's world one, but i could be wrong.

    tangents though? don't you know that these courses are really just long and the race directors are lying to us? ;) (i hate that mindset/argument some people have)

  9. Just came across your are impressive as hell! Looking forward to reading more!

  10. Thanks for the racing tips. I'm so going to use your tangent advice. Also about fueling, when I feel a surge of energy that means the bonk is coming... Good to know