I asked some of my inspiring runner pals a bunch of questions about their marathon training advice and compiled all of their answers into one place!
ADVICE ABOUT TRAINING
I am officially committed to my first ever marathon! If I am able to survive training, the 26.2 will happen on March 30, 2019 in Carmel, Indiana. Holy moly. I currently feel excited, nervous, crazy, and exhausted all at the same time.
Here’s what I know: marathon training is no joke. I can’t say this from personal experience, but I know from several other people that training is something to take seriously. It’s important to prioritize safe and smart preparation to have the best training and experience on actual race day.
Here’s what I don’t know: much about marathon training.The longest I have ever run consecutively is 14 miles so I don’t know too much about going longer than that. There are about a million questions I have, so I narrowed a list and sent it on to some of my inspiring runner pals who have conquered amazing races from marathons, ultras, and the like. If you’re committing to a race or interested in their advice, I compiled all of their answers and you can find them below.
Do you have recommendations on maintaining proper nutrition while training? Or how to change eating habits while training?
- “I personally have to up my daily intake of calories during my training cycle. I typically eat 2200 calories a day and during peak marathon training I need close to 2800 calories a day. For me I had to just eat when I was hungry, which was far more often than usual. I also had to focus on eating whole food rather than processed snacks. Also drink a ton, if you think you’re drowning from the amount your drinking… you’ll be doing good.”
- “I meal prepped every week (which you already do) and measured my macronutrients so I was sure I wasn’t skimping on protein and carbs. Rice: I ate a lot of rice to get in my carbs. I also would recommend taking prenatal vitamins and iron pills and glucosamine pills if you don’t already. Female athletes, as I’m sure you know, and especially marathoners, are often low on iron which causes issues transporting oxygen in the blood and makes you feel sluggish. Glucosamine is good for joint health and your joints take a lot of repeated beating and this will help keep those functioning.”
- “Of all the aspects related to distance running, I believe that nutrition is the most variable. What works for one person gives the other cramps one mile in. I know of ultra runners who’ve won races by eating icing out of the can and others who spend hours prepping a vegan masterpiece for their race. I’d only say to try to eat clean, to experiment, to stick with whatever tastes good and seems to agree with you, and to make sure you’re taking in enough calories as your mileage increases to sustain yourself.”
Do you have any go-to meals for pre- and post- long runs?
- “Two days before a long run increase your carbs. Two days out I would probably eat at least 2 pieces of bread and oatmeal for breakfast. The day before a long run get those carbs in! I love to load up on whole wheat bread, a sweet potato, or rice.”
- “Pre long runsI always eat the same thing for breakfast. Quaker Oats Maple Brown Sugar oatmeal with a tablespoon of peanut butter. For some this may seem heavy, but it is high sugar and keeps me sustained for a long time. I eat it before every run religiously.”
- “Post long runsI always have a carb heavy snack. Normally I am not super hungry after a run, but after running for a long time your body needs to replenish its glycogen storage. My typical go to’s are pita bread and hummus, PB&J, English Muffins with yogurt, or a granola bar. I eat one of those variations about 30 minutes post run. Then I will eat a full meal an hour or so after my long run.”
- “I do all my long runs in the morning so pre long runsI would always have a piece or two of peanut butter toast about an hour before running (sometimes I would wake up and eat it then go back to bed for an hour if I had to do it really early). Post long runI always ate an apple or banana and a granola bar and a sports drink or fruit juice to replenish electrolytes and get some protein in me as soon as I got back while I was stretching. If I didn’t have time for that I would have a coffee-based protein shake that I make with protein powder, coffee, a frozen banana, three tablespoons of a nut butter, and milk. Then I would eat an early lunch. I ate whatever I wanted. Usually I had Mexican food because of rice and meat for carbs and protein.”
- “Pasta of course is a classic pre run meal that’s treated me well. A spicy deluxe from Chick-fil-A with fries has also led to some of my best races. Again, what works for you is what’s best. Personally, I have to eat a long while before a long run to give my stomach time to process and settle. If I eat something beforehand, it’s something bland and easy to process. And for post-run, whatever you’re hungry for. Ice cream from the carton. A burger. Pasta. And if you can be sure to throw some protein in there, that’s even better.”
Best fuel for during a run?
- “I am a big fan of GU gels because they are handy and easy on my stomach. In my most recent ultra I used the Clif Gel Shot, which was also a super good option for me, and cheaper, which is a bonus. During long training runs I try not to use gel. Mostly because I’m in college and run far too much to have the money for gels all the time. I train with my nutrition I will use on race day on my two longest runs in the training cycle. On other long runs I usually bring honey packets, granola bars, or PB&J sandwiches. Some people can’t stomach food while running, I haven’t had that be an issue and I find it to be just as effective as gels.”
- “During runs I am loyal to GU, that’s what worked for my stomach, and I would have one every 6-7 miles. I would honestly experiment with some different goos and see which one your stomach handles best. Practice carrying it with you on runs and opening it while running. It is important to practice training and doing long runs and tempo runs EXACTLY LIKE you will in a race. Same clothes, same refueling practices, same pre-run and post-run meals/snacks. Practice drinking at race pace too. Have someone (Alan possibly) set cups of water or Powerade along your long run route and practice picking them up and drinking them while running. Your body needs to know how to process liquid while running especially if you are planning on drinking the Gaterade/Powerade on race day. Not practicing beforehand could mess with your routine the day of.”
- “For marathon training distances, I really like Clif shot blocks, ProBar blocks, and Nuun performance mix.”
Anything else I should know about nutrition?
- “Carb loading is best if done two days in advance. Start carb loading on Thursday for a Saturday long run. Carb on Thursday and Friday, because trust me, you will feel so much better afterwards. Also treat yourself after longs runs, you deserve to. I am a big fan of sweets so I will often be seen with ice cream in hand.”
- “Caffeine can be a huge benefit! Depending upon how it affects you and how much you consume normally, caffeine can provide a great boost later in a race, and a lot of blocks and drink mixes have caffeinated options.”
What would you consider the essential gear to have while training?
- “My recommendations are:
- Garmin Watch – need the accurate GPS distance
- 2 pairs of good running shoes – the amount I run in marathon training does not give my one pair of shoes enough time to recover and the foam to breathe. Having two pairs of shoes ensures you are always running in dry shoes, and your shoes have time to breathe. Plus who doesn’t love running shoes!
- A good sports bra – Maybe it’s just me, but I am more blessed on top, so I need to support myself or else I will have back pain. The Brooks Juno bra has been amazing for me.”
- “Literally just wear what is comfortable to you. Wear the same sports bra during every long run day (the same one you will wear on race day). You’ll need a good, comfortable running pouch to keep your goo in and anything else you think you’ll need during your run. I carry tissues in mine along with my goo and my car keys. Other than that, it’s seriously just normal training gear.”
- “A good pair of shoes, of course, along with shorts and a shirt that get the job done. And since you’ll have a lot of winter training, plenty of warm gear so your mind doesn’t have any excuse to not go out and train in the cold. And specifically for long runs, some sort of way to carry nutrition and hydration, be it a bottle, belt, or vest.”
Is there any gear you would consider non-essential that you just really loved?
- “The Spibelt. This is a thin waist pack that is stretchy; it can fit your phone, or all your nutrition. It is so comfortable and doesn’t feel heavy. Plus it comes in so many colors and patterns, which is a bonus! (Mine is American Flag – how fun!)”
- “I seriously am very minimalist. I run with my watch, comfy sports bra, shorts, a t-shirt, my shoes, and socks. That’s it. On long runs I have my running pouch with goo. But that’s it. I like to run every race wearing what I’m going to wear while racing, which are just the bare essentials. Really I just make sure I have very nice shoes and my watch is charged.”
- “I usually run with an iPod during training to listen to music and podcasts, but running without that can be a good mental challenge.”
If you have to pack your marathon bag right now, what would be in it?
- “My go-to bag: Brooks Glycerins, Bose SoundSport Headphones, American Flag SpiBelt, Balega socks, Brooks Juno Bra, Some shirt (any shirt that is wicking, preferably a fun color), and Lululemon Speed Tights (they have side pockets, so worth the money!)”
- “Extra socks! And an extra set of clothes in general. I would pack what I would wear on race day (minimalist), my goo, my roller, and an extra set of clothes. That’s basically it. Most marathons provide hospitality tents at the finish line and I just eat/drink whatever they have there so no need to pack food really unless you are particular about post-race nutrition.”
- “Shoes. Lucky shorts & singlet. iPod & headphones. Sunglasses. Hair tie. Socks. Hat. Anti-chafe. Band aids. Sunscreen. Pre-race snacks – clif bars, Oreos, bananas. Really comfy clothes to wear after the race. Info about the course/aid points downloaded to my phone to study beforehand. Hydration vest with supplies if the race is self-supported.”
Best apparel for running in the winter and early spring?
- “32 degrees makes the best thermal layers, and they are super cheap! I wear the men’s version because I prefer a looser fit, but I love the color selection, price, and how warm and dry they keep me.”
- “Something to keep your neck warm. Team BUFF for me, but any sort of neck gaiter is essential to stay warm.”
- “Fleece lined leggings. You can find these tons of places but in the dead of winter they will keep you going. Mine are Nike but any brand should work! I typically layer mine with sweatpants when it gets really cold.”
- “Whatever you’re most comfortable in. Honestly, to each his own. I have a really nice pair of fleece leggings and a fleece pullover that I love from Costco.”
- “Definitely a hard shell jacket to repel rain and snow. Leggings. A beanie. Gloves that have fingers and a mitten shell that can be pulled over them (they’re awesome!). Multiple pairs of shoes in case one gets soaked and you need a dry pair for the next run before they can dry out.”
Anything else I should know about gear or apparel?
- “Invest in a good handheld water bottle. Any run over 12 I bring water no matter the temperature. I don’t race with one but it is a must to train with.”
- “Find a really nice pair of socks and splurge on them. Your feet are important and deserve to be pampered. Find a comfy/thick pair for cold days/long runs and a thin pair for speed days. I like Belga for long run day socks because they’ve got nice padding and are sweat-wicking. I prefer Feetures for my thinner socks because they help with blood flow. Also, make sure you get new shoes every 400-600 miles.”
- “Salomon is expensive, but I’ve yet to find anything better. Their shoes, vests, and apparel are ridiculously durable and have yet to let me down.”
How do you battle injury during training?
- “Everyone probably says this, but you know your body better than any one! I don’t stretch, I just have no need to. After runs I foam roll for at least 10 minutes and I do leg swings. However that may cause injuries for someone. As a general statement, I would say the way I have been relatively injury free is a slow increase in mileage, foam rolling, and listening to your body. If your ankle is killing you, don’t run 8 miles – cross train instead.”
- “The marathon training process and distance is hard on the body, so be ready and willing to adapt to the circumstance and train only as much as your body can handle. Take a weekly recovery day where you do absolutely nothing!”
- “I’m giving you Youtube links below to pre- and post-run routines. Follow Coach Jay Johnson on Youtube for some good routines. (Here’s the link.) Routines and strength training are just as important as any run. If you are slim on time one day and are making a judgment between cutting a mile off your run or cutting out your pre-/post- routine, CUT THE MILE. Never, never, never skimp on your mobility and strength drills. And make sure you roll out after 3 runs a week, and ice bath after every long run (Fill a bath tub with ice and ice cold water so it is about 50 degrees). Also, monitor your nutrients. I never counted calories because that’s not what’s important, but I always tracked my macronutrients to make sure I was getting enough protein and carbs. If you are missing out on protein you will get a lot of muscle injuries, and if you are missing carbs you will be exhausted which can lead to improper form, which leads to injury.”
- Youtube videos with routines to follow pre-/post-run
- Do the leg swing matrix before every run
- Complete the SAM (Strength and Mobility) routines after at least 3 runs a week. Do SAM phase 1 first then work your way up to phase 5 over 10 weeks (each phase for 2 weeks), then back down while tapering.
- Ugh. Injuries SUCK. A big thing for me has been keeping perspective. If you encounter a scenario where an injury may keep you from racing, remember that no race is worth pushing through an injury and leaving yourself even worse off for. The race isn’t everything. And if it’s an injury that puts you behind schedule, readjust your expectations and keep rolling.”
Are there any weird injuries you experienced that you weren’t expecting?
- “My feet! I never had a problem with my feet until my peak training weeks of a 50k. The tops of my feet ached to even walk. Before then I didn’t even think you could stretch your feet, but turns out you can and you should! Doing simple toe raises and flexes should prevent any problems.”
- “After long runs my shoulders would be on fire! They were far more bothersome than my legs. I learned that the longer I ran the more I held up my shoulders, so consciousness being aware that I needed to keep my shoulders relaxed and arms down really helped me.”
- “Nope. I didn’t get injured during my training except for a sprained ankle from falling off a curb. But I did all the things mentioned above so I imagine that helped avoid injury.”
What the heck do I need to know about chafing? (I don’t experience this now…)
- “Chafing is real. There is nothing worse than being at mile 24 and being more concerned about the agonizing chafing where you least expect, rather than the finish line. If you are going to experience chafing you will probably find out in your training cycle on those really long runs. If it starts to happen take note, change your gear or take precautionary measures next time you use the gear. Body Glide, an anti chafe stick, can be put anywhere and has been an absolute lifesaver for me.”
- “Also to prevent chafing train in the gear you plan on racing in. I always heard people say that. But when race day came 15 degrees colder than anticipated, I just went with something I had never trained in, big mistake. I would have much rather been cold than pulling on my shirt the entire race.”
- “I have never chaffed and if you haven’t this far I image you won’t unless you change your running form. Just find a good sports bra and shorts and that shouldn’t be a problem.”
- “Not experiencing it now is a great first sign! It can happen in less common places for some people (like armpits for one friend of mine), and it can strike at unexpected times. Bottom line, applying something like Body Glide to common problem areas before a long run or race can only help you and I’d highly recommend it, even if you currently don’t have any issues.”
Anything else I should know about injury or what happens physically while training?
- “There is no better cure than the pool. Once a week I would spend swimming laps, and doing leg swings in the pool. Even after my sorest days the pool saved my life.”
- “Just be smart. If you feel a twinge or slight pain it is better to be cautious and move to the bike than push through. Don’t be scared to take a break every once in a while. Fatigue fades faster than fitness.”
- “Stretching can go a long way to keeping your body limber as you keep racking up the miles. Some core exercises and joint exercises for your knees and hips can also help balance out what your body is going through.”
How did you mindset shift from regular running to marathon training?
- “When I just ran regularly or even when I ran half marathons it was a hobby. I ran when I wanted and where I wanted. Transitioning to the marathon changed running from a hobby to a full time commitment. The commitment isn’t forever but you do have to sacrifice things to get in all the training. As awesome as the marathon is, it takes time and lots of training. Staying up late and hanging out with friends on Friday nights is fun, but you won’t like the 6 a.m. alarm for the Saturday long run.”
- “Honestly, my mindset changed zero. It was just longer runs, which meant more time for me to think about lesson planning lol. That was about it.”
- “I definitely had to learn to loosen my obsession with maintaining a set speed for each mile and roll with what the run/my body was giving me. You may hit a low stretch in a run, and you’ll bounce back, and drop back down, and bounce back again. You’ve just gotta roll with it and push when it’s wise to do so. Also, long runs can just take a looooong time. So mentally addressing that, embracing it, and learning to be ok with being in your own mind quite a bit is a pretty big thing.”
How did you hype yourself up for runs?
- “The biggest thing I do is I tell myself I GET to do this run. I never HAVE to do anything. There is always the opportunity to better myself, and get out there and test my body, I GET to do that. I say that in my head in the morning when my bed seems cozier than the pavement.”
- “Another huge factor for me is having a great playlist. You’re going to be out there for a long time, so you need some good jams that keep you pepped up. I also found that podcasts made the time go quickly.”
- “If you can get others out there with you, then your way more hyped. Running is always better together. Most people don’t want to join me on my long runs, 18 miles isn’t everyone’s idea of fun. But I love to go on shorter loops with my running buds, it makes it way more fun and breaks up the distance.”
- “I am generally super hyped to run every day. I look forward to my runs every day. It is my escape from responsibility and my time to myself.”
- “With music, or some sort of inspirational video, or looking through race details and reminding myself of what’s out there to be looked forward to.”
Any recommendations when you weren’t motivated?
- “I was often unmotivated. Motivation for me is fleeting, but discipline is not. Everyday I had a long run, or short training run I dreaded, I forced myself to get out of bed, into running clothes and just start for 1 mile. At the end of the mile if I still was struggling to motivate myself I would ask myself if I could do one more. By mile 2 or 3 I felt good, and didn’t want to turn around. It’s not always fun, but you have to keep in mind the end goal, the finish line!”
- “Just take the first step. I know it may sound ridiculous, but convince yourself to at least get out the door. Once you’re actually moving, it’s almost always so much better.”
Anything else I should know?
- “Marathons are easy to burn yourself out on. If one day you are absolutely dreading running, and it’s an easy run day. Skip it. Do something else. Come back the next day and hit it harder. Focus on getting your long runs in. Everyone is human and everyday won’t be great, so be easy on yourself and give yourself time to take a break if you need one.”
- “Finding a mantra was super important for me. I needed something to go back to and repeat to myself when my body started to really give in. I personally run with bible verses on the bottom of my shoes. Hebrews 12:1 and 1 Corinthians 10:13.”
- “Follow lots of marathoners/runners on Instagram. They post inspirational stuff daily. I recommend Shalane Flanagan (@shalaneflanagan), Jenny simpson (@trackjenny), Jordan Hasay (@jordanhasay), Danna Herrick (@danna.k.herrick), and Colleen Quigley (@steeple_squigs). Danna is a Truman grad and is fantastic!!!!”
- “The mental aspect of long distance running cannot be emphasized enough. You can do more than you think you can. I promise. And the longer you push, the further you go, the more you mind grows and the stronger it becomes to power you through those terrible stretches.”
Any general advice to prepare?
- “It will take an army to get you to the finish line. There are days when it doesn’t seem worth it and the distance is daunting. Even after running 2 full marathons and an Ultra, I still question if I could ever do it again. Sometimes I just need the people I love to remind me what I am capable of. Take in all the encouragement you can get!”
Anything else you can think of?
- “One of my favorite things I did was run a half marathon in my training cycle. I ran it slowly at a marathon pace, but it was a great reminder of why I love to run and how great the running community is. Before the half I did 5 warm up miles, and then ran the half… BOOM there was my weekly long run, and I got a metal, a chat with fun people, and gatorade on the course.”
- “Practice every long run and tempo run like it is a race! This will help you get into the groove on race day and feel comfortable. Wear the same clothes; use the same goo and goo flavors, same pre-run nutrition, etc.”
- “Have fun! Run with other people whenever you can. Shake up the routes you take for your runs. Be prepared to hold your training plan with an open plan and to be flexible as life happens. Missing a run isn’t the end of the world. Your body will dumbfound you. You’ll have prepped everything right for a long run and you’ll run like crap. You’ll sleep terribly and eat nothing and then have your best run of the month. Yes there’s good advice and guidelines to follow, but so much of it is a mystery to be individually unwrapped, so embrace and enjoy the process!”
I am planning on posting updates throughout the training process, or at least one final post about the training, to share about my experience. Though I am nervous, I am also SUPER stoked for this journey. If you have any recommendations, tips, advice, or ANYTHING, please send it all my way!
Here’s to many happy and healthy miles!