What I Learned About Marathon Training – Part The Second

So, back in 2018, I eventually did run a marathon, and my next post will be about that. I talked about my first foray into marathon training here – this was during my failed attempt to train for the Cleveland Marathon in 2015. To summarize that story: too much, too fast, without a great plan to manage things.

I learned a bit with the 2015 attempt, but still made mistakes with the 2018 one. One thing I’m happy I did do was join a marathon training group at our local running store. It’s a great way to make you more accountable, plus they already have a built in plan so you don’t necessarily have to worry about figuring it out on your own. I had recently gone through a divorce and suddenly found myself with a lot more time on my hands, so I was able to devote multiple days a week to building endurance and mileage, and we had speed and hill workouts included as part of the training regimen. Things ticked along pretty well for awhile, but eventually repetitive strain injuries started to crop up. This time, instead of being my groin, it was my shin and ankle on my right leg. Thus, I had to shut down for almost four weeks, and it was really hard to get back on track, and I ended up toeing the line in November undertrained and underprepared. So, a few things to add to my list of lessons learned:

Slow down. No seriously. Slow down. Especially on long runs.

My tendency is still to go way too fast on training. I’ve lately been reading My Marathon by Frank Shorter (good book, by the way – I recommend checking it out) and Shorter’s advice is to build speed as if you were training for a 5K, but do the long runs reeeeeaaaallly slow. This may not work for everyone, I realize, but I seem to have this irrational fear of losing my cardio fitness. My cardio is just fine. I just ran a 20:16 5K at 48 years old (more on that in a future post) and that was without really training all that hard. I don’t need to do my long runs at a 5:00/K pace. But I seem to be unable to help myself. If I were ever to do this again, which I’m really not sure I ever will, I would definitely be very careful with in this regard, because it appears to be at the crux of my injury issues.

I need to have a much better plan for electrolyte replacement for long races.

When I got over the injury, I was able to do 3 runs of 19-21 miles. I had hoped that this would at least get me across the finish line in Hamilton, and it did. But a problem arose during one of the 20 milers which I should have paid attention to (evil foreshadowing here). I was doing a 20 miler around the region with Michael, one of my run group members. It was a very cool but sunny day, and I started out with a nylon windbreaker layer on over my run clothes. Michael is a veteran marathoner and he looked at me and said, “Are you sure you want to wear that thing?”

I’ll be fine, I replied, and I’ll take it off if I start getting too hot. He shrugged in capitulation.

Now, it turns out I sweat a lot when I run, even on cool days. I mean, quite a lot. At about 7 miles I was getting pretty uncomfortable with the outer layer on, and I noted as I took it off and tied it around my waist it was totally drenched. I didn’t think anything of this until we got to about mile 18 and I started getting pretty bad cramps in my quads. I was able to finish the run though, and bid farewell to Michael. The horror show started when I got in my car and tried to drive home, only to have my quads seize (in the middle of driving) in the most painful cramps I’ve ever experienced. I literally almost crashed the car. I stopped, got out, tried to walk around, but the cramps persisted. Somehow, I managed to get the car to a convenience store, bought 2 litres of sport drink, and chugged them down. After about 15 minutes, the cramps subsided to the point that I could operate a motor vehicle, but they still would reappear off and on throughout the remainder of the day. I put it down to the bad decision to wear the outer layer, but ultimately it turned out to be more than that, as I’ll outline in my marathon story.

It’s a really bad idea to run a marathon underprepared.

I’ll say this – I finished. But it was gnarly. A full training cycle would have made a lot of difference. It left me not really wanting to do another one. That may change one day. But you should give serious consideration to putting it off if you have any doubts.

Friends of mine sometimes ask if I’m glad I did it, and to be honest, I’m not sure. I don’t know if I’m really built for marathons, and I really didn’t perform anywhere near as well as I should have. I guess it’s something to tick off the bucket list, but I still feel like I have unfinished business. For now, I’m going to stick to what I do well, which is mostly 5 and 10K races and maybe the odd half-marathon. As they say, if marathons were easy, everyone would do them. Maybe I can run one someday that isn’t totally miserable.

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