Fall doesn’t just mean lower temperatures and colorful leaves. It’s the season for some of the world’s best marathons, including races in D.C. and New York. And with those races just around the corner, if you are in the midst of training for one and reading this, you probably feel as if you could use a nap, a bear-sized lunch or maybe both.
Indeed, no one could fault you for feeling hungry or tired during “monster month” — the phase of marathon buildup just before your taper. It’s a time when long weekend runs regularly stretch into 20-plus mile territory. Weekly totals can reach well north of 40–50 miles, even soaring into the triple digits for the super committed. When your training volume is that high, you’ll need to pay extra-close attention to how you take care of yourself. “One of the hardest parts about the marathon is getting to the starting line healthy,” says Tyler Jermann, marathon runner representing Under Armour with a marathon personal best of 2:16.
“I remember reading an article a few years back about how regimented Paula Radcliffe was during her prime, scheduling practically every minute of every day,” says Matt Llano, a U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials competitor. “That’s some of the best advice I’ve ever received. I don’t take it to the extremes that she did, but I do schedule out most of my days in advance to make sure that I fit in all of the ‘little things’ that make great runners.”
Jermann echoes the sentiment of having a plan. “For me the keys to marathon training are to focus on building into it slowly and making sure you have enough time to prepare before the race,” he says. It’s also paramount to listen to your body, and remember that it’s OK to deviate from the plan to keep the big picture in mind. “No one big workout or long run gets you ready for the race, it’s the cumulative effort over your entire buildup, so don’t push through any injury pain, only that normal burn in your legs (because isn’t that enough pain already!).”
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What are some of those little things? Runners, coaches and trainers agree that, when your personal odometer starts rising, the following areas of your life are worth some extra TLC:
BE SYSTEMATIC WITH YOUR POST-RUN DIET
You know you’re supposed to refuel after you run. Your friends tell you that, magazines say it too and so does your stomach, which might be trying to steer you toward a sky-high stack of pancakes after a long run. Before you pour on the syrup, stop and think of what your post-run meal is actually meant to do.
“Intense and long workouts cause micro-tears in the muscles,” says Pamela Nisevich Bede, RD, certified specialist in sports dietetics. “These tears, if not repaired, lead to muscle breakdown, soreness and that leaden leg feeling most endurance athletes are all too familiar with.”
How does your body fix those micro-tears? With the help from dietary protein. Bede says you can turn the breakdown into a rebuilding process by eating 15–30 grams of protein within an hour after your run. But fear not, flapjack fans. Carbs are part of the equation, too. “You want to add 2–4 times as many carbs to this meal in order to restock the glycogen stores you just burnt off,” Bede says. “Keeping your glycogen stores high will keep you energized and out of the overtraining mode,” agrees Jermann. “You should also train your stomach for race day by eating before your long runs and workouts and even practice with fluids, gels and sports drinks during your big long runs,” he says.
THINK ABOUT ‘SMALL’ AND ‘NEAR’
When you’re staring at a weekly mileage total that seems more fit for your car than your feet, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. The secret to staying out of your head is to shift your focus to smaller goals that are nearer in time.
“I’ve found that the best way to tackle a huge problem that seems unmanageable as a whole, is to focus on completing each component part to the best of your ability,” says Scott Fauble, a professional racer. “Taking it hour by hour, day by day, allows you to lose focus on what seemed like an impossible task and instead be mindful of accomplishing smaller goals at a high level.“
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At the moment, Fauble is putting his own advice to work. He’s currently training for his marathon debut at the Frankfurt Marathon on October 29. What’s he learned so far? “If you’re doing a workout, be present at the workout. If you’re doing strength work or prehab or rehab, be there. Do that and do it well. If you’re supposed to be recovering, then recover,” Fauble says. “When you’re mindful of your current actions, big blocks of training take care of themselves.”
Jermann advises, “Just don’t make the fatal mistake of racing a marathon in training — it takes too much out of your legs and you may not be able to bounce back before the big day. Don’t leave your race on the trails when nobody is watching.”
WATCH YOUR HYDRATION LEVELS
Bede says that many athletes show up for workouts at least slightly dehydrated. That’s bad news, because studies show that being even 2% dehydrated can have a negative impact on performance. There’s an easy way to keep an eye on your hydration level: Just check out the color of your pee. You want it to be similar in color to light lemonade. If it’s darker, drink up. And you can take an even more precise approach on your workout days.
“Many experts recommend that you over-drink the amount of fluid you lost during the run in order to fully recover,” Bede says. “If you’re not sure how much you are losing, step on the scale naked before and after a run and assess total weight loss. For every pound of fluid lost, consume 20–24 ounces of electrolyte-containing fluids to recover.”
GEAR UP FOR YOUR NEXT RUN