Respect the Distance

Contributed by Stephanie Laska, a 2016 Ambassador for The San Francisco Marathon

Last month I ran my first of four marathons scheduled for 2016. I had three goals going in:

  1. Place in my division (Check! Second place Athena)
  2. Improve my time and PR (Check! By 6 smokin’ minutes)
  3. Finish strong (Definitely NOT­­ Ended up in the medical tent!).

Even though it looks like I came out ahead after all, I did achieve two out of three of my goals. in hindsight I truly believe goal three: FINISH STRONG was paramount. So important, in fact, that I’ve had trouble celebrating goals one and two! I have been stuck in post­race emergency recovery mode. Foam rollers, yoga, and stretching are my only friends these days.

Knowing I have three more marathons ahead of me, I want to dive deep and reflect on what worked and (especially what didn’t work!) to improve my training. Overall, the biggest lesson learned: respect the distance​(cue ominous music). Despite having run two marathons last year, apparently I forgot just how far 26.2 miles really is. I went into the race with overconfidence, but finished with humility. What can I do differently?

PACING:

I knew enough to watch my pace at the start line where many newbies sprint out like Flo Jo. I didn’t want to burn out. I settled into a comfortable pace soon after, and even made a friend to run with. It surprised me how the miles flew by having someone to talk to! Even if you plan to run with a partner or pace group, it’s vital that you listen to your own body, and adjust your pace accordingly. I had written my motto #runyourownrace on my hand in Sharpie, but chose companionship over common sense for many miles at too ­fast a pace, and my health may have suffered. Note to self: run the marathon at the pace trained at during long runs. My body conditioned itself at this pace, and come race day, nothing magical happened! Pushing myself too fast resulted in tired muscles for the later miles of the marathon. (Course Gu does not equal magic potion.)

TRAINING SCHEDULE:

Follow the training schedule and don’t cut corners. Due to some vacation and work travel, I missed a couple of my long runs. I figured since I’ve already ran two marathons last year I didn’t need to be so diligent. Wrong! That “time on your feet” doesn’t just prepare your fitness level, but helps you iron out all of the kinks of fueling, hydration, bathroom stops and gear. Many of you may be following a training schedule with a variety of runs built in: speed work, hills, maintenance and long runs. There is a method to the madness! I did not incorporate fartleks into my training, and when I made the “marathoners sprint” toward the finish line, my lungs literally panicked and I suffered an asthma attack. (Not a glamorous finish line photo, people!). For the next go­around, I will respect the advice of runners before me and treat my training calendar with more reverence.

MARATHON FINISH GOAL:

Common sense math might teach you to estimate your marathon finish time by simply doubling your half marathon time ­­ Wrong! Your average per mile time on your longest run (like your pace for a run of 20 miles) is a better predictor of your marathon finish time (multiply that pace per mile by 26.2 for a more realistic finish time). If you have a specific marathon finishing time goal in mind (like qualifying for the Boston Marathon), work backwards dividing your end time goal in minutes by the number of miles. (Be sure to allot for possible bathroom stops! You do not want to be that guy ­ or gal ­ peeing themselves to make goal. Really, this happens, people!) Although I had calculated the precise per minute pace I needed to meet my goal prior to the race, I failed to remember it exactly in my delirious 20+ mile state of mind. I was lucky to successfully shave 6 minutes off my time, but was 14 seconds from beating the hour mark. Wow, 14 seconds! A non­runner might think this is crazy ­­ it’s not like I’m winning the marathon here ­­ but every runner who has a race under their belt understands the thrill of breaking through an hour mark or meeting a goal like Boston Qualification. Had I known I was soooooo very close, I wouldn’t have spent so much time in the port­a­-pot trying to get the toilet paper roll started. Sigh…

FUELING:

Fuel consistently and often. Don’t wait to spiral down in energy before taking in energy. I realized that I played “runners roulette” when fueling during this last marathon with an odd assortment of fuel: Gu, chocolate covered espresso beans, rice Krispy treats (please don’t judge), banana and pretzels. Although I liked having choices and variety, I need a more consistent plan of calorie intake on a mileage schedule to maintain an even energy output and prevent hitting the wall.

MULTI­LAYERED GOALS:

I’m a huge fan of creating layered goals for a race, so no matter what happens, you can achieve success. This would be an A goal (a pie in the sky), B (backup goal), and C (just in case), and so forth. You can keep on going down the alphabet to cover all of your bases! Looking back on my last marathon, I forgot the key concept of this strategy: so I can achieve success! ​My type­ A personality took over and I became determined to meet all of my goals, at the same time, at all costs. That’s where I went wrong. At all costs ­­ your health and safety­­ shouldn’t be on the table. This is supposed to be fun and like the infamous spectator sign reads, “You paid to do this!” Keep those goals realistic and positive, and train with the end in mind.

Think of me this month as I set out to conquer the Big Sur International Marathon. I promise to listen to my own advice and report back. Happy Trails!

2 Replies to "Respect the Distance"

  • comment-avatar
    Christina Foulke
    April 9, 2016 (8:15 am)

    I love this Gal…..

  • comment-avatar
    Yateesh
    April 12, 2016 (4:10 pm)

    Love this article. I will be running this as my first ever full marathon. Any tips are appreciated