August 23, 2007

The Marathon: Part 1

When I signed up for the marathon, I wasn’t sure how much I was going to write about it. On one hand, the training alone is a lush field of whining waiting to be reaped—on the other hand, going on at length about one’s personal hobbies can be tedious for those who aren’t into the hobby.* If this were a running forum, I wouldn’t hesitate to spend hours getting my jog-wank on, but I as I don’t assume anyone reading this shares my same sick lifestyle, I planned to leave it to one long, whiny race-day post and leave it at that.

But then I realized: after the big day, I’m going to come back and read this and wish I’d recorded more of the process—in case I ever decide to do it again, or for wayward linkers looking for information. Not that I’d be a definitive source; marathon sites are legion, and I can only tell you what I personally know to be true—but if you happen to have the same physical tics or Week 10 injuries I do, this may come in handy.*** Also, a focused post every few weeks will avoid all entries going the Bridget Jones route, me recording the number of miles run and a tally of body parts now blown from overuse. And it doesn’t get more boring than that.

So You’re Going to Run a Marathon, Part 1: What The Hell Am I Doing?

I suppose I should start with Why I Did It, but I still don’t know. I’ve been leaning on the old ‘because it’s there,’ but I think it might go deeper than that, so I’ll save the question for the wrap-up; maybe I’ll know by then. How I Did It is much easier to answer, because there’s charts and math and stuff.

The day after registration, I got four books on marathons out of the library, the first one being the best guide for “average” people (read: people who don’t hop out of bed at 4 AM to do a 12-mile run. Also read: normal). It holds your hand through the training, breaking it down week to week, and the training schedule eases you gradually up to the 18-mile long runs (this is the schedule my brother and I are using). It helps you not panic, not overtrain, and not set unrealistic goals: Your first marathon, the goal is to finish. This is important. I still occasionally check our time, do the math, plan for a 4:30 finish time—and kick myself. Finish. That’s the goal. Keep running, keep drinking, don’t die. That’s it. Everything after that is pancakes.

And a wonderful thing about the marathon is that you can have those pancakes and eat them too—plus many others, sayeth Nancy Clark—because they are right handy for making all that glucose you’ll be burning. Her food guide is a really good resource while training, but also for everyday nutrition, since there’s lots of good recipe suggestions (I never would have thought to put cottage cheese on a baked potato, but then again, there is no “I” in “cook”). The frank advice about when and how much to eat is informative without being condescending—all of the stuff I’ve put into my own healthy eating guide that I’ll get around to finishing eventually, like, after Grey’s Anatomy gets cancelled. Marathon is a good read, but there’s more in it for the veteran runner than the beginner—understandably, since the author, Hal Higdon, has run 111 marathons. No, my key is not stuck. If it’s your first time, it’s still a good read; the stories will certainly get you pumped.

Right now, we are starting Week 8 of the training schedule: the halfway point. It’s hard to believe it’s been eight weeks (I know people say that about everything that goes by quickly, but it’s true). It hasn’t really been unreasonably hard thus far—yes, there have been twinges and irritations, but no torn ligaments or painful, curse-filled hopping. I’m under no illusions that it’ll stay like this, however; the longest run so far has been 12 miles—and I felt a lot of that mileage, let me tell you what—so I don’t know what will happen when we hit eighteen. But, thanks to the wisdom of others, I do know what to expect—so I will do my part to warn intrepid sailors about the waters ahead.

Important Things I Have Learned Thus Far:

Get a running partner. My brother (the recently married Dann-o, aka “Jessica”) and I have been running together for a year or so now, but we hadn’t planned on running this marathon together. So we were both a little surprised when my I’m- running-the-marathon announcement became a “We’re doing this thing, dude.” Luckily—profoundly, endlessly luckily—he was on board. Whether you’re talking, singing, pulling each other off curbs or channeling Billy Blanks in the dark moments (“Find your higher power, Dann!” “Sarah, if my higher power were here right now, I’d eat him”), having someone with you does much to alleviate the potential boredom of circling a city on foot at 6:00 AM. I could have run it alone; I have an iPod, I’m stubborn, I could have done it—but I’m still glad I don’t have to.

Running with headphones can be, sometimes, with a lot of asterisks, okay. I don’t usually run to music, but then again, my runs have never been an hour and a half long. There’s an entire cordon of anti-music runners, and they do have their good points, but nothing a little common sense can’t bring to middle ground: Don’t wear your headphones at night. Don’t wear them if you’re running a course you’ve never run before. You must, MUST be able to hear what’s going on around you, so either listen at half-volume or leave one earbud / headphone off. This is important, because that ambient noise you do not hear is a car coming towards you (that, even though you’re wearing bright colors in the full light of day with blinkers on your nipples, does not see you).

And speaking of nipples…

Chafing = It will happen to you. Maybe not at first; I had been running for five years and had zero experience with this particular runner’s complaint until the first 10-miler. I didn’t notice at the time, thankfully, but after I got home and peeled off my shorts, an angry red splotch burned brightly down one side of my thigh. Jizzow. I applied Eucerin for the next week, and now make sure to apply Vaseline to my legs and thighs on every weekend run; hasn’t been a problem since. I haven’t checked into Runner’s Lube (yes, really), but if I do I’ll mention it in the upcoming product reviews. Also: If you wear a heart-rate monitor without the band, and happen to be female, you may want to sew some elastic anchors on either side of the sensor band. Last weekend the HR band slipped in my bra (again, didn’t notice at the time) and carved the hell out of my left one. Ten minutes’ stitching along the band of your sports bra should keep the chafey little bastard in place.

Learn to love the Gatorade. Or Meijerade, or Powerade, or whatever. If the run will take an hour or longer, pack enough for the duration and sip often. Make sure it has tons of sugar and sodium (don’t care what kind of diet you’re on, you will need this) and drink 8-10 oz. every twenty minutes, or about a quart per hour. Yes, you need this. No, you can’t get the sugar-free kind. No, you can’t just drink water. It irritates my stomach, too—but you do get used to it, I promise. Please don’t pass out. You’d look ridiculous flat on your back with those blinkers on your nipples.

* Years of Trekkieness have taught me this.**
** Shut it.
*** It’s the shoes. It’s always the shoes. Get, like, two more pair. Of shoes.

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