Handful of Health

How Not to Train for a Marathon

The Big Sur International Marathon has come and gone, and I remain a 26.2 virgin. Nobody ever said “first time’s a charm,” so I’m taking the past six months as a learning experience.

The Theory

I can’t be too upset, because I didn’t follow a standard marathon training plan. Back in December, I recalled how cross-training maintained my ability to run 10K early in 2010. All I knew is that I wanted to include cross-training, but I had a really hectic schedule. Since the long run rules as arguably the most important aspect of a distance training program, I thought that perhaps one long run a week plus four days of cross-training would work. My chosen method of cross-training was martial arts, which is quite different from the bootcamp-style cross training that helped my 10K last year. For my long runs, I went by time rather than distance, pulled from a training program I downloaded on my iPhone.

The Practice

Surprisingly, my plan worked well through the half-marathon distance. Combined with awesome home-cooked meals and plenty of sleep, my running was going great. In February, I accomplished a training PR: 3 miles at a sub-10-minute-mile pace!

That was an epic run. I never thought I’d average a single-digit pace in my running career. I was hopeful that this meant my training would go well all the way through race day.

Things Fall Apart

The problem with running once a week is that your one run becomes incredibly important. You can’t skip it due to weather or scheduling surprises. And that the less time you spend pounding the pavement, the less conditioned your feet are for long distances. By the time my long runs ramped up to 13-15 miles, I started having foot problems. Specifically, blisters all over the balls of both feet and the outsides of my big toes. Missing a long run due to some crazy work deadlines didn’t help.

In April, a month out from marathon day, my longest run was 15 miles and I had one particular blister that prevented me from running more than 2 miles at a time. My hopes for a successful marathon began to dwindle. I experimented with taping my feet and did it wrong, causing an even worse blister that was so pernicious that I strained the pinky-toe side of the same foot from favoring the blistered area.

This is also when I picked up an awesome book called Fixing Your Feet. Unfortunately, the book agreed that it was probably too late. I could tape to prevent blisters, but the fact was that although I hadn’t under-trained, I had not properly conditioned my feet. The good news is that I finally learned how to properly tape my feet, which allowed that darn blister to start healing, which started to ease the strain on the outside of my foot.

What really happened on race day?

Well, I certainly didn’t drop out of the marathon completely! What I did do was transfer my registration from the 26.2 to a 10.6 event, which I walked with my “sponsor” (my boyfriend’s mom) and two friends.

Honestly, the weekend was super awesome, which made it hard to be depressed about my marathon fail. We hung out in Carmel, had our morning coffee on the beach and spent a fun night with friends. And the race expo was incredible! I got to see Bart Yasso’s “world-famous PowerPoint,” with pictures and stories from a lot of the events he describes in his book (which I loved). He is incredibly inspiring! And it was fun to introduce my boyfriend’s mom to some of the run-geekery described by Yasso. And, of course, the expo retailers were fantastic. I’m looking forward to giving the ladies a review of Sweaty Bands, because — just like their tagline says — “OMG, they don’t slip!”

I am glad I only walked. My foot was sore by the 2-mile mark, and at the end, they ached as much as if I had run the 10.6. Great views, epic on-course entertainment and good company made it fly by.

Future Goals

I had almost as much fun watching the marathon runners pass us walkers towards the finish, and cheering them on, as I did participating in the walking event, so I left the weekend as stoked to run a marathon as I was six months ago. I’m definitely aiming for a marathon in 2012. However, I’m going to do it differently this time by adding at least two midweek runs to my once-a-week long run and cross-training. I’m also going to use an ultra (longer than 26.2-mile) training plan, since most training plans don’t have you running the full distance before race day, which never fails to stress me out.

For a half marathon I have coming up in September, I’m currently using the Run Coach Pro iPhone app “couch to marathon” program. I really like it so far. And I think that the half marathon is quickly becoming my favorite distance. However, I really, really want to run at least one marathon in my life! Hopefully, that will be the Big Sur 2012.

Have you ever had to drop out of an event?
How did it affect your training?

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