FAQ

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Marathon Runner

Courtesy of Dara Levine

Nutrition

What should I eat while training?

The short answer is whatever works to fuel your body.  The longer answer is that you’ll need to experiment with different types of fuel, to see what works best.

I found before runs (especially on long run days), it was best to have a small meal 1-2 hours beforehand.  A reliable and readily available meal that works for many runners is a banana and a half a bagel or slice of toast with natural peanut butter.

During runs over 45 minutes – 1 hour, you will need to refuel your energy tanks again (and at regular 30-60 minute intervals thereafter).  Here again,  you’ll need to experiment with what works for your body.  My preference is GU energy gels (I recommend sticking to one flavor that you like best).  However I know of a myriad of sources used by other runners including: energy blocks, energy bars, granola bars and hard candy.

It’s also important to take in fluids on every run over 30 minutes in duration.  I aim for 16 oz. of fluid per hour.  After 30 minutes, I begin drinking water, and after 60 minutes, I alternate between water and energy drink.  You’ll want to try to train with the energy drink that they’ll be serving at your race (usually listed on the race website or booklet).

Meals for marathoners

Courtesy of Steve Baty

Post run (for runs over 6 miles), I’ve found a recovery drink to be very helpful.  My favorite is chocolate milk – cheap and tasty!  You’ll also want to consume a carbohydrate rich meal both post run (for runs over 6 miles) and for the meal prior to your long run.  It’s a misnomer that you need to be eating ten tons of Pasta or bagels! Just a serving or two of complex carbohydrates will do.

Aside from the meals I just outlined, I’ve found I can eat just about whatever I feel like (with the exception of 4 cupcakes – not great long run fuel as it turns out!), and still complete my runs.  I have friends who’ve eaten pizza and hamburgers pre-run (ultra-marathoners even eat those types of things while running!).  You’ll quickly discover what works for your body.

My recommendation is to steer clear of anything too heavy or new before long runs (particular before your race), but don’t beat yourself up too much.  You need to enjoy this process or you won’t stick with it!  Just keep in mind what you want to avoid on your long runs – the dreaded port a potty!  You can’t go wrong with lean proteins, most vegetables and fruits and a carbohydrate for your meals.  We will be adding more detailed content on both foods and fluids for running soon, so be sure to check back!

Schedule

What does an average week of training look like?

Courtesy of Joe Lanman

On average, you’ll run 2 short runs (2-6 miles), 1 medium run (4-9 miles), and 1 long run (7-22 miles) each week.  In addition, I’ve found that 30 minutes of cross training and 2-3 light weight workouts (for 15-20 minutes) each week is very beneficial.  While the schedules I’ve recommended have those workouts on specific days, I’ve had no problems moving around the workouts (i.e. if I have a busy day Wednesday, I might switch Tuesday and Wednesday’s workouts) either temporarily or for the entire schedule.  I do recommend trying to distance your long run day from your medium run day as much as possible and maintaining your rest days before your long run day.

How long do I need to train before running a marathon?

I’ve found that four months of training works best for those who are able to run for 45 – 60 minutes without stopping.  If that’s not the case, I would add an extra two months.

What if I only have a treadmill/travel/have nights?

Marathon training is fairly flexible.  You do need to put in the running time, but when/where/how you do it can vary.  We will cover some techniques on how to do this, at a later time.  My recommendation is to try to complete at least a few of your longest long runs in similar conditions to your race (i.e. outside on pavement or trail).

Races

How do I get in to my marathon of choice?

It depends on which marathon you’ve chosen.  Many of the smaller races are easy to get in to.  You just sign up online and pay your money (they do often get more expensive closer to the race date, so it pays to register early).

Some bigger and more popular marathons (New York, Boston, etc.) are lottery or qualification based.  For those, I recommend running for a charity.  Most of the big marathons will guarantee your entry, providing that you raise the minimum amount of donations for your chosen charity.

There are a ton of worthy causes you can run for, so you should be able to find one that you feel passionate about.  Frankly, I believe this is the best way to go.  There’s lots of simple ways to raise the money (I have content dedicated to this topic for you), and your marathon training will take on new meaning.  You also gain the benefit of additional resources and team mates when you join these charity teams.

If you’re interested in running for the charity that I run the New York City Marathon for every year, the link is:  www.nicks911collegefund.org.

Which marathon should I run?

I cover this topic in the free kick start guide, so feel free to request a copy.

You need to determine your running goals prior to selecting your race.  Are you running just to be able to get that cool 26.2 bumper sticker?  Do you want to lose weight?  Do you want to see a new place/culture?  How about to raise money for charity?  What kind of weather/terrain do you want to run in?  It really depends.

How do I find a marathon?

Similar to the previous question, I recommend that you determine your running goal(s) first.  Based on those, consider what kind of shape you’re in now.  Can you run 60 minutes without stopping?  If so, do you want to start training now, or do you want to train in a specific season?  Consider these along with your goals and take a look at this link to a great running calendar.  Select a race that works with your goals that is at least 4-6 months from now.

Strength

Should I do other types of exercise while training?

Courtesy of Suketu Gajjar

You don’t HAVE to.  However, I found that doing cross training 1-2 times a week and strength training a few times a week, greatly helped my endurance and my motivation.   Also, when I had injuries and was itching to exercise, other types of exercise (assuming your doctor okays it) helped me from not crawling up the walls.

Swimming or cycling seem to be the safest bets.  Yoga (though I was often too sore to do it) also was a helpful addition to keep me flexible.  The key is to not overdo it or contribute to overuse of your running related muscles.  That’s when you tend to get injured.

What types of cross training should I do?

Anything that isn’t similar to running!  Some of my favorites:  swimming, cycling, walking, and dancing.  Just be careful not to take it too hard or do anything that could injure you (particularly as you get into your longer runs and closer to your marathon).

For example, I play softball in a rec league, but I ease up on how serious I play as it gets closer to the marathon.  For me personally, I don’t want to jeopardize all of my hard work in getting to the starting line, but if you don’t care, you probably can do most anything (you might just be a bit sore!).

Injuries

Should I run if… (INSERT INJURY OF CHOICE HERE)?

NOOOOOOOOO!!!!  When in doubt, take a break.  I have never had an issue from taking off too much time from running.  The issues arose when I tried to train too soon after having an injury. I have taken up to 3 weeks off of marathon training due to an injury, without any problems.

If you have any doubts, I would pop by your doctor’s office just to make sure you are okay.  Better to be overly cautious than to make an injury worse!

What are the most common training injuries?

You can prevent most running related injuries

Courtesy of Tavis Ford

Again that depends!  Everyone’s body takes running a bit differently.  For example between my husband and I, we have had:  Plantar Fasciitis, Blisters, Chafing, Soreness, Torn Quads, Strained Ankles, Shin splints, black toenails, Tight IT bands, etc.  Don’t let this scare you.

Most of the injuries we have had were not serious and only slightly annoying.  The others were either due to previous conditions (torn quad) or non-marathon related injuries (i.e. I fell while running with the dog, etc.).  In my experience, chafing, blisters, soreness/tightness, dehydration and Plantar Fasciitis are the most common ailments for runners.  We will cover each of these in detail in later content.

How do I prevent injuries?

There is no way to 100% prevent injuries.  Being prepared with the right gear and routines will, however, prevent many of the most common injuries.  There are a few things that I’ve found instrumental to staying healthy while training:

1)     Warm-up/Stretching (Before and After runs)
2)     Staying properly hydrated/fueled (Before and During runs)
3)     Proper gear (anti-chafe, stabilizing, reflective, comfortable) – Click here to see my recommended gear
4)     Listening to your body (when in doubt, take a rest day/take it easy)
5)     Sticking to the training schedule/plan (except when injured)

I will cover each of these in detail in later content!

Other

Will I have to give up (INSERT YOUR POISON OF CHOICE HERE)??

Do you want to?  If you don’t, you probably don’t have to.  Will you be the fastest/best marathoner ever – probably not.  But if your goal is to just complete the marathon, you can probably do most of what you normally do without problems.

Examples of things that I’ve given up and then gone on to do while training without experiencing any real difference:  drinking an entire bottle of wine the night before a long run (I had just quit my job!), eating an entire pizza, drinking multiple cups of coffee each day, etc.  I have had teammates run through a fast food drive through and eat a hamburger in the middle of the race without problem.  I know friends who’ve drank a beer while running with no problem.

Again, these are probably not great things to do before/during your long runs, and especially not your race.  But, this all depends on you and how much you want to sacrifice for this goal.

Will this be expensive?

It depends on your race goal and what you already have.  At a minimum, you will likely need to buy some gear specific for distance running, so that you don’t chafe.  The main costs I incur for training (in order of expense) are:  travel to race, food (I get VERY hungry towards the end of training), shoes (2-3 pairs), clothing (if you don’t have proper running gear), running watch (if you don’t have), race entry.

I went all out on running specific clothing, and felt it made a big different in my ability to complete training (I chafe a ton).  I haven’t had to buy anything in the three years since I started – clothing wise.  As you race more, you get more nice free running shirts/gear too – an added bonus!

Shoes are a debatable expense, once you’ve bought your first pair.  Recent studies are conflicting with whether you really need to replace them as often as we once thought.  More information to come on this in a future post. You can see all of the gear that I recommend as well as what it costs on this page.

Can I run with (INSERT YOUR pet/kid/friend/person of choice here)?

Dogs and running

Astro the Wonder-Dog

This is Astro.  He’s an awesome guy.  He loves peanut butter, long naps and dirty running socks.  Unfortunately, he especially LOVES squirrels and the UPS man.  He makes an okay running buddy for short runs, but together, we’ve had about five accidents (mostly involving chasing squirrels or trucks) while running.  We’ve also had the unfortunate experience of both getting heat exhaustion on a really long walk during the hot Texas summer.  So…my recommendation is to hold off on running with pets, or to keep it to short runs where you are very careful not to injure yourself.

Gear

What do I need to wear/buy for training?

Check out the gear page to see my recommendations!

What should I wear/buy for race day?

In general, what you wear on race day should be very similar to what you wear during training.  DO NOT wear anything that you have not worn during one of your longest runs.  The last thing you need to find out is that your new singlet makes your nipples bleed or your armpits chafe.  TRUST ME!

Dress for the conditions (weather/terrain) that you expect, just as you would on a long run.  In addition to that, I like to bring:

  • 2 large leaf sized trash bags (one to sit on if the ground is wet, one to wear as a rain/wind coat until you warm up)
  • Large zip locks or grocery sacks (tie around your running shoes if it’s raining/wet, until the start of the race)
  • Airline blanket (optional)
  • Old or secondhand sweat suit and hat (if it’s going to be a cold day)
  • Running gloves or garden gloves
  • Extra favorite pre-race meal (if it’s a late start time – like in New York City marathon, you’ll want to eat closer to race start time)
  • Extra water bottle
  • Something to read
  • Race tag/timing chip
  • Race bib
  • 4 safety pins
  • Your name bib (more on this later)
  • Toilet paper (port a potty isn’t always well stocked and you NEED to go before you start your race-‘nuff said!)
  • Lip balm
  • Hand sanitizer (again port a potty usually doesn’t have this, and I’m a bit OCD)
  • Acetaminophen (safest thing to take while running if you have a headache)

This all might sound crazy, but I have honed this little kit over many races, and so far it’s worked like magic.  One note – runners are a crazy dressed bunch on race day.  This is not a fashion show, and it’s pretty funny to see what everyone is wearing.  The goal is to stay dry, warm and off of your feet for as long as possible.  We are going to a post covering this specific topic in detail.

 

Still have a question?  Check out the community page or visit my contact page!  I am always adding questions to this page, so check back frequently for new information.