Monday, May 14, 2018

5 Tips For Running (and enjoying!) Your First Marathon

Last Mother's Day, I ran a marathon!

What an accomplishment! I trained for 26 weeks, hard. I ran when it was raining, snowing, ice pelleting, and in between. I didn't drink (too much). I watched my diet (I ate instead of forgetting to eat). Maybe I was boring. But I ran a marathon (that's 42.195 kilometers). My first marathon!

I learned a lot from this experience. From Day One of training way back in November, to right now, I have been learning about determination, strength, and flexibility, among other things. Here are five tips to share with anyone who's interested in training for and running their first marathon.

1. Take Your Taper Seriously

Most marathon or half-marathon training plans include a taper at the end of the training. For a marathon, my training plan suggested a three week taper after my longest run. During this time, your mileage per week decreases, your frequency of runs decreases, and you are supposed to eat well, keep hydrated, and rest especially during the last week.

Did I do a successful taper? Not really. I decreased my running frequency and mileage too much, because I was plagued with minor ailments. I put that time instead into work and home, instead of resting. Have a look at your taper plan, and follow exactly what it says!

Half your training is physical, and half is mental. If you're super fit but stressed and inflexible, then you may be able to finish the race but you will do yourself harm. If you float on self-confidence, but you haven't done the physical work, then you're not gonna finish.

What does "rest" mean? Well, it doesn't mean stressing that your life is not as serene as you would like it to be. But it does mean getting to bed early, cutting out all unnecessary activities, and increase any activity you find relaxing and energizing. During that crucial last week, try to spend time every day organizing your race. Which leads me to the second tip:

2. The Devil in the Details

My family was teasing me that I was totally obsessing over the details, but I don't think I was precise enough! As they say, the devil in the details, which means that there's always some little thing that can potentially go wrong. And you really do not want to spend your whole race wishing you had brought your favourite pair of socks.

First things first, though. Choose your race wisely! Things to consider: location, cost (registration, travel and accommodation), type of race course (hills, flat, urban, rural), size of the race, speed (look at the results from former years to see if you will fit in the middle or you'll be right at the back of the pack).

Make lists! This site has lots of lists, plans and other tools for runners: All About Marathon Training.

If you're traveling for your race, you have to figure out what to take with you. Take all your running clothes!! You do not know what the weather will be like, and you don't want to leave something behind (I did, but not a super important thing). Take your race nutrition and whatever you use for hydration. Take your lucky charms, if you're superstitious. I brought my lucky hanky, which I got from my pocket at around mile 20 to wipe my face with.

I found an Airbnb for myself and my husband, which was super conveniently located right next to the race start. But you might want the buzz of staying with other runners, in the sponsored hotel. Think about it before you book.

Plan your meals carefully before the race. If you're travelling, you may want to take food with you, or at least make sure what you usually eat will be available.

I chose to wear my hydration backpack, and also my waist belt for my iPhone because that's how I did all my long runs, and I was happy I did. If you love to listen to music while you run, make sure you have it set up for yourself and have a good playlist. You don't want to be fiddling with controls or asking Siri to skip a song you don't like. Here's my playlist: running. I just wear an earbud in one ear for most of my long runs, which is fine. I brought raisins to munch on, and HoneyStinger energy chews, because I really don't like gels or Gatorade. I took water every chance I could.

Remember to plan for after the race too! You will want to change, shower, eat and drink water. And the worst thing you can do is sit down right away - you will feel it! Keep gently moving, eat lots, drink LOTS of water, and go to bed early.

3. Gratitude is the Key

I had to use my sense of gratitude quite a few times during this run. It wasn't easy, and it wasn't really fun. I was grateful every minute though, for the beauty I found myself in, for the support from my family and friends, for my body ... and gratitude helped me finish.

I read a fantastic article about Desiree Lindon's amazing Boston victory. The race was tough, with many of the elites dropping out from the cold and rain. What jumped out at me in this story was her generosity and kindness towards her fellow runners. Yes, she won, and yes, her competitive spirit helped her win. But during the race, she helped out her fellow runners a couple of times. I thought of her when I was looping back for my second loop, and a runner asked me if I'd passed a porta-potty. No, I hadn't. I stopped and told her I'd cover while she went in the bushes. It just took a few seconds - and then I was on my way - and running way faster! Caring for your fellow humans is definitely a good option.

4. Stay in the Moment

I wrote in my last post about some ways I thought I would be able to achieve my goal. They worked! I used the mantra "light" many times during the run. Of course, the beautiful light on the water right next to me really helped with that. I tried to love my run, and that worked until I got to a hard place where it didn't any more. I practiced compassion: every so often I would pass a runner who was kind of moaning or grunting with every step. I felt compassion for the assholes who yelled from a van "Good Job, Keep Going, Happy Suicide!". Sheesh.

Mile 24

But mostly I discovered that running a marathon is really about staying in the moment. You can't think about all those miles you have to run; it's not useful. You have to run the actual mile you're running, as best as you possibly can. Breathe the air, step one foot after the other, have a handful of raisins. Drink some water. Keep on running. Try to run fast. If you can't run fast, then just run.

 5. Have Fun!

But most of all, be happy! Have fun! Keeping a smile on your face is so important. And that goes for living life, as well as for running marathons. Don't sweat the time, for your first marathon. It's a huge achievement just to finish. My memorable moments were: seeing all the coltsfoot growing along the water's edge. Running next to a beautiful river. Being completely on my own for a while on the trail. Having everyone ring their bells and yell positive things at me every time I passed a water station or a volunteer. Talking to another runner and listening to her advice for me. Seeing my sister on a large bicycle at around mile 22, and having her accompany me almost to the finish line. Finishing the race! And getting a bunch of roses from my husband.

Running's just like living: you gotta be happy with what you have, stay in the moment, practise gratitude, compassion and love, and keep on keeping on.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Can Mrs Tiggywinkle run a marathon?


Almost There!

Last night I ran my 101st run in my 26 week marathon training. I want to run a marathon. There's no instant gratification! It's a lot of running. A lot of miles. A lot of time on my own to think about life.

Mrs. Tiggywinkle is my favourite Beatrix Potter character, and I think she might be my spirit animal. I think I look like her. When I run past a window, I look sideways and there she is. She's patient, kind and lovable, all the things I want to be. She's also prickly and stubborn, the things I know I am.

But have I trained enough to run a marathon?

Marathons are like life, you never know what's going to happen until its happening. I'm ready, and that's all I can be. There's flooding happening in Fredericton, where for some weird reason about 18 months ago I decided to run my first marathon, so they changed the course. I studied the old course, and street-viewed it obsessively. Now it's different. Yip.

What if I...

am the last person to finish?

don't finish?


Those are the only things I'm worried about. Other than that, all good. I have my outfit picked out, my lucky hanky packed, food, a water backpack (in case I really am the last person!) ... shoes, socks... damn I am good to go! I am gonna run a marathon!

How will I get through it?

First of all, by running. It's easy enough, you just put one foot down then the other one. Remember to breathe.

The fact that I even got to the point where I am heading for the starting line is a huge deal - the work has been done.

I have some inspiration and mental tricks to keep me going.

When I'm running for a long time, I often think of my family and I feel very grateful that all my guys are behind me. Haha, not literally. My kids and my husband have always been super supportive, if a little bored at times when I talk endlessly of pace and distance.

I have two wonderful people who are my inspiration. Perse has been my friend for 51 years!!! She is an athlete, a coach, a mother, wife, grandmother, and a cancer survivor. When I think of her endurance, strength, cheerfulness in the face of obstacles, stubbornness ... all the best qualities an athlete needs, I am humbled.

And my cousin Becky. She was born with a body that doesn't listen to her brain. Becky works so hard physically just to live her life. She's cheerful, stubborn, and tough. When she's working her way down a flight of stairs, she needs the strength and power that I need to run a marathon, and she needs it every single moment of every day. She is my absolute hero.

And I would like to thank ...

My friends, my running buddies, my Facebook running group, God for giving me a healthy body, some special people who have given me their time and attention to help me train better... the awful Montreal weather that has allowed me to be proud of training in sub-zero temperatures, week after week ...

Running Mantras?

Light. Run light. Tall and light. Just plain light.

You can do this! (simple and cliched but it works)

Love, Gratitude, Compassion. Can I feel love for it? Can I feel gratitude for it? Can I feel compassion?

If all else fails, I tell myself in a loud inner voice that I can FUCKING CRUSH THIS THING.

See y'all down the road!

Keep on running, or walking, or just living. Remember, you got this thing!