You’ve been working hard for weeks, perhaps even months, and your fall marathon is looming in the horizon. You have multiple friends who are experienced endurance athletes and as you approach the big day they start handing out all sorts of advice and ideas for your training. Before you know it you are wearing new shorts, trying new shoes, and changing your training routine so that you can finish just like they did.
Noooo!!!! It’s like a coach’s worst nightmare.
The other day I was sitting in a meeting at the Bank of America building where the discussion was centered around the upcoming Chicago Marathon. We are just weeks away and the last piece of advice given by one of the directors was, “Encourage your athletes to stick to their routine.” Now is not the time to start experimenting.
For months I have emphasized the importance of figuring out what works for you. What kind of foods can you eat the morning before a long run? How long does it take before your stomach is working properly and you can head out the door? Which sports bra can you wear for 20 miles without chafing up a storm?
By now you will have spent months running and hopefully following a training plan. You will have logged hundreds of miles and turned yourself into a running machine.
As much as the running component is important for your training, so is figuring out what the perfect combination is with the other elements. It is a tricky thing to figure out too. I had one athlete recently tell me that although she has loved eating a certain type of fuel on her runs, she discovered that on really long runs she will find herself stranded in the bathroom. She switched to Gu and her long runs go much more smoothly now. It took her a few weeks but now she has a plan of action and will use the Gu on race day.
Earlier this year I made the mistake of buying a pair of shoes that “looked” fun and later ended up with a serious Achilles injury. It was silly mistake on my part. So you can imagine how bummed I was to hear that another athlete took the recommendation of an ultra running friend and switched to their preferred shoes with just a few weeks left in training. He complained of nagging pain in his Achilles area that wouldn’t go away. All I could tell him to do was put those new shoes aside and go back to his “plain old pair.” Although those shoes helped his friend run ultras, they weren’t the perfect choice for this particular race. His friend might also have a different build as well as a different gait, and likely trains in a different manner. All of these factors can affect which type of shoe you should be running in.
It is important to remember that when you first set out on this journey you had a plan. Hopefully you found a trusted training plan or had someone help set you up with something that would work for you. Training plans vary and it is important from the start that your plan fits you as an athlete, just like your shoe should fit your foot. Your plan should be made with your level of fitness in mind, the amount of time you can commit, the amount of miles your body can handle without injury, as well as your own personal goals for a particular race.
One of our athletes set out an a 22 mile run this past weekend and several people asked why she had that in her plan when many others only have a 20 miler as their longest. While many people are running their first marathon, this particular athlete is on an advanced plan for a different race and is hoping to qualify for Boston. In my opinion a 22 mile long run isn’t always necessary in marathon training, especially for beginners or first time marathoners. Some coaches don’t even have a 20 mile run in their plans. I personally prefer the 22 mile long run as part of my marathon training but wouldn’t necessarily put it on most training plans unless I felt it was truly appropriate.
It would be tempting for some athletes to see a girl take off on a 22 mile run and think that they might also need to do that in order to finish. A fellow runner might tell you that they added speed work to their weekly schedule to help them qualify for Boston, but that might not be necessary if you are running with the goal of simply finishing your first marathon.
The best thing you can do for yourself if you have a good plan from the beginning is to trust your training. Before you start out make sure you have a plan that is appropriate for you. Stick to that plan, accommodate for injuries or other factors, and continue on the path you set out on. Don’t allow other people’s well intentioned helpful hints or ideas throw you off of your course.
A good training plan should be periodized. There should be weeks of building as well as weeks where your mileage scales back. As important as the weeks of building are, your body relies on the scale back weeks just as much. This is where your body repairs and recovers and prepares for the next step. Just as climbers work their way up Mt. Everest, they stop at base camps and don’t simply climb straight to the top. Remind yourself of the importance of these shorter mileage weeks when you are tempted to throw a few extra miles into that long run. Remember that there is a reason why you have a shorter long run that week and that it is part of the grand plan.
Remember, smart and steady will help you complete your race. Once you cross the finish line you can start experimenting if you must.