How I Prepare For Marathons

Last week I achieved Purple status. Which in Nike+ land, means I logged over 2,500km (1,553mi) since joining NikeRunning.com.

This year I’m training for two marathons: the Illinois Marathon on April 30th and the Chicago Marathon on October 9th. Ramping up my mileage and hitting this Nike+ milestone made me think about all the concerns and questions I had when I ran my first marathon in 2009. I had no idea how to prepare, what to eat, what to buy or how to do it. So today I thought I’d post a blog mapping out the 5 things what worked for me. If you’ve never run a marathon before, hopefully this will help.

1. Strategy

Have a plan and stick to it. Training for a marathon may mean rescheduling plans with family and friends and changing how you book your calendar. Most programs require a commitment of between 40-60 miles per week during peak training. Preparing for the 2010 Chicago Marathon, I downloaded the Nike program developed by Coach Jenny Hadfield, co-owner of Chicago Endurance Sports and columnist for  RunnersWorld.com. It includes different types of runs as well as cross-training days, core strengthening and rest days. If your marathon doesn’t offer a training program, there are tons of great programs available online for beginner marathon runners.

2. Equipment

New sneakers. Get custom fitted at a store like Fleet Feet where they actually watch you run in the shoes before they make recommendations. Resist the temptation to buy the brand you recognize or the coolest colorway. None of that matters. Buy the ones that feel the best. I discovered the New Balance 1060 series (recently replaced by the 1080) years ago and have worn them ever since—they just work for me and my feet. I’ll skip the debate between the barefoot running scene and traditional footwear and just say, invest in two pairs of the same shoes. That way, three-quarters into your training, you can start breaking in a fresh pair in time for the big run.

Wicking wear. Polyester synthetics draw sweat away from your skin, keeping you more comfortable and helping to prevent chaffing. Nike’s Dri-Fit is pretty popular but I get the same results from the less expensive Duo Dry gear from C9 by Champion. In fact, all my running shorts and socks are C9 (although I just bought some Hyper Thin Drymax socks recommended to me by Brynn Freeman and I love ’em!). Besides moisture-wicking apparel, another good way to avoid “ouchy” parts is generous application of BodyGlide.

Portable Hydration. As your long runs get longer, you’ll need to drink along the way. Water fountains and water bottles work fine for many people. But I hate stopping to wet my whistle and feel completely off-balance running with anything in my hands—even my house keys. So buying a hydration belt made sense for me. For anything longer than 12 miles, I wear a 4-bottle Helium Fuel Belt filled with GSeries Pro 02 Perform Endurance Formula.

I started running with Gatorade instead of water after my marathon friend Brian Kelly pointed out that when training hard, water by itself sweats right out of your body before really having a chance to provide significant hydration. Plus, the Endurance Formula is what’s often served at big marathons and I like the idea of making my training as close to race day as possible.

3. Diet

Food & Drinks. Besides staying hydrated during and after your run, it’s important to “refuel” your muscles too. I always chug a 50g whey protein shake within 30 minutes after a run. But just like running barefoot, I’m not going to try to make any prescriptive recommendations here. If you’re not sure how you should be eating during training, consult a nutritionist, trainer or dietitian. Remember, you’ll be burning thousands of calories on long runs and pushing your body harder and farther than you ever have. So take good care of it and keep track of your eating! My friend Maris Grossman loaned me Michael Pollan’s great little guide called Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual—and that’s pretty much how I eat now.

Another food-related thing is the use of performance energy gels like GU. The science is compelling but I don’t like slurping goop from plastic packets so I gobble the GU Chomps gummy snacks instead. The blueberry pomegranate flavor is pretty tasty.

Finally, don’t do anything stupid before the marathon. People get weird about the last meal they eat the day before the marathon and eat piles of pasta. The key is to keep it light (avoid dairy and heavy sauces) and not introduce something radical you’re not accustomed to eating.

4. Preventative Maintenance

Stretch. Soak. Ice. Massage. I stretch after every run and if it’s more than 6 miles, I like to soak in a hot tub for a while, then ice my knees with ColdOnes. And every month (whether I’m training or not) I treat myself to an hour of deep tissue sports massage. This “proactive pampering” feels great and makes training a whole lot easier!

5. Motivation & Mental Stamina

When the miles get major, nothing’s more critical. Find what works for you. I’ve done almost all my training solo; but other people really love running with a group or partner. Running for a charity is an awesome way to team up with others and raise money for a cause you believe in. There’s great motivation in that. For the same reason, I love running with my iPod Nano and Nike+ for both the music boost and positive feedback from Nike+ athletes. The documentary Spirit of the Marathon always gets me amped to run. I watch it every year:

This blog is dedicated to my good friend Jared Reeder who got me off my ass for the 2009 Chicago Marathon and taught me just about everything I know about running 26.2 miles without stopping. Thanks, man.

1 Comment

  1. Jennifer Helenius

    Great Blog Ant!!!!!!!! Really Impressed with your times too! You have come such a long way from when I last ran with you! Whoo! That’s what it’s all about. You have mastered your knees! Did you try the Stinger gels? I love them. You gotta like honey though. I am off to fleet feet for a new pair this week. XO Jen

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