Running a Marathon – It’s Not All Legs

Running a Marathon

Photo courtesy

This year, I started out with a goal of running a marathon (half, full, ultra and everything in between) every month. The first part of the year was more focused on bumping the miles so I could run the Big Basin 50K. The later part of the year was sustaining that with as many 50K’s or marathons as my schedule would allow. I’m a happy-go-lucky mid-pack runner, though every now and then I finish in the top 10%. Running a marathon, I used to think was all legs and there’s some truth to it. But I think it’s more than that.

Running a Marathon

I’ll categorize my runs in four ways. First is the explorative, like when I’m doing a route as part of the Bay Area Trail Running series. This involves charting a route, using Strava to map it out, taking pictures along the way, etc. Second is for fun, which is simply getting out on a trail or going for a run with friends with no pace, time target or training in mind. Third is intervals, which are short focused fast runs as I describe in three ways to increase running stamina. And that brings me to the fourth one, racing.

Once you build up your endurance to run 15 to 20 miles at a comfortable pace, I think two things happen. First your body is obviously conditioned to take on that distance. Second and an important one at that, is you become very aware of the needs of your body. When to push it, when to back off, what and when to eat/drink, what to carry, etc. And this is a never ending learning process that has nothing to do with just your legs.

My wife calls it PRS (pre-race stress), but I do tend to get a little too obsessive before a race. I have a Nathan 20oz hand-held, an Amphipod waist and an SJ Ultra Vest and the choice of what I carry really depends on the elevation profile, location of the aid stations and the weather on the day of the race. Lately, I’ve become very picky about going as light as I can and getting away with it. If I’m running a marathon organized by Inside Trail Racing, for example, I don’t have to carry any Clif Shot Gels or Succeed S Caps, since I know they have ’em at the aid station. I also take the time to make a cheat sheet, a hand-drawn map of aid-stations overlaid on the elevation profile to break the run into shorter segments. I visualize a fair bit and mentally map the climbs to other familiar runs (though this strategy didn’t quite work at the Berkeley Trail Adventure 50K). I know I’m only racing the course and myself, but running a marathon is a personal challenge, to see if I can learn something about myself and to improve a little. And lastly, almost without fail, I write a race report immediately after, trying to remember as much detail as I possibly can. It’s the post-mortem, to assess what, if any, went wrong, lessons learned and things to improve for a subsequent race.

Maybe elite runners don’t have PRS, but for a late-bloomer, mere-mortal, mid-pack runner like me? I find this preparation insanely helpful to get to the finish line in one piece while still smiling. Not to mention how gratifying it is to see the week long strategy play out during the race. Most of the time.

Related blogs that you might like:

Do you obsess over these things in prep for running a marathon? How do you prepare?

[sc:follow_me ]