Thursday, October 13, 2016

Marathon Training: Differences Between First and Second Marathons

Marathon Foto, Chicago Marathon
Photo by Marathon Foto

I had two goals for my second marathon: don't walk, and try to get any time better than my first marathon. When I crossed the finish line on Sunday, Oct. 9, I had no idea whether I had accomplished the second, and I would later find out that I didn't. I got almost exactly the same time, and I was initially a little disappointed. Then I realized that I shouldn't be too surprised because I didn't track my pace at all; I just took it easy and steady. My running app malfunctioned early on, and it was then that I decided not to worry about time and to just have fun. I had to remind myself this marathon was about wanting to be a part of my new city and touring Chicago with 40,000 of my closest friends.

I did manage to jog the whole marathon, which was enough of an accomplishment for me. In my first marathon, I started out at about a 9:30-9:45 pace and ended up walking a lot of the final six miles. At the 2016 Chicago Marathon I maintained an 11 minute mile pace the majority of the time. I wasn't in pain and I didn't struggle mentally as much as I did my first time around. I actually felt grateful and positive, even in the last six miles. I kept telling myself I was almost done and feeling great, especially after a nice woman handed me an orange Popsicle.  

I credit my strength training and group runs for that success. I didn't feel alone in my second marathon because I knew several other runners (I even ran with one of my teammates for a little bit). I wasn't in as much pain because I had incorporated so much strength training, drills and group runs into my preparation. While the time was the same, the aftereffects were much better this time around. 

What I learned while training for my second marathon:

  • Strength training is essential. In my first training I mostly ran and did some yoga. I didn't lift any weights, nor did I do enough core work. Strength training helps reduce injury risk.  During my second marathon training, besides some brief calf tightness and a week of shoulder soreness, I didn't experience any recurring issues. (Read the Runner's World guide on strength training.)
  • Group runs make training a lot more fun. I did my training mostly on my own the first time, even my 20-miler. This year I chose to go on the group run, and I can't imagine having done it without them. I had both emotional and logistical support, and it made a huge difference. 
  • You still need to track what you eat. During my first marathon training, I ate whatever I wanted. I reasoned that I could eat anything and everything because I had run so many miles. Wrong. You can't eat whatever you want. Sure, you can indulge in some ways, but you should still track your eating habits. I gained weight during my first marathon training, like so many people do. This time I lost 4.5 pounds. While it wasn't a goal to lose weight, I was just happy that I didn't put on my pounds. Also, by incorporating strength training I have also gained muscle.
  • Plan your workouts and give yourself a break. I wrote down all my runs and workouts in my planner every week. I also wrote down times that I could fit a workout in if I had missed a planned run. I learned to be flexible as well. If I was sick or was traveling, I rearranged my workout plans. If I missed a run, I didn't beat myself up about it; I just did the best I could.
What lessons has your fitness journey taught you? 

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