An Average Runner's Tips and Tricks to Improve your (Marathon) Running Game

Photo by  Filip Mroz  on  Unsplash

Photo by Filip Mroz on Unsplash

I started running marathons with the intention of it being a “one and done” experience.  This is a very common undertaking by many avid runners and typically leads to signing up for second marathon.  Then another. Then another.

It’s common for marathoners to finish a grueling 26.2-mile race and quickly recount all of the things that didn’t go right and what they would have done differently.  I think this is what encourages marathoners to sign up for that second (third, fourth, twentieth) marathon: there’s always something that could have been done differently.  Whether it’s the long run mileage, the speed workouts, the fuel plans, the water stop timing, the shoes, there’s always something to point to and say, “if I changed that then I probably could have had a better time.”

As an average runner (Marathon PR 4:00:19), I would say that I made a lot of mistakes in my first marathon (Boston 2016) and have changed at least one aspect of training in each of the marathons I have run subsequently afterwards (Chicago 2016, Baystate 2017, New York 2018).  

Like I said, I’m an average runner, so my tips and tricks are by no means tried and true and as I am going into my 5th marathon (Berlin 2019) I am still changing things up.  Many of these tips can be found in various other literature about running.  There’s plenty of stuff out there about the do’s and don’ts of training, but from an average person’s perspective, here’s some things that I have found to work.  Maybe they’ll work for you too.

Get a buddy

I know I know, you like running alone.  It’s time for just you. You like to put in your earbuds and blast your favorite high school rap playlist* and just tune everything out.

Trust me, I get it.  I’m the same way (and if you really don’t trust me, read the *link* Pledge Allegiance series blog: We pledge allegiance to running partners who never make excuses)

Having a running buddy does one thing very well: keeps you accountable.  Being accountable is half the battle in training for a marathon. Waking up to do those long runs on a Saturday morning can get pretty tough to do after a week’s worth of activities.  But for whatever psychological reason, scheduling time to run with a team or a buddy can help you get out the door. [link to Pledge allegiance blog]

*if you love throwback jams, Spotify generates a weekly playlist titled: #ThrowbackThursday with rotating throwback themes 

Time is of the essence

I was against this part of running in the beginning as well.  And really the only reason I got a watch was so that I could answer the questions “what did you pace at?” and “what was your time.”  Runners are highly competitive individuals (it’s a little sickening at times) and it’s a constant comparing game, whether it’s against yourself or others.  There’s always something to “beat.” Tracking your runs can help you tweak small parts of your training. If you’re really invested, you can journal your runs (we’ll talk more about that here *link)

Don’t want to purchase a piece of hardware? Here are some free apps that can help you track your strides

PT now, not later

Physical Therapy pretty much saved me prior to running the New York City Marathon (Fall 2018) and I’ve been taking it even more seriously as I’ve been gearing up for the Berlin Marathon this fall (2019).

I started having very unfamiliar knee pain in the beginning of training for New York.  The “fight through the pain” mentality starts to lose its power when you’re hobbling up and down the stairs after a 5 mile run.  Anyway, I worked very closely with a physical therapist and got back on track. 

Here’s the upside: you don’t need to be injured to benefit from it.  There are exercises, particularly focused around glute and hip strength (youtube!) that can help make you stronger and even prevent you from getting injured.  So, start that preventative work now!

Here’s the downside: in order for it to work, you have to put in the time to do the exercises.  Daily. Not just when you’re in their clinic using their fancy equipment once a week. It’s a time suck for sure, but it works.  So, add it to the list of everything else that’s keeping you from having a life during training season.

One of the physical therapists I worked with also introduced me to KT Tape which can help manage athletic injuries.

Practice makes perfect

If you’ve ever run for a team with a coach, you’ve probably heard this before.  Coaches LOVE to harp on this element of training. This was something I never took very seriously (you can probably sense a theme at this point) until training for my most recent marathon.

What this mostly applies to is what you’re doing before your long run.  Because you want your body to be as fully prepared as possible on race day, you want to practice all the things you’ll do until toeing the line, specifically when it comes to nutrition.  Starting with the night before. During training you should test out various “night before” meals and see how that affects how you feel during your long run. But don’t test out too many.  Pick one meal and then plan to prepare that every night before your long runs. Same thing applies for your breakfast and your fuel plan. Not only should you be eating the same things routinely, but the timing of intake should be the same as well.

It’s helpful to log and track all of these pieces of training.  Keep a journal to help you reflect and adjust your tactics!

Speaking of nutrition…

You have to eat right!  Admittedly, during my training for my first marathon, I used the fact that I was burning so many calories to basically eat whatever I wanted (including whole pints of ice cream in one sitting).  Now, yes, you are burning some serious energy during training, but the key is to make sure your caloric intake includes all the necessities to help you recover and re-energize. I am not a registered dietician, so I will not tell you what your carb to protein ratio needs to be on a daily basis.  Plus, its different for everyone.  
I highly recommend investing in both of Shalane Flannagan’s cookbooks, Run Fast, Eat Slow and Run Fast, Cook Fast, Eat Slow. These recipes are made for runners and are packed full of nutritious benefits.