Distance running is the simplest sport you can participate in. Running distance events is even simpler because your usually provided assistance with all your caloric, hydration, and medical needs. Well, maybe medical issues related to the mental issues of a person claiming to be "sane", yet wanting to run races where the mileage tallys up into triple digit range won't necessarily be addressed at the race by anyone that could be considered even remotely qualified. But I'm sure you could find someone more tire than you at the moment and proceed to have verbal diarrhea all over them with little resistance because, well... Their too tire to tell you to shut up, and it's probably taking their mind off of some part of their body that feels as if its either on fire, or is grinding tiny shard of glass where there should be a tendon or ligament.
Did I mention I can be a little long winded? No, wait... That was in another draft. I'll go ahead and state it now...
Warning: I can be a little long winded...
Ok. Whew, that's out of the way now I can proceed.
I have a few ideas in my head about distance running that I hold to be very important. And since someone that I actually care about asked me how to run a marathon, I'll go into a little more detail than my normal answer of "Just put one foot in front of the other until someone puts a medal around your neck.." Hopefully someone, somewhere, will find this helpful.
I was asked specifically about a marathon. I've never ran a sanctioned marathon, but I have ran several training runs on the range of 25~27 miles, and one 50 mile ultra, so I know what it takes to cover the distance. So I will focus on that distance for the purpose of this post, keep in mind that the same guidelines apply to all distances really.
The main thing to keep in mind is that it's all in your mind. It's all a mental game. A gigantic mind fu€k if you will. Yes, there will be physical pain / discomfort. You will have muscles that you didn't know even existed become fatigued and sore. You might develop blister that encompass the entirety of the soles of your feet. Or you might not have any of these problems and finish the 26.2 miles without a single problem. Either way, it's all in your head. The pain won't last forever. Blisters, raw skin, sore muscles, achey joints.... These things go away with time. The feeling of giving up because you thought a blister on your toe was going to ultimately end up in a double leg amputation doesn't go away, and neither does the regret or self-shame. I'm not in anyway saying that there aren't legit reasons to drop out of a race, I know there are. My buddy David just dropped out of a race the other day because he tried out a new pair of running shorts (more on this later) and ended up rubbing one of his testies raw. You gotta keep the boys safe. Not worth it. I haven't been there, but you could probably slap some vasoline or a bandage on it and keep going provided the damage wasn't too severe. Obviously if your dehydrated and can't keep anything from coming back out of your stomach in the form of high speed projectile vomit then you might want to consider dropping out. If at any point you take a fall and when you get up you actually think "is that a bone sticking out" more than twice, you might consider dropping out. If your so tired that you feel as if you can not force enough energy to take another step forward and your about to fall flat on your face, you need to suck it up and take in some calories. Remember the most important lesson you learned when you first watched "The Matrix"... There is no spoon.
Back in the "pain is temporary, pride is forever" section I mentioned David's unmentionables. There was another reason for that aside from comic relief on David's behalf (besides, that would have been a short joke...). And that's the all to important rule of "NOTHING NEW ON RACE DAY". That means exactly what it says. If you've never eaten a banana before your long runs, don't start on race day because it will only give you the shits. If you never tie your shoes really tight, race day isn't the day to decide to try and cut off circulation to your toes. I will say that it's never a bad time to add lube, as there's always time for lube, apparently this tidbit of knowledge went over David's head. And yes, that was my short joke of the night. Your welcome.
Ok. We have addressed 2 important topics that are pretty straight forward. Nothing is real, and don't try new things. Great!
Now let's discuss some actual training concepts / thoughts / ideals.
I'm a HUGE fan of Phil Maffetone. He says that in order to be the ideal endurance athlete, you need to train your body to burn stirred fats as energy rather than depend on injested carbs. This makes total sense when you read into it more, and I'll leave that to you. I have multiple posts about it in my blog already, and I don't have all day to type this out. Basically you need to eat a cleaner diet, void of starchy, carb loaded, sugary, fake, and other wise very yummy foods and focus on eating nuts, meat, berries, fruits, veggies, eggs, and other natural foods. This will teach your body to live off stored fats because your not pumping it full of sugars that it will automatically convert into energy, therefore storing your fat for a time when it may be needed. This is how humans are wired. This is why 99% of us have love handles and big bellies. We're not eating right.
The second part to Mr. Maffetone's thought process is that you need to train your body to work more efficiently in its aerobic state. To do this you need to spend more time in this state. To do that you need to run at a level that keeps your heart rate below a certain level. For me that number is 150. For the person that this long, rambling, often sidetracked, poorly written blog post, that's probably full of poor grammar as well, your ideal Heart Rate max will also be 150. There's a long complex way to figure out where your HR should be, but if I told you I would have to kill you. So go buy a heart rate monitor (I REALLY like my Garmin Forerunner 305), set the HR high level alarm to go off at 150, and start running.
Oh, Phil Maffetone also believe that having sex is one of the healthiest things a human being can do, supports barefoot and minimalist running, and is all all around kick ass guy that has trained dozens of the endurance worlds top performing athletes. Did I mention he supports lots of sex? The man is practically a genius!!!
So now you know how to turn your body into a lean mean fat burning machine. Cool huh? But what else can be done to make your first marathon experience even better?
Proper Running Form!!!
This is a touchy subject for some people. Most people don't like being told their doing things wrong, especially when it comes to something as simple as running. It should be one of the easiest, simple, relaxing things you ever do, but it seems as if very few people see it that way. If running hurts, your doing it wrong. Don't take this the wrong way. If you run long enough, or fast enough, you will experience pain. This is normal because your doing something that's not normal to your body. Its a foreign. Just like bad form is foreign as well. So, if you know that your going to be hurting from just running 26.2 miles, then why would you go into it running in a manner that will hurt you regardless of distance?
Here is where the taboo part comes into play. There is no "perfect" form that's universal between everyone. Everyone's perfect form is just as unique as they are. I'm a fairly evenly distributed fat guy. My legs are proportional as far as length is concerned. Other people have short legs, some people have legs that start at their arm pits. So how should everyone have the same identical running form? It's almost asinine to think they should.
BUT.... There are something's that should be universal between all shapes and sizes.
Land under your center of gravity! This is VERY important. If your landing in front of your center of gravity then your acting against your forward motion and just fighting a loosing battle. Plus your putting a lot of impact on your legs, this leading to injury. This is not to be read that your legs never go in front of your body, they should and do. And your foot might even contact the ground in front of your center of gravity, but it should not be "weight bearing" until it's under your COG. Keep your knees bent. According to the legendary Ken Bon Saxton, you can never bend your knees too much.
Barefoot Ken Bob Saxton executing flawless form.... For him.... Its tricky, I know.
I could go on and on about ideal running form techniques, and maybe half of what I was trying to say would make sense to half of the people reading it, and then only half of it would sink in. So since we're working in units of 1/8's now, I'll just summarize by saying take off your shoes and see what happens.
Seriously. I know I sound like a Koolaid drinking barefoot running cult member, which I proudly am, but it really works.
Go find a nice hard, clean, flat surface like a good cement sidewalk or road, and run half a mile or so. Just don't over do it. Your body will start correcting itself within just a few strides. Make a note of how things feel and how your moving. Listen to your body as it tells you how it's meant to move along the ground softly and quietly. Notice how your now easily gliding over the ground, feeling like your barely leaving a trace that you were once there. In shoes I feel like I'm destroying things as going about with reckless abandon. Barefoot I feel like I'm one with the surface I'm running on and that together we can go on forever.
Damn.... Maybe I had a little bit too much Koolaid there, went all hippie-fied out for a few minutes there... I feel like I need to go kill an animal and pay my taxes to make up for that overdose of free spirited thinking above.
But really, just try it. I'm not saying you can't ever run in shoes again, but I'm pretty sure you will quickly rethink why you spent as much money as you did on the shoes your currently running in when all their doing is masking sloppy form as encouraging bad habits.
I'm sure I've forgotten a lot of things, like how far you should run in your training, what kind of workouts you should be doing, and other important stuff like that. But that's all secondary to the basics, which I feel I've listed above. If I think of anything else that I feel is important, I'll just make another post.
Good luck, and good running!