Training for the Marathon: So close, yet so far

Training for the Marathon: So close, yet so far
March 18, 2014, 3:45 pm
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Comcast SportsNet's Trenni Kusnierek is preparing to run this April's Boston Marathon. Over the next few months, she'll provide updates on her training . . . both physical and mental. This is the fifth of her reports.

“May the road rise up to meet you, may the wind always be at your back.” 

—The first two lines of an Irish blessing

The fact that Monday was St. Patrick’s Day made me think this quote provides a dual purpose. One, we all pretend to be Irish this time of year. Two, if you are preparing for the Boston Marathon, you pray for the Newton hills to seem conquerable and for a good breeze pushing you forward.

The marathon is exactly five weeks from this St. Patrick's Day. And for many of us who are training, this might be the toughest part of a long journey. On the one hand, we can begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel. On the other, we still have more than a month until race day. I liken these weeks to mile 20 of the race: you're so close, yet so far from the finish line.

As a fairly experienced runner, my level of concern as we approach race day is probably lower than most. I’ve had great races and terrible ones and through trial and error I have a pretty good idea about what's best for me during this final stretch. However, I work with someone who is training for his first-ever 26.2 and he understandably has a lot of questions. Which led me to believe there are probably more than a few runners out there experiencing their first marathon who could also use a little help. So, here are a few helpful hints as you get closer to race day. 

-- It may seem obvious, but take extra good care of yourself. Begin to really monitor not just how much food you're eating, but what kind of foods you are consuming. Aim to eat a lot of raw vegetables, lean proteins and good carbs. If it’s white (bread, potatoes, pasta), skip it and choose a whole wheat version or a sweet potato. I encourage you to think of food as fuel. Don’t overfill the tank, but also make sure you’re not cutting corners.

-- Scale back (or give up) alcohol consumption. Someone once asked me if I really believed it was helpful to give up drinking -- which I did -- while I was training for the Philadelphia Marathon in 2010. At the time, I shrugged it off; I attributed my injury-free training and personal-best time to my chiropractor,  the course and the conditions. And yes, those three factors were a huge help. But now that I’ve given up booze for a second time, I’ve realized what a huge difference it's made in my body. On a superficial level, I'm leaner than I’ve ever been before. (I’d probably be even more so if I could give up sweets!) On a health level, I don't think it's a coincidence that this is the first time since 2010 I haven't had an injury setback during my training. By not drinking, I'm allowing my body to fully recuperate after tough speed work and long weekend runs. I'm not dehydrating my body. And when I go to bed my body gets quality sleep, not vino-induced shut eye.

-- Sleep. Whether you have been running 100, 60 or 40 total miles per week, you're putting your body through a lot. The only way to truly recover is allow your body to rest. I would even say it’s okay to skip a run (notice the singular) if you know your body is exhausted. I forfeited a shorter run this week to get a few more hours of shut eye. 

-- Don't skip long runs. At this stage of your training, it's not the end of the world if you have a busy week at work and can only run twice before the weekend. However, long runs are essential to success on race day. They're also crucial to being mentally prepared. 

-- Speaking of being mentally prepared, save a few runs over the next few weeks for the evening after a long day at work. Your mind will be fried and you won’t want to put on your shoes, which is exactly how you’re going to feel at mile 23. You can run even when your brain says you can’t. 

-- Get a fresh pair of shoes at least four weeks out. You’ve been putting in a lot of miles and your shoes are undoubtedly worn down. Don’t wait to get new kicks because you’ll want a good month to break them in before the big day.

-- Try and forget the fact your entire training period has been miserable thanks to Mother Nature. The weather is about to turn, making it the second-most perfect time of year to run (next to fall)!

-- Remember: You’re almost there. Although the training is difficult, crossing the finish line will make it all worthwhile.