My Answers To A First-Time Marathon Runner’s Questions

Recently, a friend of mine who is going to run her first marathon asked me and other runners a series of questions about it. I am training for my second marathon, and I love talking about running, so I truly enjoyed answering her questions. I had a lot of the same questions when I first signed up for a marathon, so I thought it would be fun to post it here for anyone else with similar questions.

When you run, how is your brain occupied (e.g., listening to music, writing a novel, counting your breaths…)?  Does it vary depending on where you are in the run? Does it depend on any other factors?
I never run with music. I love just being by myself and in the moment. I see things in my neighborhood I’ve never noticed before, wave to other people, and clear my mind. I find that if I don’t run, I have as big of a mental pushback as I do a physical one. I really did get hooked. I often find that I feel better mentally after a run, and I solve problems and get good ideas from that quiet time alone.
Also, early on, I did listen to a metronome click so that my cadence was good – I shoot for 170 – 180 steps per minute. Once I got the feel for it (a few weeks) I stopped listening to the click. I also trained myself to breathe in three steps and out two. Because of this, I never get “stitches” since my steps and breathing vary (one time breathing in when I step with the left foot, next time breathing in when I step with my right).

What is your favorite running workout?
Running! 😉 I always do dynamic stretching beforehand, and foam rolling and normal stretching after. I also do some things like squats, planks, bridges, and other things occasionally that my physical therapist recommended for me. As far as the runs themselves, I do long runs, interval runs, tempo runs, and recovery runs. I pretty much enjoy them all.

What makes a “good” run?  A “bad” run?
It’s mostly based on my enjoyment of the run. Now sometimes, my enjoyment is affected by a variety of factors – how fast I went, how far I went, does anything hurt, was it hard or easy, was it too hot, etc. – but ultimately if I achieve the goal distance/time for that day feeling good, it’s good. If I fail to run the distance or I get hurt, then it’s bad.

Describe the best run you ever had. Describe the worst run you ever endured.
Hmmmm. On one hand, the one marathon I ran so far could be described as both the best and worst run! I am super proud of the accomplishment (best), but I hit the wall around 22 miles and it was incredibly hard to finish (worst). Another possibility for my best run was the Intown 10k – I hit my speed goal and felt great. Another worst might be one of my long training runs I was unable to finish because of not fueling right and/or it being too hot, or the trail half marathon (my first trail run) where I did not prepare or fuel properly.

What do you get from running that you can’t get from anything else?
Better health, both physically and mentally; and I can do it anywhere.

Why did you start running?
For health reasons. I wanted some form of exercise that was simple and inexpensive.

If you start to “bonk” in the middle of a run, what do you do?
I find that “the wall” or the “bonk” happens when I don’t fuel/eat properly, or run when it’s too hot. If I am doing a long run, I try to have gels/jelly beans/whatever and make sure I keep fueling BEFORE I bonk.

What do you like to eat before a run? Do you eat any gels/gu/energy bars/etc. during long runs?
I’m still experimenting a bit, even after years of running. I will either have something like peanut butter or an egg on a bagel, or cottage cheese, or a Clif energy bar (chocolate, peanut butter, others – I like that you can buy them at the grocery store).  Then during the run, I use Huma Gels (apple is my favorite) every 45 minutes, or jelly beans, or Clif Shot blocks. I’d prefer real food (peanut butter sandwhich, banana) but they are hard to carry! After almost any run, my favorite snack is a Breakstone live active cottage cheese.

Anything else?  Tips, insights, a-ha experiences you’ve had about running, words of wisdom, gripes, complaints — I am interested in whatever you’ve got 
Beyond what I’ve already said, I’d say the main thing that has been really successful for me is to always take baby steps, meaning using small improvements/advancements to get better/faster/farther. Anytime I do too much too quickly I almost always get injured or otherwise fail, especially since distance running is all about repetitive use. If the change is slightly too big, but you do it 10,000 times (each running step) it can quickly add up to a bad result (injury/pain).

Finally, what causes and fixes getting “out of steam?” 
For me, it’s almost always bad fueling, or running when it’s too hot. If I don’t eat before and during a long run (anytime I run, say, an hour or more) I am tempting fate. You run out of glycogen in your blood and will hit the proverbial “wall.” It’s not always fun to down a gel or some other runner’s fuel during a run, but IT WORKS. Plain and simple. Some of the best advice I got was always try to eat a gel, beans, blocks, or something before, and every 45 minutes during, long runs (and always with water). Regarding the heat, I try to time my runs (usually early morning) such that I can finish before it starts getting too much over 80 degrees. Drinking lots of water can help with the heat, too.

Crossing the finish line at my first marathon

I hope you found this informative and perhaps helpful. My friend said there were definitely themes in the responses she received, including the importance of fueling properly, enjoying “being in the moment”, and what makes a bad or good run.

What do you think? If you are a runner, how would you answer these questions?

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