Laura posing with a friend while training on Heartbreak Hill

Marathon Tips From the Masses

On November 11, 2013, I was accepted as a member of the Trinity Boston Foundation Marathon Team.  On November 12, I began interrogating every marathoner I knew.  “Give me a running tip.” “What’s the one thing you wish someone had told you when you were training?” “What’s the best advice you ever got?”

As I quickly discovered, people who are crazy enough to run marathons are also incredibly generous about guiding novice runners like me.  I made my goals clear upfront: I want to stay healthy, I want to finish the whole 26.2 miles (preferably while remaining vertical), and I don’t want to come in last. Thanks to the following tips, I think I’ll be three for three on April 21.

JeffGordonWinner1. Just say no to all the free stuff.  I expect many temptations at the pre-race expo, where samples of sports drinks, gel packs, and energy bars will be thrust at me. I pledge to resist the siren call of free stuff. According to my sources, trying ANYTHING new on race day is as stupid as Jeff Gordon deciding moments before the Daytona 500* to swap out his Chevy for a Prius. I heard horror stories of well-intentioned spectators giving runners free bananas which are greedily consumed at mile 18 but make an unwelcome reappearance at mile 20.  No, thanks.

2. Stretch like Elastigirl.  Channel her stretchiness because what the heck – you’re already wearing tights.  Stretch even when you don’t feel like it.  Even when you’re busy. Even when your moans and groans make the rest of your family wonder out loud why you’re even doing this if it makes you so unhappy! (Answer: because you’re crazy).

3. Never skip recovery days. Most marathon training plans include a couple of recovery days each week, and those can be hard to stick to when you’re feeling invincible (which is how I feel for that brief moment when the soreness from my last run wears off but before I remember that hundreds of runners will cross the finish line before I pass the half-way mark). Running is like fine wine: more is not always better.

Marathon runners4. Don’t get your feet wet. It’s a rookie mistake to run through the cool spray of hoses on a hot marathon day.  Getting soaked while running a race is a temporary pleasure you’ll soon regret, because you just created a blister factory in your shoes.

5. Wear wool socks. Speaking of what’s in your shoes, it turns out the cotton athletic socks I’ve been wearing my whole life are all wrong for distance running. I balked at spending $16 for a pair of SmartWool socks, but now admit they have kind of changed my life. Everyone in my family is getting them for Christmas next year.

6. Body Glide is the best product ever invented.  I’ve been running casually for over 25 years and never had a problem with chaffing (what a horrible word – I will never again be able to say “chaffing dish**” without cringing).  Somehow, repetitive motions that don’t bother you at all for the first hour of running can become downright painful by the third hour. I would shower with Body Glide if it came in a liquid form. Whoever invented it deserves a lifetime supply of SmartWool socks.

ChocolateMilkforAthletes7. Chocolate milk makes an excellent recovery drink. I heard this particular gem again and again and was glad to try it. To me, Gatorade is something you dump on a football coach after a big victory or give to kids who can’t stop puking. Chocolate milk is a happy drink and you can drink it straight from the little cardboard cartons.  Bliss.

8. Eat carbs with reckless abandon.  You know what tastes great with chocolate milk?  Bread, bagels, pasta, rice, and more pasta. Muscles need carbs for energy – not protein, not fat, and certainly not kale.  This is my favorite piece of advice ever.  I might even stick with it after the marathon.

9. Run the mile you’re in. Most running advice pertains to what’s happening below the neck, but this one is all mental. Instead of letting your mind perform a continuous loop of depressing calculations (“2 miles down, only 24.2 miles to go!”), be present in each mile. If mile 6 feels yucky, hold out hope for mile 8. When mile 13 kicks your ass, do not fret about half-way points or notice the inviting patch of grass beckoning you to lie down for just a few minutes. Run one more mile.  And then run one more.  At mile 25, you are allowed to do the math.


10. Wear your name. Let the marathon crowds be your Twelfth Man. My name will be plastered across my front and back (not down your arm with a Sharpie, because I’m told that will sweat off by mile 7).  I plan to run this marathon to a soundtrack of “Go, Laura!” “Keep it up, Laura!” “Looking good, Laura!” (I didn’t say the Twelfth Man would always tell the truth – sometimes motivation comes in the form a little white lie).

When I cross the finish line one month from today (hopefully uninjured, vertical, and NOT last), I’ll have the masses to thank.  To those who gave me this advice, I am incredibly grateful.  To those who will come out to watch the Boston Marathon, I can’t wait to see you along the course. I hope you’ll give me a high five, or a cool drink, or encouraging words.

But please – no bananas.

*For my Boston readers: “NASCAR” is a popular sporting event in the southern United States in which brave men (and a few very brave women) see how many advertisements they can fit on an average sized automobile, and then how fast that automobile can go around and around for as long as you still have beer in your RV.

**For my Boston readers: a “chaffing dish” is what holds the hot crab dip at a bridal shower luncheon or a nice cocktail party in a Southern home.  It’ll be next to the biscuits.  At a NASCAR event, a disposable foil pan and a can of Sterno may masquerade as a “chaffing dish” for the melted Velveeta (served with Ritz crackers).

nascar 2

5 thoughts on “Marathon Tips From the Masses

    1. lmctaggart2013 Post author

      Good luck to you, Charlotte! I hope you have a good beginner training program. I used Hal Higdon and it worked – and I thought I would be the exception because I just couldn’t imagine ever running that far. But somehow, I did! You will be awesome.

      1. Charlotte

        I am using Hal Higdon beginner also. I never dreamed I would run 1 mile let alone 3, 5, 10, 13.1 etc! 🙂 In 2009, I weighed almost 300 lbs so running was a dream. I wasted so many years. I am a sponge reading other people’s accounts and advice for marathon. I am learning things I can pass on to others too. 🙂

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