A running friend of ours from the Left Coast telephoned the other day with a breakdown of a recent marathon that turned out to be not the event he was hoping for after dedicating himself to the toughest sixteen-week training plan he’d ever tackled and not missing one single workout. But the problems he ran into had nothing to do with his stamina or strength, and everything to do with a few key missteps that combined to create a perfect storm that prevented him from running the race he wanted. And this is a runner who loves running in storms, too.
Not Eating to Plan
Breakfast went fine the day of the race. He ate exactly what he always did before a long run or marathon. But it was the dinner the night before where things went a bit sideways. Our friend has a ritual dinner he eats before pretty much every race–sauteed chicken breasts, boiled broccoli, and rice. It’s a bland, gut-friendly meal he likes to cook for himself but the place he was staying didn’t have much of a kitchen so he went out for a meal instead. The restaurant was crowded with runners in town for the race the next day, service was very slow, and by the time he’d gotten the entree he thought would fit the bill, he was both hangry and worried that the portion was half the size of what he really wanted. Takeaway: Guard your pre-race rituals closely. Find workarounds if circumstances get in your way. If you are eating out and think you need more food, then go ahead and order that second entree, don’t hold back.
Not Leaving in Time the Next Day
He took it a little too easy the next morning, knowing how close his airbnb was to the Runner Village near the Start. It turned out to be exactly the subway ride of only a few minutes he expected, but then exiting the station became a timesuck of a nightmare. The place was flooded with runners, all of them trudging in the same direction, onto streets above also flooded with runners. It took forever. Any chance of relaxing at the Runners Village was long gone. Takeaway: Give yourself the luxury of being an early bird nesting in the Runners Village. You can snooze, nibble, and people watch, and then get a move on when runners who seem of your ability are making their way to the Start.
Not Knowing How Far the Runners Village Was to the Start
Yikes. It turned out to be a mile or so. Once he made it out of the station, hating humanity and feeling utterly stressed out, he knew he had to begin drifting toward the starting corrals. But in spite of a long line at first set of porta potties he decided to hit the head rather than wait for a cluster of potties closer to the start. Which meant once again he was waiting in a long line, and then when it wad his turn to take care of business, he heard the starting gun sound. From far away. Which put the fear of god in him, and once he had hustled off the pot he started jogging at a good clip toward the Start. Takeaway: Hello? Your legs would like you to know that they would prefer not to run a mile immediately before you are forcing the poor things to run twenty-six.
Running into Endless Traffic
My friend is pretty zippy and was gunning for a quick time. But because of the delay issues tripping him up that morning, he was starting much further back in the pack than he would have liked. The end result was something like the Corporate Challenge in Central Park, which is so choked with runners, joggers, and walkers of different speeds and abilities, many of whom group together by moving abreast, that if you are not up with your pace group, you are going to be forever weaving and dodging folks who are slower than you. Takeaway: It is a huge energy drain if you are not running smoothly in a straight line but weaving this way and that.
Really Endless Traffic
Even at the halfway mark my friend was still dodging and weaving….and also feeling a growing deep-seated hunger that the Sports Beans he loved to gobble wasn’t touching. It was the ghost of last night’s supper coming back to haunt him. He knew he didn’t have the right fuel on board to operate his engine at max RPMs. At this point he just gave up the fight for a PR, slowed down, and kept his eyes on finishing steady and strong. Which he did. But then in the chute there were some tears, too, as he shuffled along in yet another long line from the Finish to the exit. It just wasn’t the race he’d been building toward for so many weeks, so many miles. Takeaway: The marathon is a beast, not just physically but mentally. Just when you think you have it figured out, it will attack you in some shocking way. Stick to your plan but be ready for the unexpected.