30 Marathons Later, Am I Pro Yet?

Last weekend, I ran my 30th marathon in Chicago.  I still remember what my first marathon felt like back in 2002.  It has been an amazing journey to get to 30 and I learned a lot about myself and about running along the way.  I want to share 30 personal tips/pet peeves/superstitions with you.  You do not have to agree with any of them, but reflect on what you have learned on your own marathon journey and see if your list is similar to mine!

1. Get the right running sneakers for you.  Do not buy sneakers just because they are pretty.  Get your gait analyzed and be fitted for the correct sneakers.  I have tried on many different sneakers and run in the wrong sneakers, but I once I got fitted for the Asics Kayano’s by Jackrabbit, I stuck with them.  I think my current Kayano 20’s are really ugly, but they are so comfortable and they prevent me from getting hurt so I wear them.


2. Have the right running clothes.  When I started running, I wore cotton because that is what I had.  Now everything is “dri-fit” and “wicking” and also 3x more expensive than cotton!!  I admit that proper athletic clothes feel lighter than cotton on the run and I worry less about chafing, but sometimes chafing still happens!  I have a full closet of running clothes and it is especially important to have the right clothes in winter weather.  As Jack Fultz (DFMC’s coach) would say “There is no bad weather, just bad clothing choices”.  You can run in any weather as long as you have the right clothes on.

Any weather!
Any weather!
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Just some of the clothes I have accumulated over the years. I share the closet with Andrew so it is not all of my stuff!

3. Put body glide everywhere.  Men, please use bandaids!! You do not want to look like you got shot during the race!  I am grateful for the vaseline that is handed out by medical volunteers along the course.  I often have to use some during the race for chafing under my arm or in between my thighs.  Butt cheek chafing is the worst.  You can laugh, but it will happen to you one day!

4. Make friends.  I have met some of my best friends through running and I am lucky to have met Andrew through running.  Running does not have to be an individual sport.  Support from friends and loved ones make the tough days better and they make the good days great.  Training for a marathon takes a lot of time and if it is not fun, then you should re-think why you are doing it.  The experience should not be stressful.  Have fun along the way!!  Here are just a few of my friends!

Boston City Sports Run Club Friends!
RTB Friends being silly in a porto-potty!
DFMC Family in Chicago!
DFMC Family in Chicago!
Joslynn and I at the start of the Bear Mountain 50 Miler!
Joslynn and I at the start of the Bear Mountain 50 Miler!
Iron Runners!!
Iron Runners!!
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Running buddies for life!

5. Try out a run club. Where can you meet friends?  At a run club!!  There are many different run clubs out there so find the one that works for you.  I remember going to my first run club at Boston’s City Sports back in 2007.  It was a small group, but it eventually became a very large group of runners who would show up rain or shine every Tuesday to run.  After we became better friends, we signed up for races together, had pre-race dinners, and did other non-running related things together (sometimes!).

6. Put in the work.  I did not train properly for my first marathon and it showed on race day.  I started to cramp at mile 17 when I got off the Queensboro Bridge and ran onto 1st Avenue.  My legs were not used to the mileage and I had run too fast in the early miles because I was so excited to be running the marathon.  At mile 24, my calves cramped so badly that I could not hold up my body and I collapsed on East Drive of Central Park.  A spectator came over and put his coat around me because it was cold out.  My 2 high school friends who had been running with me since mile 16 helped pick me up and got me to the finish line in one piece!

7.  Do not run too much.  I used to run 5 days a week, but then I got hurt and even walking was painful.  Ultrasound and massage fixed my leg, but I also dialed down on the workouts.  I ran 2x/wk and crosstrained 1x/wk.  My body responded to that much better and I PR’ed that year from just running 2x/wk.  It can be done!  But if you are not prone to injury and love to run, do your thing and run as many times as your heart desires.  Just do not forget to rest once in a while.

8. Know what your race pace feels like.  If you are fit to run 9 minute miles, you should know what that feels like. You should also know what sub 9 minute miles feel like.  Do not make the mistake of running faster than you can in the early miles just because you are “feeling good”.  You will pay for it in the later miles.

9. Carry your racing kit in your carry on bag if you are doing a destination race.  My friend, Barbora, from Prague recently had her luggage stuck in Rome and she had to buy all new running gear the day before the Chicago Marathon.  She handled the situation much better than I would have handled it!  I would have had a major meltdown!  You can read about her luggage story here!  At the end of her post, there are some useful phone numbers in case you ever have lost luggage with Alitalia or Delta.

10. Study the course.  You should probably do this after you sign up for the race so you can tailor your training program for the race.  Many people fail to train on hills in preparation for the NYC Marathon because they think it is flat, but if you look at the elevation map, you will learn that it is not flat!  Know if the course has a lot of turns, an out and back, or no turns at all.  This will help you mentally prepare for the race.

11. Know what they are serving on the course.  Not all race courses serve Gatorade!  The Disney races serve Powerade (because it is a Coke product) and that did not agree with my stomach so I only drank water.  The Hong Kong Marathon and Edinburgh Marathon served a sports drink local to their country and I could not try it before race day so I only drank water.  Most major marathons in the US serve Gatorade Endurance Formula and that is too strong for my stomach so I only drink water.  Yes, I only drink water during the marathon so I make sure to also take salt tablets to supplement my electrolytes.  It works for me, but it took me a while to figure that out.

12. Get a good night’s rest two days before the race.  Many people have trouble sleeping the night before the race so make sure that you go to bed early two days before.

13. Watch what you eat the night before the race.  Andrew and I had a very delicious and healthy dinner the night before the Napa to Sonoma 1/2 Marathon this past July.  Instead of going to an Italian restaurant, we went to the pre-race dinner organized by the race committee.  Dinner consisted of a pulled pork salad, beans, bread, and more salad.  There was no pasta!  The following day, we both had stomach issues.  Andrew used the porto potty at mile 4 and I almost pooped my pants at mile 12.  Needless to say, I ran straight to the porto potty after getting my medal.

14. Pee before the race.  I have used a porto potty during the race 3x.  First time was at mile 16 of the NYC Marathon.  I really had to pee after coming off the Queenboro Bridge.  All I remember was how gross it was to pull my sweaty shorts back up after I was done peeing.  Second time was at mile 1 of the Philly Marathon.  There were not enough porto potties at the start so I went to the corrals without peeing one last time.  The third time was at mile 16 of the Chicago Marathon this year.  I did not get to the start early enough to get in line for a porto potty so I went to the corrals without peeing before the race again.  l lost about 30 seconds and my PR because of that bathroom break.  I guess the tip here is: Get to the start line early enough to wait 20-30 minutes for a porto potty!

Fun signs on each porto potty at the start of the Big Sur Marathon!

15. Have a plan with your friends and family on where they will spectate on race day.  Knowing where they are on race day will give you something to look forward to as you run the race.  Most of the time, you will see them first before they see you.  Seeing family or friends on the course always gives me a boost and distraction from the miles that I have left to run.

Seeing my mom, sister, and niece on 1st Ave!
Seeing my mom, sister, and niece on 1st Ave! Knowing where they were allowed for a smooth hand off of my banana and regular Gatorade!

16. Do not look back during a crowded marathon.  I made this mistake at mile 3 of the NYC Marathon one year.  Someone yelled “Go Bobby Flay!!” and I turned around to look for him.  When I turned back around, I ran right into another runner and fell backwards.  Then someone almost ran over me.  Another runner said to me “You should keep looking forward!”  With a bruised butt cheek and ego, I got up and never looked back again.

17. Have a Plan B.  Always have a few goals in mind.  If one goal is slipping out of  your reach, focus your attention on another goal.  If you are not feeling well, forget about the time goal, focus on just getting to the finish line or focus on getting to the next mile.

18. Enjoy the moment after you cross that finish line.  Do not start texting, tweeting, instagramming, or facebooking immediately.  Take in the excitement of other finishers and celebrate yourself!  You just ran 26.2 miles!!  You can post on social media later.

19. Share your accomplishments with others.  Be proud of your hard work and celebrate your finish.  It is the end of a 3-4 month journey and you deserve to tell everyone about it.

20. Sign up for another race to avoid post marathon blues.  After you have told the world about your race, what’s next?  Sign up for a shorter race so that you have something else to look forward to.  Or sign up for another marathon!  I will be running the NYRR 60K 2 weeks after the NYC Marathon.  Come run a lap or two with me!

21. Take an ice bath.  This is also a habit that I developed a few years ago.  It is not as bad as you think.  Fill your tub 1/2 way with room temperature water, get in, then throw in the ice/fill tub with cold water, and sit for 10-15 minutes.  You can play Candy Crush or Facebook during this time or have a drink!  I find that my legs do not feel as sore after an ice bath.  Instead of buying bags of ice, I use re-usable ice packs.

22. Find a good massage therapist to work with you.  I am very ticklish so I resisted massages for a long time.  I was desperate when I had issues with my left hip flexors and went to see a massage therapist in Boston.  I was lucky to have a very good massage therapist, but then he moved and I tried 2 other therapists at the same company, but they did not have the same touch.  My friend introduced me to Amy Duverger.  Amy is also a runner and had worked with my initial massage therapist.  I saw Amy pre and post race and for maintenance.  I was very sad to move to NYC because I would have to find another massage therapist.  Trying to find a massage therapist can get expensive and your risking injury because the wrong massage therapist could hurt you instead of help you.  After a few disappointments, I found Body Mechanics Orthopedic Massage.  Beret is amazing and I would highly recommend her and her staff.  They are all athletes and really understand an athlete’s body.  They have a $99/hour special for new clients!

23.Stretch. Learn how to stretch properly and do it regularly.  This is something I need to work on.  It will make your massage appointments a little less painful!

 24. Spectate a race.  It is actually a lot of fun to spectate a race.  It can be a lot of work if you want to see your runner more than once, but it gives you a different perspective of the race experience.

25. Volunteer at a race.  I have volunteered at a triathlon and at running races.  It makes you appreciate the volunteers so much more when you have been in their shoes.  It takes a lot of volunteers to make an event possible.  Do not forget to say “Thank you” to the volunteers on race day!!!

26. Do not run with headphones.  This is a personal pet peeve of mine.  I understand if you are running a small race where there are no spectators and music will help get you through the miles, but I do not understand listening to music when you are running a marathon with 30,000+ runners.  I feel that you miss out on part of the experience when you have headphones on.  NYC has spectators lined for most of the course and bands everywhere.  Who needs an ipod!?  Also with that many people on a race course, it is a safety concern if you have headphones on.  You should be aware of your surroundings and be able to hear if there is an emergency (knock on wood) and respond quickly.

27. Do not run with someone else’s number.  You do not want your time under someone else’s name.  26.2 miles is a long way to run and you should get credit for it!  Remember “Bib-Gate” from the 2014 Boston Marathon?  People printed out copies of a real bib and wore it on race day as if they were really registered runners.  Those imposters were found on Marathonfoto!

 28. Buy a marathon jacket……or thirty! No, I do not have 30 marathon jackets.  The Hong Kong Marathon did not sell any jackets so I only have 29.  Ha! Seriously, if it is your first marathon, buy one.  Wear your jacket proudly.  You earned it!

My 1st ever marathon jacket!
My 1st ever marathon jacket!  Not the most stylish, but still means a lot to me!
My 1st Boston Marathon jacket. Also my cheapest marathon jacket because I bought it from Filene's Basement the week after the marathon!
My 1st Boston Marathon jacket. Also my cheapest marathon jacket because I bought it from Filene’s Basement the week after the marathon!

29. Do not wear any marathon gear until after the race.  This is a superstition of mine.  You have to earn it before you can wear it!  Things that I buy at the expo are extra pieces of motivation for me to get to that finish line.

30. Figure out what works for you.  In the end, you are running the race.  I cannot run it for you.  Your pre-race rituals, race superstitions, and food choices are all yours.  Do not let anyone change your routine.  Do what you know works for you and have a great race!!  Enjoy the ride!