'Tis the season to run your legs off. Each autumn, from St. Paul to Seattle, tens of thousands of runners wrap up a year of training with a 26.2-mile run. I ran my requisite annual marathon this past weekend, pacing at just under eight-minute miles in the Twin Cities Marathon to pull my best personal time to date at 3 hours, 27 minutes.
Here are eight quick tips--some highly personal, some quite unorthodox--on the gear, running techniques and nutrition I use to make it from the start line through 26.2 miles and to the end.
Wear Big Shoes
I wear shoes about one size too large when I run. You can lace them tight enough to always feel like they fit fine. But the larger size allows your toes ample room to spread out and breathe. Your feet will swell after many miles on the run, so the extra room is needed.
Lube Your Feet
If your feet are in pain, you will run slower. You may even quit the race. Over the years, I've suffered through dozens of blisters and black toenails. To combat foot troubles, I now employ a foot lubricant called Hydropel (available for about $18 a bottle online at www.argear.com). Smear it across your toes and glop it on your heel. Pull a sock over it all, your foot feeling gooey inside. This will keep your skin from bunching up and blistering. It works.
Tape for Hot Spots
Bring a small amount of duct tape or medical Leukotape along on the marathon. The moment you feel a hot spot developing on your foot, stop and apply the tape as a layer of protection. Put it on tight and smooth so as not to add bulk or cause another spot of friction. This is not a medical treatment, but it will keep the blister from getting worse.
This performance-enhancing drug is not outlawed by any board. Seriously, no drug has been as important for my success in endurance athletics as ibuprofen has. I take two before a race starts and then have a baggie in my shorts pocket with three or four more pills to pop on the run if needed. (*Editor's note: Some medical studies link the ingestion of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen (Advil), aspirin, and naproxen sodium (Aleve) during athletics to gastrointestinal issues and poor fluid transport in the body, which may lead to an increased risk of hyponatremia, dehydration, and at the extreme, kidney failure. Consult with a doctor before taking drugs for an event. Please see Stephen Regenold's blog for more information in response to the ibuprofen controversy.)
Swallow an electrolyte tablet--sometimes called salt pills--and you're downing the equivalent of a small glass of Gatorade. That's the simplified way to explain it. But pills like Endurolytes from Hammer Nutrition ($17 for 120 pills at www.hammernutrition.com) have been crucial for me on races to stay cramp-free. I take one or two per hour while running.
I religiously employ a heart-rate monitor while running to provide an exact, immediate gauge of what my body is doing in comparison to the clock. For my race this year, in which I used the Suunto t6c watch ($399, www.suunto.com), I started at about a 155 beats-per-minute pace and ran that way for more than half the race. It was a pace I could maintain for two hours, and it allowed me to push my body--but not push it so much that'd I'd be worn down for the finish.
Any general marathon advice manual will stress staying hydrated. But consuming calories is almost as important for success. I find that consuming 100 or more calories an hour keeps me energized and fast. Athletic gels are the preferred food for most endurance athletes. I squeeze one down every half-hour to 45 minutes as I run.
Run the Final Mile
To me, a marathon is a 25 mile race. The final mile and change does not count. By that point in the game the finish line is in sight. People are cheering. You have huge relief that the end is near. Every marathon I've done I hit it hard for the last mile. I pound it out, sometimes in great pain, at a pace faster than many of the miles before. Run hard. Get it done. Then flop over the finish line, arms raised in victory at the end.
Stephen Regenold writes The Gear Junkie column for eight U.S. newspapers; visit thegearjunkie.com for video gear reviews, a daily blog and an archive of Regenold's work.