Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Lessons Learned from Walking

I made a list of things that I learned from Sunday's LA Marathon for my future use... before I forget.  Since some random person/people out there might find a useful nugget in there, I decided to publish this publicly, as well.

First off, I know that my overall performance wasn't anywhere near perfect.  And even if it was, there is probably some combination that could get me to that sub-4 marathon that probably doesn't include any of these tidbits below.  Yes, I still fought cramps, and it was still hard... but the overall experience was just SO much better than usual.

If I am going to use the same strategy for any future races, I need to iron out what I can to maximize it, and given that this was my first time trying such methods, I have a lot to tweak.

The strategy I used was some variant of the Galloway method, which was a suggestion from a physical therapist.  She told me that a run/walk method would "save" my legs for the latter parts of the race when I am normally crippled by calf cramps.  I somewhat arbitrarily chose to run in 8-minute intervals and walk 1-minute intervals, as I didn't want to be stopping/starting too often, and this combination seemed ideal.


I always want to look this happy
after every marathon from now on. ;)
- In the days before, I didn't really eat THAT much more than usual. I cleaned up my eating in the few days before, as I had not been eating too well (e.g., too many sweets) in the weeks before.  And I maybe only had one-and-a-half servings of coconut water.  I also forgot to load up on pickle juice throughout the week (although I did snack on pickles!)

- My dinner of semi-homemade pizza with pita chips actually fueled me, but next time, I should steer clear from whole wheat crust.  I'm one of those people who actually likes the taste over white crust, but this isn't the first time I've experienced race-day GI issues from it.  Also, avoid topping said pizza with toppings that usually cause stomach pain (e.g., bell peppers).  Also, from other races, I've learned that eating a lot of veggies/salad is too much roughage, and desserts at dinner is also a no-no.

- Bring stuff to stay warm before the race, especially if the wait is long.  Too much energy wasted by shivering, and also, more porta-potty visits are needed due to shrinking bladder.  I usually do this by bringing mylar blankets from past races, but I thought they were giving them out, which I did not see.

The Method:

- I worked really hard to stick to my strategy guns and not veer off if I could.  So that meant that I took the 1-minute walk break during the first mile, while everyone else whizzed around me.  I kept to the sides as much as I could.

- My Garmin was set to only count down the 8 and 1-minute intervals, so I didn't have the usual view of my pace/splits, elapsed time, or distance.  I actually found this really useful, because I wasn't thinking way ahead like I usually do (e.g., "I have XX miles to go" or "I've already used up X hours") and pretty much just looked toward the end of each interval.  This really helped me keep relaxed and calm and actually able to enjoy the views.  In other words, ignorance is bliss.

- I was able to start/stop running pretty easily and smoothly, which was good, because that could easily jar one's legs. I think my practice run helped, and in general, my running is pretty lax these days, and I walk when I feel like it.

- May need to practice this more frequently, on runs longer than 8 miles, just so I'm not doing something that's still pretty new on race day.


- I used my breaks to walk at a normal pace and relax.  When I checked later, I generally walked between 350-450 FEET during that minute, so the goal isn't to cover a lot of distance but to reset the legs. 

- I also used some of the breaks for refueling.  It was better when I didn't need to refuel during the break, but in general, I did have the need, so some of the time was spent fiddling in my pockets or with cups/bottles.  Yes, I had a water bottle at some points on the course from the spectators, and that allowed me to worry less about the timing of the intervals and water stations.  Maybe I should consider carrying my sport bottle in the future.

- Other things I did during breaks was take deep breaths, stretch, take off my hat for a brief breather, and adjust my clothing.  Adjusting my clothing helped prevent chafing, and it also changed how my legs were compressed, and at those points, my repetition-strained legs craved change.

- My breaks did not really coincide with water stops.  Sometimes, I'd hit a water stop a minute or two before my prescribed break, so I'd grab the cup and run with it.  Yes, there was spillage, but there was generally enough liquid to consume what I had to and wash it down.  See above note about considering carrying my own bottle in the future.

- I took breaks for certain parts, even if they were during my "run" interval.  Big hills, a water station I felt I needed, and crampy legs caused me to take premature breaks or breaks that were longer than needed (2 minutes, or at most, 3).  I decided not to spend too much of my legs' "resources" on hills that I wouldn't really be running that fast up, anyway.  Since my Garmin was counting down, I tried not to "waste" my "run" intervals walking WHEN I COULD.

- However, I did not ever run through any of my walk breaks until the last dash at the end, except one, and that was because I somehow missed the signal.  I made up for it shortly afterward, though!  The point is, I took the "break" seriously, and I think this helped me in the end enough to allow me to abandon the last couple of walk breaks toward the finish.  In the future, I know that my intuition will tell me whether I can just run for it during the last 3 or so miles.


- Salt tablets: not a fuel, but I did take two in the starting corral and after each hour (approximate because I didn't know the elapsed time but I generally went by Mile 6/12/18/21

- Pre-race: banana and package of Honey Stinger chews (caffeinated).  This is my new go-to brand, as they are easily consumed (even without water, which I sometimes had to do), taste decent with not much bad aftertaste, and non-irritating to my stomach. 

- Race: 2 packages of caffeinated Honey Stinger chews and one package of non-caffeinated.  They were out of the package in combined in a plastic baggie (need smaller one next time!) for easy access.  I also had Clif Shot Bloks with me, but I never got into those.  The pure honey/sugar did help keep my energy level steady.

- Also consumed: On-course Ultima (electrolyte drink), water (including a bottle that someone gave me at one point), 1 citrus/caffeinated Clif Gel, 1/5 of a coconut water jug that I was given toward the end (lifesaver!), and orange slices maybe 4-5 times (also lifesaver!)

- I hit most of the water stations, though I started during mile 4 or so and ignored some in the last few miles.  LA Marathon seems to have soooo many support stations, which is a luxury other marathons don't have.  Need to consider based on course.

- This means I probably consumed 850-900 calories prior to and during the race, which is more than I normally do (which is about 4-5 gels and a pack of chews or banana beforehand, about ~400-600 calories)


Looking stupid but running toward the finish
using deep-breathing.
- I didn't take too much time to stretch when I was feeling tight/crampy.  Maybe just a few seconds, as the longer I stopped, the worse it tended to feel when I started up again.  So rather than worry about getting the "kink" completely out, remember that this never happens and try to move on as possible.

- Deep breathing helped immensely!  During that last run to the finish, I had to take deep breaths in and out, quickly, to keep my legs from cramping as I decided to stop taking the walk breaks.  I also did this throughout the race as needed.

- When I got nervous or felt myself tense up from the worry of cramping, I tried to relax and enjoy myself as much as I can.  When things get rough, I tend to get consumed with worry, and that doesn't exactly help my energy level or calf muscles.  I had to remind myself periodically of this.  For future reference, I know I tend to tense up more when it's warm (anxiety response), so I need to keep this in mind even more.


  1. Run/walk method is about the only reason I am able to run. A lot of people think it's dumb but it makes great sense for someone who wants to prolong their energy and give their muscles a break. And, finish times are barely different. I do 10:1's and during each walk break I take a drink, stretch my upper body a bit and take nutrition if I need it. Only time I skip a walk break is if I'm running fast down a hill and then I take it a bit later. Anyhow, it's a great method and I think it has done wonders for me and lots of other runners. I'm going to have to try some of your other suggestions here though, sounds good!

  2. I noticed that there was a lot of support this year too. It seemed that the official aid stations were more often than each mile. I also noticed a lot of spectators handing out water for their SRLA or fundraiser teams. I usually don't stop at those, but it seems they'd be okay with a random runner taking a twizzler. I usually take more orange slices or pretzels from spectators, but this year I only took one. I really didn't want to waste energy weaving out to get an orange or pretzel, though they did look good.

  3. I love the walk/run method. It helped me learn how to get through the marathon! Thanks for all this great information, Julie!

  4. I like the idea of going back and cataloging what worked and what didn't. I've often found myself going back to race reports to find that sort of information, but this makes a lot of sense.

    Also, I'm a big fan of the Honey Stinger products (especially the bars for long rides and adventure races, but I can't do bars during marathons).