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Michele Gonzalez: Lessons in Marathon Coaching

I’ve had the pleasure and honor of participating in two Saucony 26Strong programs over the last couple years. During that time, I have coached two first-time marathoners through training and helped them get to the start line ready to run 26.2 miles to the finish. Along the way, I have learned a few things that may be helpful for training – whether you are a wannabe marathoner or marathon finisher.

1. No such thing as too much information.

Provide your coach with as much information as you can. This includes previous training, current fitness, how you are feeling throughout the training plan, if something is starting to hurt, etc. The training plan will be as focused and tailored as you let it be.

2. Ask Questions.

If there is something on the training plan that you aren’t familiar with or don’t understand, ask. Knowing the reason why you are doing a certain run or what benefits will be reaped from completing it will make it easier to grind it out when the time comes.

3. Err on side of caution when it comes to pain.

Marathon training will hurt. Long runs can be uncomfortable. Finishing your highest mileage week will leave you tired. But there’s a difference between the pain associated with the general fatigue you will feel at mile 19 of a 20-mile run and the pain from a strain, tear or overuse injury. It’s important to differentiate between pain and discomfort. But this is a tough one, especially for newer runners. Which is why it’s always better to err on the side of caution. If something seems off or doesn’t feel right, cut the run short or take a few days off. There is no need to push through pain and potentially injure yourself.

4. Experiment with nutrition from the get-go.

Nutrition and hydration are important for half marathons, but they become paramount during a marathon. Once you start incorporating longer runs into the training plan, experiment with various gels, bites, chomps, etc. Figure out what works for you and your body. Just because it works for your coach or best friend doesn’t mean it will work for you.

5. Eat to Run – Don’t Run to Eat.

When I first started training for marathons, I assumed I could eat whatever I wanted. I was logging more miles and completing longer runs and therefore needed more calories. And so, despite training for and completing my first marathon, I put on weight and actually felt unhealthier than when I first began. These days, I am much more conscious about what I put into my body. Everything (almost everything) has a purpose and ultimately whatever I eat should help fuel me for my next run. I have found that as the mileage and intensity pick up, my diet matters more and more. (Read more about Eating to Run here)

6. Expect the roller coaster during long runs (and during the race, itself).

It’s easy to hear of others’ long runs being a success and imagine that they are smiling and happy the entire way. But the reality is that most runners hit low points ALL the time in long runs.  It’s normal.  2 to 3+ hours is a long time to be running. There will always be rough spots, doubt, slower miles…the key is being ready for them.  Expect them. Be prepared to pull yourself out of the lows when you hit them.