After three years of regularly running and 10 half-marathons under my belt (along with tons of fit-spo from the FITNESS staff), I'm going after the illustrious 26.2-mile race that every runner dreams about: the New York City Marathon. The best part, for me? Running for Team Stop the Clot, a charity running team branched off the National Blood Clot Alliance. With so many important charities to choose from, it's hard to pick just one, but as someone who's been personally affected by blood clots (along with nearly a quarter million other women), it was the best fit. Want to know more about my story? Check it out here. Now that training has kicked off for me and many others lacing up for a fall race, I've teamed up with Clif Bar athlete and coach Stephanie Howe to take me through the ups and downs of doubling my usual distance. And before I get into what I can do right, it was very important to find out what I could do wrong—and make sure not to, ya know, do it. Take warning, friends, as these are the five mistakes tons of first-time marathoners make.
Not fueling while running. While you can get away with it on shorter runs, there's no skimping when mileage increases. "Hitting the wall" only happens when energy stores start to run out. Your bod needs a quick hit of sugar when racing, so "take in fuel, in the forms of gels or blocks, on any run longer than 90 minutes," recommends Howe. And be sure to try tons of different varieties to find your perfect fit, as what works for your running bestie may not for you. I love Clif Bar's Black Cherry Shot Bloks, but avoid all gels like the plague. Everybody's different.
Taking in fuel too late. Now that you know the 90-minute rule, you want to nail the timing. If 90 minutes pass before you dig in, you're already too late and won't avoid the zonk. Instead, eat one gel (about 100 calories) every 20-30 minutes. A quick trick Howe gave me, since I regularly zone out and forget about time? "Set your watch alarm to beep every 20-30 minutes, so you get that regular reminder without having to think about it." Done and done.
Waiting to eat post-run. Are you sensing a theme here? Clearly, nutrition is a major key to success in marathon training. To nix that "oh-my-god I can't move my legs" feeling the day after your run (or even the day after that, courtesy of delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS), make sure you eat within 30 minutes of wrapping up the pavement-pounding. "Any fuel consumed in that window will be used immediately to start the recovery process because it goes directly to your muscles, rather than the entire body," says Howe. If you, like me, hate thinking about food immediately following a run, don't fret: a buffet of food isn't necessary. "A Clif or Luna bar, 8 ounces of a Clif Shot recovery drink or chocolate milk are all good options," suggests Howe.
Running easy runs too fast. This one is key, and a mistake I've definitely committed more than once. 'Cause when you're feeling good and everything is clicking, it's tempting to push at a slightly faster pace. Don't do it, Howe warns. Think of it as a pacing spectrum, with "very slow" on one end, and "very fast" on the other. If you spend a ton of time in the middle, you'll short-change your progress. "Spending time at each end will improve your fitness, teach you how to adjust to different levels of difficulty, and prevent overtraining," explains Howe. So when coach says "easy," she really means it.
Skimping on rest. No rest for the weary, right? Wrong, so wrong. "The goal of training is to place stress on the body that will improve your overall fitness," explains Howe. "These adaptations happen when the body is resting, so if you skip it, you're opening yourself up to overtraining, injury and illness." Obviously I don't want any of those, so coach has me resting at least one day per week. And when she says rest, that is not code for "go take a yoga class or walk all over the city with friends." Instead, it means binge-watch Orange is the New Black or go get a massage, which Howe also highly recommends (the massage, not necessarily OITNB). Girl, you don't have to tell me twice. Photo courtesy of Clif Bar