Marathon time

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Sooo, i’m going to join a marathon run tomorrow. Yes, less than 24 hours from now. 42 kilometers of craziness. No, i didn’t decide to join just right now, but some time ago. Like 3 months ago. Some people decide longer than that, since the ‘standard’ marathon training plan takes about 6 months. For my training plan, i created my own do-able plan, that’s good for roughly 2 months — with higher incremental weekly mileage over time (though not too much that will result into injury).

I already finish a half-marathon, in less than 3 hours, about 3 weeks ago. And also did various long distance run on my own and with friends, in the past weeks. The longest being 35km, which was not a very nice experience at the last kilometers. However, the experience could be different on a flat course, since we did that 35km in the trails, with about 800m elevation gain.

Getting ready.

In addition to training for weeks and the mental preparation to do a long distance run, these are a few items i prepare for race day.

Clothing

  • Running shorts
  • Singlet / technical t-shirt
  • Compression underpants
  • Quick dry socks
  • Running cap
  • Arm warmers
  • Running shoes
  • Shades

Gear

  • Race bib with timing chip
  • Race bib belt / safety pins
  • Cellphone
  • Timer/GPS watch
  • Heart rate monitor
  • iPod (or, use your phone)
  • Earphones (maybe use only one ear, or watch out if forbidden in the race)
  • Cash with some coins
  • Belt bag
  • Dry bag (use to protect electronics, like phone, when it rains)

Nutrition

  • Hydration bottle
  • Energy bars/Chocolate bars
  • Energy drinks

Post-race items

  • T-shirt
  • Short
  • Underwear
  • Small towel

And on the day/night before the race, in addition to writing a checklist like this one, i do the following:

* Get a very good, long night sleep the 2 nights before race day.

* The day before, preferably before noon time, i prepare the items listed above. Pack them, and place them in one location. (This also means, i also know the checklist way before-hand, and have bought them ahead).

* Eat a good dinner, with lots of complex carbo, around 6pm

* It’s also good to hydrate a lot on this day, at dinner time and during the morning before the race.

* Some may want to take a shower before going to sleep, or some do it right after waking up on race day. For me, i like the night before, so it’s one less thing to worry on race day.

* Then at night, sleep as early as usual; for example, if assembly time is 330am, i target to wake up at 2am, and sleep no later than 8pm the night before.

Then, on race day:

* As soon as i wake up, i take care of some serious business in the bathroom; i don’t want to be lugging around unnecessary crap in my body during the race.

* Then, before going to the starting line, i eat another set of complex carbo / high fiber stuffs (note, some have problem with high fiber stuffs, since it messes up their digestion — for me, i have no problem with this whatsoever) — most of the time a mix of oat meal, milk chocolate, tuna/sardines, and fruit juices (if available).

* It’s also good to drink some gatorade / energy drink at this point before the race, to have your body absorb all the nutrients ahead.

* Though, with all these eating / drinking, it’s good to do them at least an hour before gun time. That’s one reason i target to wake at 2am, about 2 hrs ahead. In terms of sequence, i take the bathroom first, and start eating afterwards. Which is before doing anything else, so my body has more time to digest and absorb all the foods.

At the starting line:

* After all these ceremonial stuffs, it’s time to go to the starting line. Be there early, way early than the announced assembly time.

* If you don’t plan a podium finish, then there’s absolutely no need to sandwich yourself in the front line. Being at the back has a lot of advantages. For one, there’s a lot less crowd. Second, at race time, there’s a lot less people pushing you from the back. The strategy with starting at the back, is to let everyone pass the starting line, and depending on your strategy, you can either wait back or surge ahead when the peloton has spread out. From the back, overtaking everyone ahead of you is one good motivational experience. And you also have the upper-hand of when to “attack”.

* Perform a few warm up exercise, just to get the blood flowing. This is important to avoid over-exerting yourself early in the race. Just keep the blood flowing so your muscle and joints function efficiently.

Some notes about the items listed above:

* Lots prefer to use energy gels, i have not tried it, and based on other people’s feedback, it’s not a very pleasant taste. I might one day try it, since my stomach can literally take whatever i throw at it, but for now, i prefer regular chocolate bars. There’s some drawback about slower absorption and digestion problem, but something i work around by anticipating ahead. In theory, i have a nutrition intake plan during the race every 5KM. The nutrition plan calls for a mixture of chocolate bars, energy drink, water, in alternating schedule. More on this in a follow-up post.

* I wear shades when possible or when safe to do. The shades gives me a sort of privacy when running. With hundreds of people watching the race, sometimes, it’s a little bit too exposed. I’m a kind of person who don’t like to show a lot of emotions, if ever i have some of it, so i hide my eyes (the window to my soul) with one-way dark mirror. So i can see the outside, without being seen back. It’s a nice privacy shield.

* A cap or any head ware is good, to keep from sweats running down to your eyes (which can sometimes sting, specially if it’s too salty), and also keep your head warm. When the sun is out, it’s a BIG difference to be running with a cap or not. The amount of water lost to unnecessary warming up of your head is really big, so a quick dry cap (important!) on your head is good.

* I don’t always run with music on. Only when i’m running a short loop, like 400m to 1000m track loop, then i turn to music. Other than that, i enjoy running with all my attention in the environment i’m in. However, for races, i bring an earphone, in case i need to focus deep down — which sometimes happen at the later part of the race. Nowadays, i don’t have a need to bring a separate iPod, since i can already play music on my phone. So, for times like this, i only bring a earphone. My strategy is no music for as long as i can, and just use it, when it’s really needed or the run is becoming very boring. But i doubt boringness will ever come, with all the idle brain time during the run, there’s just a lot of stuffs you can think about. Which sometimes, instead of bringing music on the run, might as well bring a programming problem to think and solve while running. Let it simmer in the subconscious mind while on the run.

* I like to bring my own hydration bottle and a belt bag or some not annoying bag to bring stuffs. It’s nice on races that there are water and aid stations, which makes bringing stuffs on my own a lot less critical. However, being me, i always prefer to prepare stuffs myself, and bring stuffs myself. So despite the abundance of stations, i still bring stuffs on my own. One thing with properly organized races is that abundance of water. So the water i carry with myself is a lot less, which allows me to use only a belt bag with a single 700ml bottle. On races with fewer water stations, i would opt for my hydration bag, which can easily carry 3 liters of water.

* I will make a follow-up post on how i go about nutrition on the run.

You might wonder, what’s a programmer like me, doing in marathons. Well i also wonder myself. For now, knowing if i can do it or not is enough to motivate me to be at the finish line. One thing that interest me, which i only learned during training (not when i decided to join one), is the unpredictability of it. Not matter the amount of preparation and training you do for a marathon, there’s still a bazillion of things that can go wrong. Compare that to programming, where if i write the code to be that, then it will work like that. There’s no ifs, buts — just pure simple logic. 1 + 1 = 2, in programming. However, trying doing math when you’re past the 32km marker, and you’ll know what i mean.

Surprisingly, all these uncertainties motivates me to do more of it. I feel, it’s something that i don’t have a lot in my life yet. Anyway, this post is starting to sound emotional, let’s not get to that point yet. But we’ll see, maybe running or doing endurance adventures will change all that. As they say, “No matter how fast you run, or how slow you run, when you cross that finish line, it will change your life”. Tomorrow, when (if ever) i cross that finish line, we’ll see if it will change my life.