When I was a kid, I always thought we were either capable to play a sport, or not. If you weren't very good at the sport, felt uncomfortable, chaffed, got a stomach ache, experienced soreness, anything that was feeling great, it meant you shouldn't be doing that activity. Even if I really enjoyed it, if it didn't feel euphoric in every moment, then it wasn't for me. So I started, and quit, a lot of sports. Tennis, volleyball, track, basketball. I loved playing those so much, but I wasn't good at any of them, I experienced side cramps quickly, dealt with chaffing and soreness, and I didn't see anyone else experience the same. In my eyes, everyone else playing could wear, eat, do anything and still feel 100%. I just wasn't meant to do those things. So I became a very experienced quitter.
I wish I could go back and shake young Jessica. Let her know that everyone feels those things at some point, and almost every one of those things can be helped. With the right tools, supplements and recovery methods, you can feel great and have fun. And if your legs are sore after a long run? They're supposed to be! You're doing something new!
I can't go back in time and help my younger self, but I work hard to teach my kids these lessons. And now, after completing my first marathon, which I always was certain to be impossible, I can move forward with a different outlook. So here are all the things I found to be most helpful for my marathon, as well as some things that went awry. I've also found new items in my current training that I'll share. I hope this helps any of you who are starting your journey. Or, if you're feeling defeated in any way, maybe try some of these things to get you feeling like your happy, running (or walking) self again.
Let's Talk Gear
Like most runners, I have a lot of athletic wear. Clothes for warm weather, cold weather, layering, rain, shoes and backpack shoes. But for long runs, I always wore the same outfit. About halfway through the training I figured out what was most comfortable, and I decided that would be more race day outfit. So long runs were always ran in those clothes. Every other run could be whatever else I had that was clean. But long runs = race day outfit.
My go-to sports bra comes from Fabletics. Listen, everyone's ta-tas have different needs. I happen to be very flat chested (might be TMI, but let's be honest, this entire series is going to be a little too much information). So while I'm not really looking for support, I am looking for comfort. Something that's not too tight, doesn't dig into my neck, and has minimal chaffing. I trained in this bra for every single long run, and it wasn't until the marathon that I experienced chaffing (around the bottom band on my back). Go figure.
My favorite shorts for long runs come from Old Navy, and I haven't been able to find them since they were originally purchased! The new version of these fits a little snug around the thighs, so I'm on the hunt for new ones. I like loose shorts, nothing tight. No bike or high waisted shorts for me. I also have pretty large thighs, so I don't want anything that is going to ride up while I run. I want to think about as little as possible on long runs. Loose running shorts with built in undies (no additional undies necessary) are what I need.
The tank top I always wear on my long runs is pretty basic, but perfect. Anything like this will do for me. It needs to be light weight, loose and can be completely drenched in sweat without getting heavy. I love the cute, flowy cotton tanks for shorter runs, but those become soppy wet rags in the Florida heat.
The shoes I ran in for my marathon were Swiss Engineering Cloudflow sneakers. They're lightweight and fit comfortable. Since the marathon, I've been running in Swiss Engineering Cloudflyer, and I'm still working these in. Running shoes are a fickle thing. It takes time to know if they're right for long distances. Messing with the laces, the way you tie them, the type of socks that work well. And even though you buy the exact same pair a year later, they won't fit the same. So always check your local running store for a fitting and the option to try a few pairs for awhile.
When it's really cold outside, it's time to layer. My favorite cold weather pieces are Nike Element long sleeve shirt (love the zipper by the neck and thumb holes on the sleeve), athletic ear warmer wrap (I can wrap this over my baseball cap), and running gloves (I can still use my phone with these). Even when it's very chilly (remember, I live in Florida, I'm not running through snow) I don't switch out my shorts for pants. I'm that sensitive to tight fitting clothing on a long run, I will always wear my shorts. Now for race day, I will have a very inexpensive pair of loose sweatpants to wear over my shorts, and then throw off as necessary.
Finally, my last gear recommendations are good socks (I like lightweight ones) and a baseball cap (I prefer a cap with a mesh back for airflow). My husband runs with me, and he wears a running belt to hold my phone and fuel, as well as a water backpack (not the biggest fan of these, since they can leak and leave your back super sweaty). On race day we don't carry a water backpack, and I'm testing out alternatives to the running belt (I cannot wear these, since they do irritate my stomach).
How I "Fuel"
I know, it seems silly to say "fueling" for a run. I mean, just say your eating... but there is an actual difference. To me, fueling means thinking about what my body needs, and what could upset it on a long run. Could I eat the greasy burger today, and feel fine tomorrow, when tomorrow is a day I'm not running 20 miles? Sure! I would be fine. However, if I am running 20 miles the next day, I'm going to have a problem. So fueling includes fuel, supplements, and anything else I ingest to keep me feeling as good as possible on run day.
If you try nothing else, I highly suggest you try these HoneyStinger Rapid Hydration packets. There are a few different flavors, I love all of them. I will drink one of these each day leading up to a long run, and immediately after a long (or very sweaty) run. They taste good and actually make me feel better. I do not drink Powerade or Gatorade, and I only drink water during the run.
My favorite food the day before a race is pretty bland, but stuff I actually like. A grilled chicken breast and angel haired pasta with olive oil and salt. Mmmm. I'll eat as much of that as I can pre race day.
For a snack I'll have whole eat english muffin with almond butter. This one can be a little risky, so I make sure not to eat too much.
I stay away from all the tummy ticklers and tumblers: no sugar, salads, anything that makes me gassy, nothing with a lot of grease or fat.
I'm focused on protein, carbs and salt.
I don't eat a lot before the long run, just a banana usually.
Ok, I'll be honest. There comes a point, a mile, a time when you've sweat so much, and the last think you want to do is eat something. But, you really need to. Some people eat a Snickers at this point. That doesn't work for me. I've tried a few different products, so let's go through the good and the bad.
Clif Bloks energy chews are my favorite. I like to always have one that has caffeine, and one that has sodium. Those are the two things I need the most during a long run.
Salt Sticks were something I actually tried on marathon race day (never a smart move), but they actually worked magically and I've been hooked on them ever since. They are flavored, chewable, and don't actually taste like salt. They're small tablets, and I just hold it in my mouth between my gum and my teeth, and let it slowly dissolve while I run. Unless you've experienced it, it's hard to imagine the immediate and drastic effect these can have. Right away I feel more energized, less neausaus, and just overall better. Because when you're running and sweating for hours, you lose a lot of salt! And if you don't get it back fast, you're in some dizzy black out trouble. These are a big big must have for me.
The Jelly Belly Sports Beans are a race favorite for organizers. They're easy to hand out, the beans are small and chewy, so you can easily pop a few in your mouth with no worry about choking. But here's the thing, while they taste good, they leave me feeling like I just drank a cup of salt water. I'm immediately incredibly thirsty, which leads me to drink too much water at one time. If I chug a couple cups of water in a few seconds, I'm going to have a stomach ache. So while I tried training with these, and I have a big box of them still sitting in my pantry, I'm no longer turning to them for the long runs.
So, one big tip from me to you: try to find lots of fuel that you like before race day, and bring all of those with you. The waffles from Honey Stinger were a training favorite of mine. Since our long runs usually started early in the morning, these were like a yummy breakfast. I could eat them before a run and during a run, and they offered a different taste than the other sour flavored items. So I bought a big box, and made sure to bring them with me. And then the morning of the marathon I grab one while getting ready, open it up, and about throw up. The sight, the smell, the taste of it... it was painfully bad. All of a sudden I was severely rejecting my go-to run snack. I don't know if it was the anxiety and adrenalin combo, or just a sudden change in taste preference, but there was no way I was going to eat that. Which had me freaking out. I had trained for months, and I always started with that item! Which is why I reluctantly grabbed the packet of Salt Sticks that I purchased the previous day at the expo while we trekked out the door and to our bus stop.
I don't use the goo (gag) or the honey sticks that many runners love. I don't bring super sugary candy or snacks with me on a run. As someone who suffers from IBS, I have to be careful with what I put in this body. Because honestly, if my body decides it's unhappy, and I've been running 18 miles... it's going to let me and the rest of the world know in the most humiliating way possible (more on that next time).
I know this is a lot of info, and thank you if you've made it through the whole thing! Again, these are the things I wish I knew when I started running. It's so important to find clothing that makes you feel comfortable and food and supplements that keep you going. You don't have to feel sick and dizzy on these runs. I mean, you'll probably feel tired and sore, but that's to be expected. Try out all of the options out there. And go to a running store! They'll have lots of fuel, clothing and shoes to help you figure out what works best for you.
Let me know what you use for your long runs! And get ready, because the next post is going over alllllll the TMI stuff! I'm talking chaffing, greasing, bleeding, pooping... yup, we're getting dirty.
Interested in the physical exercise I did to train for 26.2? Check out this post!