Tips for New Runners – Nutrition Before & During the Long Run

When you start training for a long distance run, start testing out the foods you want to eat before and during the race early on.  Long runs can make our guts a lot more sensitive than they normally are, so the last thing you want to do is eat strange foods or drink strange drinks on race day. That could be a one-way ticket to a miserable time in the porta-potty or really embarrassing streaks down your legs. You may also choose to eat a very low fiber diet the day before your long run, for the same reason. I found that to be a very effective strategy while I trained for the marathon. Also, due to the laxative effects, stay away from coffee the morning of a long run. If you need the caffeine, green or black tea should help wake you up without causing you any intestinal troubles.

Jeff Galloway has some involved recommendations for how & what to eat the day before the run. I’ll admit that I didn’t really follow his recommendations before the marathon, or the marathon-length training run, but they were in the back of my mind and did moderate my eating a bit.

If at all possible, find out what sports drinks and gels will be provided during your goal race and try them out on your long training runs. That way, you’ll know how they’ll affect you on race day and whether or not you can consume them. I was not able to test out the sports drink provided by the Missoula Marathon, so I did not consume any of it. And the gels were not labeled as gluten free, which is an issue for me, so I just carried my own.

Some runners get hungry during long runs. I don’t. This may be due to what I eat for my breakfast (see below), or it just may be how I work. On runs of 15 miles or more, I do take nutrition with me. As mentioned before, I use the Honey Stinger Gels, mixed into my water, and the Stinger Gummies. Both are gluten free and they got me through my marathon training and the race quite well. And to be fair, on my long Saturday runs of around 13 miles, I do stop to have a snack and coffee around mile 11 when my group run is over but before I run home, so it’s fair to say that I use some sort of nutrition on runs over 10 miles, even if it’s just a quarter of a banana and cup of coffee. Check out your local running and athletic stores for other ideas, as well. They may have quite a selection of things for you to try, both in solid and gel form.

If you get hungry during your runs or if you’re going to be running really long runs you may need something that is more like actual food. Some folks take pretzels or nuts along, and I’ve even heard of people carrying sandwiches. It really just depends on how sensitive your guts will get, and what your needs are. Experimenting during training is the way to figure out what will best get you through the race.

So, if you’re wondering what I eat before long runs, let me tell you. I’m a gluten free eater due to some digestive troubles and oatmeal causes me troubles too. So finding something to eat before my long runs was a bit of a challenge at first. Eventually I settled on socca with peanut butter & honey on it and a couple eggs. There are some carbs in there, to get me going, and a fair amount of protein, fat and fiber as well, which could be why I don’t get hungry during my long runs.

Socca is a flatbread made from chickpea flour, water and olive oil. I find that using warm (not hot) water and covering the bowl tightly can shorten the amount of time you need to rest the batter, but always let it sit at least 30 minutes. Recently I have found a recipe for chickpea flour pancakes that I really like, and may use it in place of the socca, as it is easier to make and doesn’t heat up the house as much in the summer. I will also try out these coconut flour & almond flour pancakes as pre-race fuel, because they are really delicious and the recipe yields exactly the right amount of batter for just me.

So to recap the important points:

  • The day before a long run, try out a low fiber diet.
  • The morning of a long run, stay away from coffee. Green or black tea may help.
  • Try out the food and drink you plan to eat on race day, during your long training runs.
  • If at all possible, try out the gels and sports drinks that will be offered during the race,  on your long training runs.

Finding the right nutrition for you can be tricky, but it can sure save you a lot of discomfort and trouble on race day.

Happy running!

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Tips for New Runners – IT Band and Feet

This post is a part of my series, Tips for New Runners. It is based entirely on my own experiences as a new runner and may be missing a lot of information. This series is intended to help my readers find what works for them by sharing what worked or didn’t work for me.

I am very fortunate that in the short time I’ve been a runner I have yet to experience a serious injury. I firmly believe that following the Galloway method was largely responsible for that, but my own caution and attitude certainly helped. The two problems I have had were some minor foot pain and a minor to moderate issue with my right IT Band. Both were fairly easy to manage.

My feet, but especially my right foot, tend to stiffen up and become painful. They’ve always been this way and I’ve found that wearing good shoes with lots of arch support makes a big difference. When I started running, however, it became a little more pressing of an issue until a friend of mine recommended that I get a Foot Rubz ball. It’s a very firm little ball with nubbins protruding from it that you put it on the floor & roll back and forth under your foot. If you haven’t used it, or if you’ve tried a squishier version, you’d be surprised at just how effective it is. I usually wait a while after my long runs for the swelling in my feet to go down, and then I set it down and use it to work the stiffness out of my feet. My right foot usually pops several times, accompanied by a sensation of extreme relief. I keep my Foot Rubz ball in my purse or bag and use it any time my feet start to stiffen up, usually 5 out of every 7 days. My local running store sells these delightful little items for about $7 and it was worth every penny and then some.

IT Band Issues are no fun. Many, many runners have IT band problems at some point during their training and some get so bad that they have to take a break from training for a while. Not everyone seems to experience IT Band pain in exactly the same way, so if you’re having knee or leg pain and aren’t sure what it is, see your doctor or PT as soon as you can. In my case it was pretty obvious to me, from the way my knee felt like it was being pulled upward, that my IT Band was the trouble.

I did some reading and experimenting, and tried out the foam roller at our running store and bought one lickety-split. From that point forward I rolled my IT Band pretty frequently. At first it hurt like the dickens, but the more I rolled it, the less it hurt. I started to roll knots out of the fronts of my thighs as well, and that also seemed to help quite a bit. One day, I had the weirdest experience. As I lay on my foam roller, the knot just above my knee began to loosen as normal and then just suddenly melted completely. It felt SO weird! Afterward, my leg felt looser and better than it had in ages. I’m really, really glad I started using my foam roller when I did. I am not sure I would have finished my marathon training without it.

After buying my foam roller, I found Youtube to be a great resource for figuring out how to use it. Search for whichever type of rolling or stretching you’re looking for and check out multiple videos on that technique. Not all of the videos for rolling the IT band mention that once you find a knot you should stop rolling and sit on that knot for a while (recommendations vary from 10 to 60 seconds). It can be pretty painful to do that, but that pain is a sign that you really need to release that knot.

The night before the marathon I learned about a possible contributor to my IT Band problems. That night, Jeff Galloway, who was in town to run the Missoula Marathon, held a special motivational talk just for those of us who had taken the Galloway class. A number of runners mentioned IT Band issues and it was actually his wife who spoke up to ask us if we always ran on the same side of the road, which we all agreed was pretty accurate. It turns out that the camber of the road can contribute to IT Band problems and that one solution is to stop always running on the same side of the road. Oddly enough, the next day as I ran the marathon itself, I realized that the course kept us mostly on the side of the road I generally didn’t run on. Afterwards, my IT Band was not nearly as tight as it was after most of my training runs. Now I try to switch sides and vary the surfaces I run on and I haven’t been having much trouble at all.

If you’re having any sort of recurring pain that doesn’t go away, do some research and consider visiting your doctor. While it’s very true that new runners will have little aches and pains as their muscles grow and become stronger, other times the pain indicates a more serious issue. Don’t take too long ignoring it or trying to figure it out on your own before you see a doctor or PT. As I mentioned before, including information about those little pains in your blog posts or journal entries can help you to keep better track of them so that when you do go see the doctor or PT, you can give them the best information about what’s going on, as well as being helpful to yourself and other new runners.

Take good care of yourself and run happy!

Running to Finish vs. a Time Goal, Which is Right for You?

This post is a part of my series, Tips for New Runners. It is based entirely on my own experiences as a new runner and may be missing a lot of information. This series is intended to help my readers find what works for them by sharing what worked or didn’t work for me.

During the Galloway Marathon Training class that I took, we got some very different advice on the “time goal.” Jeff Galloway is adamant that a first time marathoner should run to finish. Our class leaders also adhered to this approach. Several of our expert guest speakers, however, disagreed.

Ultimately you have to decide for yourself whether a time goal is right for you for your first race or any race you run. Some runners and run/walkers find that they gain motivation from the time goal. They are competing against others, or perhaps just against themselves and their own limits. Having a goal keeps them on track in their training and pushes them onward during the race. On the other hand, pushing yourself too much can make you more likely to become injured. So in that regard, it depends on your priority. How important is it to you to make it through your training and finish the race healthy enough to continue running afterwards, vs. how important is it that you run your race in a certain amount of time? Only you can make that determination.

I am not a competitive runner at all. I didn’t even start run/walking until age 37. I’m not fast and I don’t anticipate being fast enough to even win my age group any time soon, if ever. What I do want is to keep run/walking for the rest of my life. So for me, avoiding injury is much more important than any time goal.

In fact, I find that trying to have a time goal causes me stress. Toward the end of our marathon training class a particularly persuasive guest speaker told us how important it was to have a time goal in order to stay motivated during the race. Since I was completely inexperienced at running races, I took her advice to heart and tried to set a time goal for myself based on Jeff Galloway’s Magic Mile prediction formula. Whenever I looked at the difference between my suggested training pace (13:46) and race pace (11:46) it started to freak me out. I couldn’t figure out how I was supposed to run 26.2 miles 2 minutes faster per mile than I was used to. Other runners advised me that races are different and I’d get a boost from the adrenaline and race energy and go faster without even realizing it, but I had my doubts. I actually found myself having bad dreams about it.

As the day of the race approached, much was made about how hot it would be that day, and how we needed to slow down to protect ourselves from the heat. I think that all the concern about the heat saved me from a lot of stress. As I once again let go of the idea of having a time goal, not really knowing what to expect from the heat, I suddenly felt much better about race day. My attitude turned from dread back to excitement.

The morning of the race, my pace group buddies and I chatted about what we wanted and agreed to run a conservative race and focus on having a good time. I am so pleased with that decision. We ended up running  very close to my training pace and the truth is, I had a great race that I will always be able to look back on with pride. It doesn’t matter to me that my finish time is just barely under six hours. What is important to me is that I finished a marathon and I had a great time doing it. It makes me want to run the marathon again next year. If I’d tried to speed it up 2 minutes per mile I probably would have had a very different race, and I suspect that I wouldn’t have come across the finish line as excited and happy as I did. I know myself well enough to know that if I’d hurt myself in the process, it might have discouraged me from running at all after that.

So when you are deciding whether or not to have a time goal, consider what is best for you. Will you be motivated by it? Will it help you get stronger and faster and be a positive force in your training? Or, will it cause you unnecessary stress and take your focus away from finishing and having fun? Your friends, other runners, teachers and experts can tell you what they think, but they can’t see inside your head and know what is best for you. Just do be careful about choosing your time goals at first. Make sure you’re not setting yourself up for disappointment. Be conservative. It’s probably better to set a conservative goal and meet or surpass it. At least, that’s what I think.

Happy Running!

Tips for New Runners – Dark Shorts

Running shorts and pants can be expensive, but if you find them on sale or at the second hand store they might be a bit easier on the wallet. Breathable, wicking fabric really makes a difference when you’re dealing with runs more than 3 or 4 miles, or warmer/cooler temperatures. There are lined and unlined shorts and pants. There are shorts and pants with compression, and even running skirts with compression shorts underneath. Some have pockets, others do not. My favorite shorts are lined, but not at all tight and I’ve never had any discomfort or chafing from them. Check with the folks at the running store for advice if you need help choosing the right style for you.

One consideration that may not come to mind when you go shopping is how dark colors might be better at times. You may first choose colors that best match your other running gear, and that’s fine. However, one thing that nobody may have mentioned to you yet is that runners, particularly distance runners sometimes have digestive difficulties and obviously, many lady runners menstruate. Because of these two situations, I do recommend dark shorts and pants that won’t advertise any accidents to those who see you run by.

Bust out the pink shorts with the purple sparkles when you’re comfortable that you don’t have anything to worry about, but have dark pairs handy for longer runs or runs during that part of your cycle. And besides, black goes with everything, right? Right.

Happy running!

Tips for New Runners – Blog About It

This post is a part of my blog flash series, Tips for New Runners. It is based entirely on my own experiences as a new runner and may be missing a lot of information. This series is intended to help my readers find what works for them by sharing what worked or didn’t work for me.

I highly recommend that you blog or journal your running experience. Even if you don’t intend it to be shared with others, writing about your experience can be helpful for your future self.

Firstly, there are many things you’ll experience as a new runner that your runner friends, class leaders, running store staff and running magazine writers have all forgotten about. Keeping track of those experiences can be useful to you later on, and also just help you remember your experience more clearly.

If you start to notice a strange, recurring pain that lasts more than a few days, be sure to include it in your journal or blog. It might seem silly, or complain-y, but it’s really not. One of the things that new runners sometimes have trouble with is telling the “growing pains” that come from building muscle and gaining strength, from actual injury pains. If you blog or journal about a pain you’re having you can keep better track of it and maybe have a better idea of when seeing a doctor or PT is necessary. You’ll also be able to provide them with a more accurate account of when the problem started and how it has changed or intensified, which could prove useful to them in treating you.

On a more positive side, blogging or journaling about your runs can serve as a way to bring back really positive memories, possibly more clearly than you could otherwise. Every so often, particularly if I’m feeling discouraged or overwhelmed, I will go back and read the posts I wrote about running the Missoula Marathon in July. (Part One & Part Two) Reading my own account of my experience brings those memories back with an amazing degree of clarity, and knowing that I can accomplish something like running a marathon can really help me combat those feelings of being discouraged or overwhelmed. You may find, even if your goals are 5k and 10k runs, that reading through a post or journal entry of a positive experience can help you when you’re feeling discouraged.

Also, if you find yourself injured or having to take a break from running for any reason, good or bad, having a record of some of the things you went through may prove useful when you’re starting up again or getting back on track. It can help you remember how you handled certain little aches and pains, and which ones you might not have to worry about as opposed to things that might be more serious. Reading back through your blog can also remind you that you can do this, because you have done it before.

And if you do decide to share your blog with others, it can be a really fun way to connect with other runners and maybe even help out another newbie along the way.

Happy Running!

Tips for New Runners – Socks

This post is a part of my blog flash series, Tips for New Runners. It is based entirely on my own experiences as a new runner and may be missing a lot of information. This series is intended to help my readers find what works for them by sharing what worked or didn’t work for me.

When I started running, I didn’t realize how important socks were. I went out on quite a few runs in regular, everyday cotton socks. For a while that wasn’t a problem. Running a mile or two in cotton socks isn’t really an issue for me. But once I got my mileage up to three miles and beyond, cotton socks stopped being okay and started causing me blisters.

I checked in with other runner friends and was directed to my local running store to purchase actual running socks. When I got there, I suffered a bit of sticker shock and went home to try to find less expensive options on the internet. I’m not sure I can recommend this course of action, to be honest. I ended up with two pair of socks that got me up to 12 miles before they started causing blisters, and then I just gave in and went to my local running store.

See, the thing I didn’t realize is that most of the blister-causing friction on my feet was actually being caused by my socks. Your shoes can be big and somewhat loose, to allow for feet swelling. Having a shoe that rubs isn’t necessarily going to cause you any problems. It’s really the sock that matters. If your sock isn’t moving against your foot, there isn’t going to be much friction against your skin no matter what your shoe does.  (See my future post on blister tape & chafing gels/creams for when toes rub and cause blisters.)

There are many, many brands of socks and many models made by each company and your feet may have different needs than mine. My best recommendation to you is to visit your local running store and have them help you pick out the best socks. If you experience sticker shock, as I did, buy one pair and try them out. After that, if they work for you, you might be able to buy them online or on sale days at a better price.

This series isn’t intended to be about product recommendations, but I will tell you which socks I use. For my shorter runs, I wear one of the less expensive Feetures models, but for my long runs it’s the Feetures Elites all the way. They were recommended to me by another distance runner friend and I love them. On my 26.2 mile marathon training run, I ran on a cold, miserable, rainy day. My feet were absolutely soaked within the first 3 miles. The only blister I got that day was not remotely sock related, but rather my own fault for poorly applied blister tape. It wasn’t even in an area where a sock could have caused it. You can also see sock reviews at various websites, including the Runners World sock review.

If you find yourself having blister problems, especially on longer runs, consider that your socks might be the culprits. Socks can be spendy, but the good ones really are worth it. Also, be extra sure to read the laundering instructions on your socks. Many of them call for turning your socks inside out in addition to the temperature and drying recommendations. Washing them according to the directions may well increase their lifespan and help keep your feet happy and blister free.

Tips for New Runners – Saving Money

This post is a part of my blog flash series, Tips for New Runners. It is based entirely on my own experiences as a new runner and may be missing a lot of information. This series is intended to help my readers find what works for them by sharing what worked or didn’t work for me.

Getting into running, like any other sport or hobby, can end up being expensive. Other runners may tell you that all you really need is a good pair of running shoes and that is true up to a point. But if you find yourself really getting into running, whether you choose to run more often or run farther, chances are good that find that you will want or need other things besides those shoes.

First off, I will tell you not to skimp on the shoes. If you’re on a budget, like I am, sometimes those shoe prices are heartburn-inducing. But good shoes are the first step to a happy running experience. Bad or broken down shoes can actually cause you all kinds of problems that you really want to avoid. So please see the nice people at your local running store and get good shoes. One way to reduce the heartburn of buying new shoes is to hit the sale days. Get in there early in the day before the selection is too picked over, and if you find a really awesome shoe, maybe get two pair if you can pull that off. You can also order a second pair online, once you’ve run in them long enough to be certain you really want another pair. Just make sure that the shoe company hasn’t changed the model enough to cause you trouble. This can happen from one year to the next.

Once you have the shoes, don’t worry too much about the other gear at first. Go run, see how you like it. If you think it’s something that you’re going to stick with, start thinking about other ways to make your running experience more comfortable and enjoyable and start buying what you can, when you can. Some things you might want are:

A good running bra: This is another area where hitting the sales is your best bet, and I’ll be writing up another post about how to choose a bra, so please keep an eye out for that post soon.

A water belt: If you’re interested in distance running, you may want a belt that holds water and other goodies to help you on your run. I’ll be posting more about belts as well, but what I will say now is don’t just buy the cheapest belt. I did that and I sort of wish I hadn’t. I bought a belt with two bottles in static positions and a smallish pouch, and while it is a great belt for a medium length run, it’s not sufficient for me on a longer run. I ended up buying a second belt that I was able to add more bottles and pouches to. I would have spent less money overall if I’d just bought the more flexible belt to begin with.

Socks: Socks will get their own post as well, but I do recommend that you at least chat with the people at your running store before choosing socks, even if you buy them elsewhere for less money.

Athletic clothing: Here is where you actually do have some options for saving money. If you get to a point in your running where you’re running longer distances or in weather that is either very cold or very hot, you’ll want the appropriate clothing. A lot of athletic gear can be really expensive. Step one for saving money is to hit the sales, but be careful. If you are working on losing weight, you might not want to buy something out of season because of change in fit, like buying shorts during the fall & winter sales. They might not fit anymore by the time spring rolls around. Shirts are a bit less of an issue there, though, so I would say hitting the sales on out of season shirts could work out a lot better for you, especially buying winter running shirts in the spring. Another option is secondhand shops. I made a few of my early purchases at the local secondhand shops. I was able to get some decent running tops, a couple of jackets and a pair of running pants fairly cheaply when I was starting out. You may have to hit multiple shops and you may have to go back regularly to get the best gear you can lay your hands on, but you can really save a LOT of money that way. A $50 pair of running pants can be as little as $5 or $10 at a second hand shop here, and shirts can run as low as $3 if you happen to go in on a day when the right tag color is on sale.

If you enter a race that has an Expo, you may also find some fantastic deals there. Before the 2012 Missoula Marathon, I hit the expo and found some really great deals on a bunch of gear there. And keep in mind that you’ll get t-shirts for many of the races you’ll run, so don’t feel like you have to have that many running tops. If you run many races, your t-shirt drawer will be overflowing before you know it.

Reflection: reflective gear will be discussed in the post on safety, but keep in mind that you can often get reflective tape really cheaply. You can put that tape on your shirt, belt, shoes, water bottles, etc. to help make you more visible when it’s dark or dim out.

If any of my readers have any other suggestions for saving money on running gear, I would sure love to hear them. Please leave your suggestions in the comments.