5 first-time marathoner problems

Brooks PureConnect running shoes for the marathon first-timer: me

Five weeks out isn’t too close to the race for new shoes … right?

I’m training for the MetroPCS Dallas Marathon, my first-time full. I’ve run three half marathons, but can I say something? I’m starting to freak out about this full-business.

The race is Dec. 14, which means five weeks to go. Am I ready? Will I have enough phone battery? Am I going to be able to complete it without blowing a ligament? Why does my training plan only go to 20 miles before tapering?

Maybe you’re training for your first, too, or you remember these concerns way back when you were a noob wannabe like me.

5. Is my phone battery going to last for 26.2 miles?

During the race, I won’t be using Google Maps to check where I am like I do on many of my runs. That’s my fault, because I usually insist on running willy-nilly style — taking off into streets and neighborhoods where I have no clue where I am. Mapping my location sucks up the most battery of anything else I do with my phone, including streaming music.

I’ve done 18 miles while listening to music, running the Nike Run app but not checking Google Maps, and I’ve ended with a good 20 percent battery left. But I have yet to know what 26.2 miles will leave me with. I’ll likely leave the earbuds at home because I love experiencing the sights, sounds and energy of the day. So, not listening to NPR or music will help save battery. But I’ll be using my phone to locate friends before the race, and I’ll want to locate my husband easily among the throngs afterward.

I can only guess what my battery situation will be, so I’ll just have to see.

But hey. What did runners before smartphones do? They planned meeting spots and guessed as best they could at a meeting time.

4. What all am I going to carry on race day? How am I going to carry it?

I can’t believe I’m still futzing around with this juggling act.

This entire time, since April, I’ve had the carry thing down so pat that I can mindlessly “pack” in 30 seconds flat: Put ice in hand-held Nathan water bottle, then add water. Pop a gel or two in the pocket, along with a credit card. Dig my earphones out of my bag and grab my phone. Done.

But now that I’m reaching higher mileage, what I’ve been carrying this whole time isn’t quite adequate.

The amount of water is fine; cooler temperatures have me drinking a little less. But I not only need to consume more gels now, my body is dying for protein about halfway through, too. A few times lately, I’ve stopped at gas stations to grab beef jerky and Snickers or Butterfinger Bites to shove in my mouth. It’s a disgusting combo that I would normally never put together (or eat at all, at least not on a regular basis). But my body needs it. I can feel all sorts of magic happening on my insides when I eat it.

Does that mean I’m not intaking enough gels up to that point, causing my body to need it so badly at mile 14? That’s another first-timer mystery I have to work out.

Thing is, Dallas Marathon isn’t going to have beef jerky stations. They’ll have Clif Shot stations, but I have my own gels I want to bring. I’m new at this, I’m fussy with my gels, so I’ll have to tote my own. I won’t bring my water bottle on race day, so there goes the little zippered pocket I typically use. I’ve seen runners clip gels to their clothes with those office wing-clip things; I might do that. I’ll have to tote some protein with me as well. I guess I could have a beef stick flopping around, clipped to my waistband.

I bought a FlipBelt recently, and it holds a lot. But when I’m wearing shorts with slick fabric, the belt slips up toward my waist, which is no good. That’s another thing I have to get figured out before race day: make sure the tights I want to wear jibe with this new FlipBelt of mine, so I can carry all my Stuff.

Yes, I’m a needy newbie who needs her Stuff.

3. How close to race day can I buy that new pair of shoes/tights/bra?

I just bought a new pair of Brooks PureConnects, and I’m pretty certain that five weeks out is enough time to break them in. But I need a new pair of long tights, and I probably won’t get a chance to shop for any until a couple of weeks from now. If I get a good couple of runs in them, it will probably be fine. … Or will it? Do I need several long runs in a key article of clothing to know for sure that I’m not going to quit in agony because of Bloody Blister or Fire Crotch? That might be a little dramatic.

Speaking of buying new things close to race day, I also bought a slew of new protein energy goodies from Luke’s Locker to try — more than I have long runs left, actually. But they looked so tasty. I need to decide if one of these is my protein solution, but again — we’re getting close to race day. Bah.

The new shoes were something I needed. But honestly, everything else I’m tempted to buy this late in the game is really just a big spaz-out attempt at feeling like I have a little extra edge.

2. What is that pain about?

We runners know a thing or four about aches and pains. I wrote about my current ankle pain recently here. Unless pains are obviously serious, they’re usually no big deal. We’ve learned our bodies well enough to know when a body part is just protesting a bit and when it’s sending a warning signal. But new pain anywhere close to race date is scary. We don’t know if it’s just a protest pain or if it’s the beginning of an actual issue that could sabotage all our hard work.

1. Is my name going to end up at the bottom of my age group results?

Am I going to bonk? Blow? Embarrass myself? My training plan only goes to 20 miles, so I’ll be going into the race totally untested at 26.2.

Logic says that if I’ve put in the work, and no unlikely funky factors come into play, I’ll be fine and complete the marathon. But my nervousness about this is more fundamental than, how badly am I going to suck?

Like many first-timers, I know it’s smart to simply focus on completing the race and not on pushing through it like it’s my 400th and I’m getting paid. But still, deep down, I’m attached to this thing. I’ve put in so much time (so much time). I’ve pushed my body’s previously-known boundaries. That pushed the limits of my mind. Which shifted my self-perception.

We new marathoners have hated our training, uttered “I’m SO over this” countless times during long runs. We might have cried (no, not me — I’m just asking for a friend). Then we’ve loved it again, uttering thanks to God for the ability to move and breathe and feel.

For some of us, this hard physical work has beat demons, given us answers, made us new.

We’re emotionally attached to the process that’s brought us to this point. If that process culminates in defeat, failure or disappointment, it will feel like my body has betrayed me. Like I’ve betrayed myself.

The stakes feel so high. Not because anyone is betting on us, but because we’ve put in some really hard work.

So let’s do this: Remember when we got one season of half marathon training under our belt, then one race? After that, we totally knew what to expect and could relax for subsequent halves.

We just have to do the same with our first full. We’ll make mistakes, but we’ll learn.

Dallas bodies have to re-learn how to run in the heat

Dallas temperature

Dallas’ temperature right now …

I’ve lived in Texas my whole life, except for a four-year span in the Philippines as a small child. So I haven’t run in many other places except Texas. When traveling, I do so much walking and hiking that I always feel fine taking a break from whatever running routine I’m on.

That means I really only know what it’s like to take a summer run while having to take purposeful precautions and dialing down performance expectations. That’s just the way it is here.

But Dallas isn’t hot year-round, so our bodies have to reacclimatize each summer. After so many years of having to do so, we Dallas runners know what we have to do, even if our bodies have forgotten and need time to catch up.

The accessories of a summer run

San Francisco temperature

… compared with San Fransisco’s temperature …

Unless you’re running where you know there will be water fountains and, if you’re lucky, water misters, you have to carry hydration. Maybe not for a run of, say, 2 miles or less. But even if you run in the early morning or late-at-night hours, and especially if you run in the middle of the day, you’re suicidal if you don’t haul water.

My current water bottle is the Nathan QuickDraw Plus Insulated hydrator. It keeps fluid colder longer, and it’s the best handheld I’ve ever had. The attached zippered pocket is roomy, too; enough room for a house key, credit card, energy gel and, if you don’t like carrying your phone, an iPhone (take off the bulky OtterBox, though). I fill up that bad boy with ice and water for sipping and — this is important — drizzling over my head and face along the way.

If I’m doing a longer run in the heat — for me, “longer” means anything over 5ish miles — my hydration plan needs either a Plan B or Part B, because I’m going to run out of water before the run is done.

New York City temperature

… compared with New York City’s …

Part B is:
• pausing my RunKeeper
• popping into a gas station
• filling up my handheld with ice at the fountain drink station
• stinking up the place as I wait in line to pay for a Gatorade G2, Vitaminwater Zero or a plain bottle of water
• standing outside next to the trashcan as I pour what will fit into my handheld and quickly drink the rest
• endure stares from gas-pumpers who apparently have never seen a sweaty runner at a gas station before
• restart my RunKeeper and start back out on my run.

It’s a huge break from running that my body isn’t supposed to get, but what do you do.

Plan B is to strap on my Camelbak instead of taking my handheld. It’s the same Camelbak I’ve had for years and works great. It holds lots and lots of fluid. But hauling that much weight is a commitment and a total bog-down. And if the run is going to be especially long and it’s going to be especially hot out, I’ll want the ability to drizzle water over my head. Can’t do that with the Camelback. So I end up taking the Camelbak and the handheld. Plan B is cumbersome, but it’s the best option if I think my route won’t produce a gas station at a point when I’d need it.

The “when” dilemma

Salt Lake City, Utah temperature

… compared with Salt Lake City’s …

Most Dallas runners I know do their summer runs (most of their runs, actually) in the early morning, before work and sometimes even before that mean ol’ sun comes up. So for perky, motivated types, “when” isn’t a dilemma.

I’m not one of those types, and from the number of runners I see out in the evenings, maybe plenty of other Dallasites aren’t, either. We would rather endure a day that’s been baking for six hours and catch the sun as it’s going down. But on long-run days that collide with busy work days, this can pose a problem.

I’ll tell myself, Hey Christy; you have an 8-miler this evening. Make sure you get off of work in time so you’re not running in the dark. But then my workday LOLs at me and I get off at 7, still need to drive back home to change, then try to outrun the sun.

If it’s on an evening when my husband is at work, I’ll run to his workplace (6.5 miles away, but I can stretch out the mileage by curving my route outward however far I need) and catch a ride back.

The other evening when I ran to Brian’s work, I was hit with all the factors of my typical summer-running “when” dilemma. I got such a late start on my 8-mile run, and I knew he got off work at 9:15 p.m. So not only was I trying not to run in sketchy areas at pitch-night, I was trying to make sure he didn’t have to wait on me in his workplace parking lot any later than he had to.

Birmingham, Alabama temperature

… compared with Birmingham, Alabama’s …

I was feeling guilty (even though my husband always really supportive), so I ran way faster than I normally would for that distance and it was hotter and more humid than a son of a gun and I was hyper-focusing on what streets I was turning on after the sun went down.

I committed the act of texting-while-running to let him know I’d be a bit late. I gunned it. Experience had taught me better than hauling rear in the heat, but I told myself that approaching darkness is always good on a run. Running faster is good, right? Plus, I had cut short other longish runs in the past few weeks because of one excuse or another, and I wasn’t going to do that this time.

I made it in decent time, Brian drove me home, I showered, and we cooked spelt spaghetti.

While we finished cooking, a wave of weakness and sickness struck me in the kitchen. I felt nauseated. A little confused.

Carson City, Nevada, temperature

… even compared with Carson City, Nevada’s. See? It’s hot here.

I shoved some spelt pretzels in my mouth (it was a spelt kind of night), thinking that my body just needed something now. It helped, but the weakness and wooziness didn’t subside for hours.

I knew I had done my day all wrong: a) long run b) on a hot night c) while trying to gun it faster than was smart d) after a day of not eating very smartly. For the rest of the evening I dealt with what I’m pretty sure was some sort of delayed onset heat exhaustion.

The morning hours are more forgiving. But I hate mornings. So I run in the hotter evenings. But that leaves me with smaller margins of error on safety and health.

These summer-in-Dallas curveballs are not a surprise every year. But Dallas is where I live, so I just try to catch those hot pitches the best I can.

That Carrot fitness app sure has a smart mouth


Carrot Fit app
While walking to my Jefferson Viaduct launch spot a couple of weeks ago, my phone dinged its familiar notification ding. I looked down, and it was from the Carrot app I had downloaded recently — giving me major attitude: “You’re going to step on that scale, and you’re going to like it.”

Carrot isn’t a running app, but it will shame you into running just a bit harder. And by “shame” I really mean that it will keep you aware of your fitness goals while giving you a severe amount of lip.

The judgy Carrot universe is growing fast, apparently; what I downloaded not long ago was just the “Carrot” app: I tap in my weight goal, then log my regular weigh-ins at the behest of rude iPhone notification reminders like “Time to get on the scale, meatbag.” Now what’s on my iPhone is Carrot Fit. There’s a separate app for purchase called Carrot To-Do (along with something called Carrot Alarm), which also helps you stay on top of your goals while cracking you up.

Carrot appCarrot Fit now offers workout plans and even a workout costume for your fat lil’ avatar ($0.99) through in-app purchases. You get a few workouts for free, and you can purchase a booster pack for $1.99. If you quit on a workout, get ready to be judged.

My favorite part? If you tap your fat lil’ avatar, it sends a bolt of electricity to smoke her to death. Unexpected and hilariously grisly. You can do it over and over again, and the app will judge you with increasing indignation.

Usefulness? At first I downloaded it as a simple weight tracker that gave me giggles. Now I’ll have to try out a couple of the workouts and see if Carrot Fit is just funny or funny-serious.

Update: A few days after I wrote this, I ran across a DailyDot tweet that made me a) think of Carrot Fit and b) roll my eyes. Maybe the jokey-faux-shaming is rough on folks with eating disorders? I don’t get it. It seems like fat-embracing, not fat-shaming.