Sunday, April 9, 2017

My First LA Marathon: Strategy for First Time Runners

I ran my first marathon a few weeks ago (LA Marathon) in late March 2017 and I wanted to share my strategy. I finished just under 5 hours, which was 40th percentile for all women runners.

Baseline, I ran about 4 miles per week.  Compared to some people I knew, I didn’t consider myself an avid runner. Thus, deciding to run the LA marathon was certainly a significant goal for me.

Why I decided to run a marathon:

My colleague at work is an avid runner and has ran about five marathons. He recruited a couple of us at work to run a marathon with him the following year. I decided to join just because I was unlikely to ever do it again.


In the fall, I ran about 4 – 8 miles per week on my own in the evenings after work around 8 PM. My pace was about 11 minute per mile. In mid-October 2016 (about 5 months before LA marathon), I ran the Long Beach half marathon in preparation. For several weeks leading up to the Long Beach marathon, I didn’t run very much. I finished the Long Beach marathon at a 9:40 minute/mile pace. My left leg was about to fall off; I wobbled to the finished line the last mile of the race because my left thigh was in so much pain.  The race finished around 10 AM, but I was bedbound for the rest of the day. My body felt terrible and I felt sick from physically over exerting myself. I was nearly dead for the next two days after the Long Beach Marathon.   Needless to say, I was poorly prepared for the race which was only 12.3 miles.  How was I going to run 26.2 miles in March 2017? I seriously wanted to quit. But, I had already committed to running the race and felt obliged to see through it.
One of my girlfriends was running the 2017 LA Marathon and had been running with the LA Leggers. She had initially encouraged me to join the LA Leggers in the summer. The LA Leggers run at 6:45 AM every Saturday morning at Santa Monica, with a running schedule to prepare the runners for the LA Marathon. The run was too early in the morning and Saturday was a day for my family and so I decided to run on my own.

Fast-forward to January (two months before the LA Marathon) and my girlfriend realizes that I have only run the farthest distance of 10 miles on my own. She tells me that I will not be ready for the marathon my current training schedule and thus, I decided to join the LA Leggers in early January. My first run with the LA Leggers was an 18 mile with the 12.5 minute / mile group. What I really loved was that the group ran 5 minute and then walked 1 minute. The run/walk style really appealed to me. I wanted to run a little faster and so, I moved up to the 11.5 minute per mile group (run 4 minutes and walked 1 minute).

Mental Game:  

for the next 10 weeks, I ran every single Saturday with LA Leggers. In late January, on my second 20 mile run, my left knee was on fire and I had to walk my last mile. I remember the terrible feeling I had after the Long Beach half marathon after physically over exerting myself and again asked myself what was I doing? Did I really need to run a marathon? What was I trying to prove?
As I trained for the marathon, I started to realize that the process is incredibly painful because I was pushing my body to higher and higher limits than I had ever done before. Growth is incredibly painful and made my body feel so awful.  I reached out to some of the runners in my group who were also training for the LA Marathon for the first time. They told me I had to run during the week (at that point, I was a weekend warrior) and they told me I needed to stretch and use the roll to relax my muscles. So, I started doing yoga 20-30 minutes, 2-3 x / week and ran 4-5 mile during the week. I also had to change my diet to avoid spicy food which would cause heartburn during a run; and to lose weight to avoid the pain in my right knee.  In February, on my third 20 mile run, I felt a twinge in my knee after the 10th mile and one of the runners offered ibuprofen which I happily took. I was shocked! The pain in my knee was had vanished and I was able to finish the 20 mile run with the group!


 As a physician, I would prescribe ibuprofen and Tylenol all the time to patients but did not take it myself. But for me, ibuprofen was gold. 200 mg of ibuprofen kept the pain away during a long and I felt like $1 million. This is what I needed to continue my training and to finish the marathon.  I continued yoga, short runs during the week followed by long runs Saturday mornings with LA Leggers leading up to race day.

The night before the race

My friend texted me and asked if I was ready for race day and of course I was. Then, at 8pm the night before the race I realized I forgot to pick up my bib!! I had spent the weekend with my daughter and completely forgot to pick up my bib  from the LA convention Center. I cannot run the race without the bib!! I start texting all my friends and one of them told me about VIP LA Marathon pass for $75.  She explained to me that I can pick up the bib the morning of the race for $75. The VIP members have access to food, water and separate bathrooms as well as stretch area the morning of the race. I emailed the LA Marathon organizers and was happily surprised to hear within an hour of my email that I can sign up for the LA Marathon VIP pass, pick up the bib the next morning and still run the race.

Race day:  

While running with LA Leggers, one of the mantras was “nothing new on race day”. Basically, during the training runs, you wear what you plan to wear on race day. I wore my long, white light sweater that I usually wear for tennis. It has a 50 SPF fabric, and so it protected me from the sun and also kept me from getting too cold (from losing my body heat). Some of the runners had told me about how cold it got on prior half marathon/marathons when the weather was not favorable. The setup was perfect and I was neither too hot nor too cold. I had my hat and put sunblock on my legs in my face. I tried to follow a pace group in the LA Leggers closely, but I realized the group got smaller and smaller and eventually fell apart by 15 miles because people ran at different pace. My friend who had initially encouraged me to run the LA Marathon the year prior was running with me. He runs 3 hours and 30 minute marathons. But he decided to run the marathon with my pace group. Thank goodness for him because after the 15th mile after the group split, he paced us to reach the finish line by 5 hours. I took 200 mg of ibuprofen right before the race and a 200 mg half way through the race and finished the race at 4 hours and 58 minutes.  I felt great!

Lessons learned

  • ·       Mental game. There were handful of moments during the training when I wanted to quit from exhaustion or terrible knee pain or just having to wake-up at 6 am every Saturday morning to go running. Running and training with a group was critical for me. Once I got to the starting point with the other runners, the rest of the running was doable for me because once you’re in a group, the group mindset takes over and you forget your pain and worries and just run.  
  • ·       Muscle pain: ibuprofen really change the game for me. Once I started taking ibuprofen during long runs, I was able to keep the pain away and finished the runs without any major problems.
  • ·       Lifestyle change: I had to change my habits during the week and do more stretching an extra sure runs as well is my diet to be in the best shape I can for the long runs.
  • ·       Friends: having a couple of friends who are also training for the LA marathon made a huge difference. They reminded me that I was not ready and needed to really wrap up my training several months before the race; they reminded me to pick up my bib a few days before the race; saved me when I forgot to pick up my bib, and told me about the LA Marathon VIP access.

In retrospect, I am really glad I decided to run LA Marathon. The experienced heightened my level of physical fitness, mental stamina and overall well-being. But, it’s an incremental process I went from running a 4 mile per week to 26.2 miles in 5 hours. The goal was made possible by my friends who motivated and kept me in line, and the LA Leggers who helped me appropriately train.  

Will I be running again? It turns out, there is a 20% discount for signing up for the LA Marathon a year in advance. So, yes.

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