Lessons Learned: 2008 The San Francisco Marathon

Evaluation of my Running After The 2008 San Francisco Marathon

After I finished the 2008 Pasig River Heritage Marathon last 24 February, barely four months of slowly building my base, I continued my running workouts without any plan of running a full marathon in the future but I saw to it that I have to improve my race times in the 10K to half-marathon race distances which were held almost every weekend in Metro Manila.

With my retirement from the service and plan to visit my family in the US after retirement in May of this year, I thought of running the San Francisco Marathon which was scheduled at least 10 weeks after my retirement. After sending an e-mail to my son of my decision to run the SFO Marathon on the 1st week of May, my training became more focused to experience my 2nd International marathon after my Fort Benning’s First Infantry Marathon in 1984. My registration to the said marathon encouraged my son and daughter to run also with me and they started preparing for the race.

On hindsight, I could say that the following factors or parts of my training had helped me finish the San Francisco Marathon with ease and comfort without any pains and muscle cramps along the way, thus, improving my finish time for the marathon:

1)  “1,000K Club”—Immediately after the Pasig River Heritage Marathon, I was able to recall my “1,000K Club” Program which I implemented with my officers and soldiers when I was still a Major assigned in the Philppine Military Academy in 1986. So, I put up a Page on my blog dedicated to monitor and document my mileage or the kilometers I’ve finished. In my experience, five (5) months or 1,000K run is a recommended base for a runner to finish a marathon comfortably. Within those kilometers, I made hill training, tempo & limited speed runs, trail runs and supplementary workout training.  However, running more than 1,000K and a longer period of running for preparation would result to a better performance in the race. Rewarding oneself for an achievement in an increment of 100k or 200k being run is a good motivation to sustain your training preparation for an incoming marathon race.

2)  Hill Training—I always follow the Lydiard’s Way of Training–building your endurance base; hills, hills, hills, tempo and speed runs; supplementary weight training & recovery phase; and then taper for the race. If not for my gout which I discovered halfway during my training, I could had done more speed and tempo runs. The hills in Laoag City and my long steady runs during weekends greatly helped me strengthened my leg muscles. My gym workouts were also helpful and contributory to my stronger legs and upper body. In running uphill, I always remember to shorten my strides but increase my pace, using my forefoot as my “footstrike” style with the road/pavement, lift my knees a little, bend forward a little from the waist, lift my head with my eyes looking at least 20-25 meters ahead, pump my arms faster, and breathing at a rythmic cadence (while expanding my stomach when I breath). Sometimes, I count my steps from 1 to 4 just to maintain a cadence that goes with my breathing (inhale/exhale). I always think that once I reach the peak of the hill, the next part is downhill and running is a lot easier again. However, you should learn also the technique in running downhill for you to recover the loss of time in going uphill. I use my midfoot in running downhill (with wider strides this time) and not my heels (your tendency is to apply brake to the downward momentum of your body and you will have a slower pace making your body tend to lean backwards), bend/lean my body from the waist a little forward, let my arms swing naturally, stay relaxed and confident, breath naturally, my eyes are focused to the end of the downhill portion and I just let my body “float” or glide down the road taking advantage of the gravity.

3)  More Endurance, Lesser Speed—If you are a novice or intermediate competitor, Endurance and Speed could not be developed all together at the same time! Moreso, if you are a beginner and presently training for your first marathon. Don’t fall to the trap of “running too much too soon” or “going to the tracks too early too soon”. It takes time to develop one’s endurance capabilities, not in a few months, but for a year or couple of years! Basically, my preparation for the San Francisco Marathon was 80% endurance training and strengthening my leg muscles. I knew my legs were not yet prepared for a more focused speed work on the tracks and I didn’t want to invite injuries to my knees, calves, achilles tendons, and my “gouty” right big toe. I had to follow the “hard-easy” routine of training and taking more days to rest and recover after long steady runs during weekends. When I read the book, “Ultramarathon Man” by Dean Karnazes, I started to invite the idea to increase my regular runs to a minimum of 16 kilometers/10 miles per day with an strategic plan to try an ultramarathon race in the near future. Longer regular runs and hill training/trail running made the difference. However, I was able to do some tempo runs during my workouts but not so much with speed runs on the track. Someday, I will go back again to the tracks.

4)  Nutrition—After being attacked by “gout” on the early month of April, I started not to eat meat & poultry. I became selective on the foods I had to eat and concentrated intake to rich in carbohydrate foods, selected fish and lots of vegetables and fruits. I had to drink Ensure everyday for my protein supplement intake. I ate lots of cereals with milk and fruits during breakfast. The drug which was prescribed to me to lessen my uric acid made me crave for more food in-between meals and I had always with me Sky Flake crackers and bottled water which I immediately eat and drink when I felt I was hungry! It took me six weeks to reduce my uric acid and for almost everyday I had been complaining and experiencing a bloated stomach with so much air during my running workouts! I experimented using protein energy bars during my long runs but they gave me attacks of “gout” and had to stop using them. Instead, I ate lots of Sky Flakes crackers as my food during my long runs!

5)  Supplementary Weight Training—If I can not make it in the gym at least two times a week for my weight supplementary training, I do push-ups, sit-ups, dumbbell exercises with my arms, shoulders and chest muscles, and stretching exercises in the house. While at the gym, I concentrated doing lunges, leg press, heel raises, leg squats, and leg flexion & extension exercises with weights in order to strengthen my leg muscles. Lately, I simplified my workout at the gym. I no longer use the aerobic machines (stationary bike, treadmill, or elliptical machines). Instead, I do stretching exercises from head to toes and proceed to my routine for my arms, chest, shoulders, back, abs, and legs exercises using weights and machines. Before I leave the gym, I do post-stretching exercises. Two weeks before the SFO Marathon, I had an intensive gym workout which was concentrated to my leg muscles and core.

6)  Positive Attitude—It means that I have to follow my training schedule whether it is going to rain or not. If it calls for running a 16k for the today, I had to do it within the day, morning, afternoon or evening. Self-discipline is the key in order to have a positive attitude. If I woke up late in the morning, I have to force myself to run even if it was already 8:00 AM or 9:00 AM when the sun is already hot and high in the sky. If not, running at 4:00 PM or later in the early evening was always the last course of action. Positive attitude would also mean keeping yourself focused to your goal. During the SFO Marathon, I kept on saying my mantra words repeatedly, “I Love The Hills” and was able to overcome those hills in San Francisco comfortably without walking or stopping.

7)  Recovery and Tapering—Always follow one of the most important “laws of running”—“Listen to your Body”. If you feel pain or uneasiness in your body or legs, you should rest and have a full night sleep of at least eight (8) hours. Follow the “hard/easy” method of training, have an easy run day after a hard run day. Find time and give rest to your body to recover. After a hard trail run in the mountains of Malibu (25K run under the heat of the sun) a week before the SFO Marathon, I had to rest and recover for the next days and had my last run three days before the race. For the next days, all I had to do was to eat, do my stretching exercises, and sleep.

8)  Massage—We had our Thai Massage on Thursday evening (two days before the race). One-hour “hard massage” refreshes the trained and tired muscles and free them with the accumulated toxins and “lumps” that impede free flow of fresh blood into the muscles. Massage makes the muscles relaxed and supple which is translated to better running and preventing leg “cramps” on the last few miles of the marathon. One-hour massage every two weeks of continouos training is already a decent treat to the body.

9) Hydration and Electrolytes—Drinking a cup or two of water or Cytomax energy drinks in every water station during the SFO Marathon greatly helped me to finish the race comfortably. There were no problems in the water stations as volunteers were so many to hand me those cups of water without stopping on the tables. There were enough long tables of water & energy drinks where every runner could easily get without any crowd of runners fighting for space or cups of water. Eating some “hard” food at the hotel room before we started the marathon was a good decision on our part. However, I’ve observed that the GU packets (6 pcs consumed for the race) that I carried and ingested every 4 miles were very helpful for maintaining my strength and sustaining my running. I highly recommend these energy/electrolyte supplementary foods to be used by other runners in longer distance races like 20K, Half-Marathon, Marathon and Ultra Marathon races. If you think they only help a little during races, I am sure that these GUs & electrolytes will surely shorten your rest and recovery period after a marathon race.

10) Spenco Insoles & Glide—Although they are heavier than the ASICS Gel-Kayano 13 shoe insoles, I used them during the marathon and replaced the factory shoe insole and I did not feel any pains with my leg muscles  during and after the run. Because of these insoles, I was able to have my recovery run on the 2nd day after the marathon race. I bought Spenco Insoles for my son and daughter and they used them during the marathon and I got positive feedbacks from them about the comfort they experienced using such insoles. On the other hand, Body Glide (Anti-Chafing stick) really works!

11) Cold Weather—According to my kids, the weather during the SFO Marathon was a perfect weather for a marathon race (mid-60 degrees Fahrenheit with foggy surroundings and cloudy skies). As compared to the weather in the Los Angeles Marathon during the month of March, LA Marathon’s weather is a lot hotter than the SFO Marathon. The cold weather contributed much with a lesser loss of water and electrolytes from the body. My sweat was limited to my shirt and upper parts of my running shorts & underwear, thereby, not completely depleting my body electrolytes but I had more time and frequency in going to the portalets (3X) along the route in order to “pee”. In the Philippines, sweat from my body would make my thick running socks completely wet to include my running shoes and I did only one “pee” session during the Pasig River Heritage Marathon.

12) Running With My Kids—This is the most improtant and inspiring factor that made me finish the San Francisco Marathon without any problems and with a better finish time. Although we got separated on the first 4 miles of the race, I was able to see them after the turnarounds along the way running at their own pace and finishing the race with their respective PRs without any injures and still smiling at the finish line. I had a nice and tight hugs with them at the finish line and we congratulated each other for our improved times, laughing and telling stories about our experiences with the marathon race. Before we left the finish line towards the hotel, we decided to return for the said marathon race next year. Also, we made our plans to run the 2009 Los Angeles Marathon on March 1, 2009.

For those who are preparing for the Milo Marathon on November or the Singapore Standard Chartered Marathon this coming December this year or the Subic/Quezon City Marathon early next year, I hope this post will be helpful in your training.

Good luck and Stay focused to your Goal!

“When you run, there are no mistakes, only lessons and the learning of lessons does not end”—Keith Pippin, Ultrarunner

4 thoughts on “Lessons Learned: 2008 The San Francisco Marathon

  1. levyang

    Those are very valuable tips baldrunner. Thank you once again for sharing it with us. When are you coming back? We miss you very much.


  2. kingofpots

    levyang, i’ll be back in manila on the middle of next month just in time to run in the milo elimination in laoag city. i miss the runners there, too! thanks!


  3. Constantine njeru

    After reflecting on my last year marathon at StanChart Nairobi marathon I realised what failed me was my legs, the calfs, My cardiovascular was fine. This year I plan to work more on my legs. I will take your hill training strategy and hope to improve on my 3:06 time.



  4. kingofpots

    constantine, i think the lydiard way of training is still the best way to follow for an injury-free and comfortable finish in a marathon. lately, i found out that hill trail training gives more positive results in strengthening one’s leg muscles. good luck & happy running!


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