10 Tips for the LA Marathon from AnnMarie Kirkpatrick
In 2017 I chose the LA Marathon as my first marathon competing in a pro field (and my second marathon ever). My main objective was to set a benchmark from where to improve as I was dipping my toe into the competitive running scene. This unknown territory was exciting for me- I had run in high school but had given it up for more than a decade until moving to Colorado and falling in love with trails and being outdoors as often as I could. It took a while to begin building this dream- as soon as I really fell in love with running, my husband and I also started a family. So, it would take another 6 years, 2 boys, (and many stroller miles later!) before I really started training to try and reach my potential. The LA Marathon in 2017 was a chance to complete the distance while running smart and gaining knowledge. My long-term goal was to achieve an Olympic Trials qualifier. I ran the LA Marathon again in 2019 and improved my time by over 14 minutes to finish in the top 10 and accomplish that goal.
If you are going to run a marathon, I hope your main priority is to HAVE FUN. How you get there can look different for everyone. If you are running your first marathon, running to finish, or running for a time or place here are a few tips that will make your LA Marathon experience the most enjoyable possible.
- During your build-up- have a plan and stick to it. And be flexible. That sounds truly contrary, but the thing is, you need to have an overall shape and plan for your training but know that things will come up and you will need to be able to adapt and tweak. Trust me, this will come in handy during the actual race. Stressing about not hitting paces or mileage can put you in a negative state and the more joy you can bring into running the better you will perform. Enjoy meeting up with friends to run, facing challenges, hitting workouts, learning from "failed" workouts - it is all making you a better runner and is forward progress.
- 2. Train with your nutrition on long runs. This honestly might be one of the most overstated, yet underutilized tips given for marathon training, so let me get a little more specific here… On the course of the LA Marathon they will be offering Nuun Endurance. During your build-up you will want to not only practice running and drinking out of a cup, but also running at what you think your marathon pace will be and taking in nutrition. There is a difference in what will happen to your gut while sipping and taking in calories at an easy pace vs. a harder effort. As you go through aid stations, relax a bit, take the time to fuel yourself and then get moving again. There are people from all over the world who run this race, so if you are coming upon an aid station and it looks a bit crowded, go a little further down the line and get a drink. The back tables tend to have more space.
- Know that tapers might feel bad. They might also feel good, they might be welcomed, or you might feel a little crazy. It's a time for little niggles to crop up and the thought of "I only ran X number of miles at marathon pace and it was hard... how will I possibly cover 26.2 at that pace" will repeatedly enter your mind. It's all 100% normal. Focus on the things that will get you to the line healthy- lots of sleep, healthy meals, positive energy, and the excitement of knowing you are about to do something special.
- Traveling to the race. Compression socks and hydration will be your best friends. If you are flying, it’s so easy to dehydrate. Make sure you are constantly taking sips of Nuun. Pack your own snacks. Take your race day essentials in your carry-on, even if there aren't any transfers. Try to get an aisle seat and move around the plane every 45 minutes or so.
- The night before. Even if you aren't taking a "flat me" race gear photo, do set out your things and make sure you have everything. Go through your routine in your mind of what you will do from the time you wake up to the time you start running. Work backwards if that helps to know what time to set your alarm. Include a short warm-up, travel to the start, and a buffer just in case.
- Be ready for a hilly start. The first 8 miles are undulating hills and it’s really good to be mentally prepared for that. It's so easy to go out too fast in a marathon, it’s even more important to reign it in a bit when you are combining that with climbing hills. Try to focus more on effort and not pace during these first few miles. You will run into a few more inclines around mile 18 and 20 so save a little bit for those hills- they don't like to be left out! There will be some nice descents as well that will help you make up time- the course is net downhill, so be patient and your time will come!
- Chill start, fire to the finish. It's chilly at the start of LA Marathon and for many runners, perfect running weather. As that California sun gets higher in the sky it turns into a whole other race. Salt tablets, ice, and a slower pace will all be your friends as the temperature rises. If you don't like starting out too cold, I recommend bringing a shirt that you don't mind tossing after you warm up. It is important to practice all of these things in training runs!
- Less is more when it comes to warming up. After that nice taper it’s easy to overdo it on the warmup. I do no longer than about 10 min of easy jogging, drills, and strides. Even just standing at the start line waiting for the gun to go off there is an opportunity for wasting energy jiggling around, bouncing up and down, etc. Since you want the start of your race to be calm and under control, the best thing you can do is project an outer calmness and smile at as many people as possible. If you are running for a time goal it’s a good chance to chat with others around you and see if you can form a little "team" to work together for the next 26.2 miles. LA Marathon provides pacers for quite a few time goals and if one of those fits into your wheelhouse it might be really fun to join one of those groups. The power of camaraderie, especially in the later stages is pure gold.
- Race mantras/getting in the zone. One of the best tricks for the first 14 miles or so of a marathon is to get in the zone as quickly as possible and stay there. This can only be done by practicing it during workouts. If you are shooting for a tough time goal my recommendation would be to say "yes" to silence (no music, podcasts, etc.) during your marathon specific workouts. Use that time to practice focusing on being unfocused. Other ways to think of this are- getting into a flow state, zoning out or getting in a rhythm. The best race case scenario for me is finding my marathon pace within the first mile and then being able to take away as much mental effort as possible and just run steadily. I try to keep my mind quiet and out of the race for as long as possible. This way, during those last miles when things are really hurting, I haven't tapped out all my mental resources.
- Know your goals. What you want to do on race day will define how you approach almost everything. Set your goals as early as possible so you can orchestrate the plan to make this the best day possible for YOU. This is another time when working backwards comes in handy. Try to visualize crossing the line and imagine what will make you the happiest. Align your training with those thoughts in mind. Remember that in a marathon no matter what the initial goal, finishing is always a huge accomplishment. Keep things in perspective. When you turn the corner down the final stretch in Santa Monica, let the cheering crowd and stunning view carry you to the finish.
The thing about running is that it gives us a chance to see what we are made of when it gets tough. Our world of comfort rarely strips us down physically and emotionally like a marathon will. Celebrate the challenges - known and unknown that happen in any race. Embrace the opportunity to show your inner fire and push through the hurt.
The last thing I've done at each LA Marathon is to walk to the beach and look out at the vastness of the ocean. There is a special connection that happens after pushing yourself to the limits and then taking a calm minute to gaze out over the Pacific. Make sure you congratulate yourself on a job well done and thank your body for all it did.