It’s Houston Marathon time, but this year that storied race is looking very different for our area’s long-distance runners thanks to the cursed Covid-19. No giddy trip downtown to pick up your race number, no starting corrals or pace setters or pre-packed bags to retrieve at the end of the race with your favorite protein shake and a Snickers inside. No spectators or walls of cheering fans or race day excitement that somehow pushes you toward that PR as if by magic. Runners will need to log the miles on their own and upload the time by Sunday, January 17. But that's okay.
We consulted local marathoner Christopher Poldoian who just happened to bust out a quick solo 26.2 on New Years Day and will run the Houston Marathon this week, too, to offer up some helpful tips to all you runners out there. Poldoian isn't an elite competitor, but he's as seasoned a long-distance runner as they come. When he's not busy working as a local beverage consultant and hosting the By The Glass podcast, he's going after the Abbott World Marathon Majors in his spare time—he still needs Tokyo (his 2020-entry has been deferred) and New York to finish the acclaimed feat that requires finishing six of the world's most illustrious marathons—and he's run 15 official marathons total.
Here now are his tips for getting through the long haul on your own (hint: you'll get by with a little help from your friends), what to do or absolutely not to do on virtual race day, and how to actually have fun attempting such a feat.
Have faith in your training.
If you’re doing the virtual marathon or half, you’ve obviously been training for months and you're committed to making the race a reality (if not, please don’t kid yourself; 26.2 miles is not a distance you can do without training). So relax—try some breathing exercises beforehand—and let all of the work you put in speak for itself. "They say that a marathon is a 21-mile warmup for a six-mile race," says Poldoian. "I think that's a great way to think about it. Spend those first 20 miles doing what you normally do. Treat it like a training run. And then if you still have gas in your tank, you know, that's when you can pick things up in the last six miles." Find yourself struggling during those last miles? Try some visualization techniques the pros use to carry you through.
Plan your route.
With our city's notorious drivers and unrelenting traffic, you really should know where you'll be running on race day to avoid any close calls. Thankfully, our miles and miles of beloved trails and Bayou Greenways should get you there. Running from Memorial Park toward downtown? "Every mile or so there's another opportunity to cross over Buffalo Bayou," Poldoian says, "So it's easy to tack on an extra mile or two. From there you can get to White Oak." That could take you all the way to GOOF and back. Whatever your route, don't forget that imperative question: Is there a restroom you'll be able to stop at if needed?
Load your tunes.
“Some people listen to music when they run. Some people don't,” says Poldoian. “ I think, especially for a race like this, where there aren't people around to necessarily cheer you on, having something that can energize you is a must.” Making your playlist in advance goes a long way, but whether you’re blasting Playboi Carti, Megadeth, or Taylor Swift is all up to you, so long as it pumps you up.
Don’t try anything new on race day.
"Everything will be the exact same on race day that it was for my most recent long run. That the biggest advice I could give anyone," Poldoian says. That means no new snacks. No new socks, shoes, or shorts. Why? You definitely want to be familiar with what’s on your body (and going into it) to avoid any mishaps. “Sometimes you talk to people and they're like, I bought a new pair of socks that I'm going to wear on race day. It's like, no, you should wear your favorite pair of socks that you've been training in.” Poldoian wears the same orange tank top for every marathon, and he even eats the same Clif Bar energy Bloks during the race that he does on long runs (every 45 minutes)—"I don't even change the flavor up."
Bring fuel with you (obviously).
Since you won't have water stops and crowds of people offering you all forms of treat from the sidelines, you'll need to carry your own water (try a hydration vest) and gels, goos, chews (gummy bears!), or other fuel options for the race. Again, stick with fuel you know and love. Afterward? Yeah, it can be difficult to want to eat, but it's important to refuel as soon as possible. Try a protein shake and a banana. Poldoian likes to reach for a KITU Super Coffee, chock-full of protein and MCT oil, to fight the brain drain.
Recruit friends to cheer you on.
When Poldoian turned 30 last April, he ran 30 miles, a feat he could really only pull off in good cheer because, he says, “I had a lot of my friends around the city meet me at different mile points. I think I had a total of 19 different people that I saw along the race who were there to cheer me on or give me water, you know, or wine or sake [at the finish].” Make your virtual run a true celebration by getting your crew in on it, asking them to set up shop at specific points around your route. The joy of your people turning out for you will help you keep going when the miles start to seem like a slog, and, who knows, you might cross that virtual finish line of 26. 2 miles and just keep going.
And, dare we say, have fun.
"You're going to get out of it what you put into it. And the beautiful thing about running is that the more you do it, generally, the more enjoyable it becomes," says Poldoian. So enjoy it, H-Town. It's marathon time!