What Runners Can Learn from Caroline Wozniacki's New York City Marathon
The New York City Marathon usually boasts mulitiple celebrity runners and, even if we don't like to admit it, a quick search on Twitter for #BeatOprah confirms that we runners are interested in how fast they finish. I think it's because the marathon provides no VIP treatment on race day. It demands everyone covers the same 26.2 miles regardless of how famous or rich you are.
Tennis champ Caroline Wozniacki completed last weekend's New York City Marathon, her first marathon, in just under 3 hours and 27 minutes, a time most of us would be thrilled to brag about. Wozniacki's marathon attempt differed from other pro athletes/marathoners because she was actively competing in her sport throughout training. Now it can seem to be a stretch to think we can compare our "normal person" training to that of a competitive tennis pro's, but I think there are several things we can learn from her marathon experience (First a disclaimer-- I know nothing personally about how Caroline Wozniacki trained and ran last weekend's New York City Marathon, outside of what I've read in the news about her impressive marathon fininsh.)
Marathons are unpredictable: I think I often annoy my runners because I won't give them a definite answer for how fast I think they can complete their first attempt at 26.2. But the fact is, the marathon racing experience is unlike any other. Even if you have run multiple 5Ks, 10Ks, and half marathons, it's just hard to predict how your body and mind will react to completing the marathon distance. Some people run much faster than expected, but some go slower than previous race times would indicate. This is also why it's not unusual at all for a runner to drop 20-30 minutes off their race time in their second marathon. Experience makes a big difference.
Be flexible with your race plan: Wozniacki's goal was to finish the race under 4 hours, a great goal for an athlete running a first marathon. Somewhere along the way, she realized she had the potential to crush that goal and went with it. If she would have been too nervous or scared of "bonking" to change from her planned race pace, she would have finished at a respectable time but not her best time. Yes, as runners we need to run smart, but we need to run with a lot of heart, too. Don't be afraid to leave everything on the course on race day. Bonus tip-- This is easier to do if designate an event as a true goal race. If you constantly have a race on the horizon, you won't be free to risk losing training time due to the extra recovery time needed after hard racing. Make sure you have at least one goal race a year with nothing on your schedule but recovery for the next month.
Fitness is important: Wozniacki stated that she didn't run as many long runs as she hoped. Her longest training run was 13 miles while most training programs will recommend multiple runs of 18-20 runs. Maybe Wozniacki didn't log as many road miles as she wanted to, but as a professional athlete, she maintained and built strength and endurance through many other activities during the past few months. We obviously can't turn into pro athletes and most of us don't even have the time to pick up a second active hobby. But we can make an effort to take advantage of opportunities to get stronger. And don't limit cross training to running-specific exercises either. At my Kid Running Program classes, I don't have to encourage the kids to cross train (or play on the playground :), before or after class. In fact, it's not unusal for a kid to complain about during push ups, but then easily cross the monkey bars with those same arms that "couldn't" do the push ups. That's because monkey bars are FUN. An active lifestyle, including playing with your kids, playing pick-up basketball with coworkers, or even taking your dog for an extra walk, will make you a better runner.
Marathons are a big deal: One of the things I like the most about Wozniacki's marathon story is the fact that fellow tennis star Serena Williams met her at the finish, tweeting that she was crying as she watched her friend finished. Yes, marathons have become more popular during the past few years, but running one is still a big, huge deal. Be very, very proud of your training and accopmlishment, no matter how fast you ran or if the day went has planned! Sometimes races go better than expected, sometimes a lot worse. Train well, don't worry about race day conditions you can't control, and run your best race on that day. Then be proud of your finish! And make sure you have some friends with you to celebrate, too!