Summer Sanders, Olympic Gold Medalist, Offers Tips for the S.F. Nike Women's Marathon

Summer Sanders 2.jpg
This weekend two-time Olympic gold medalist Summer Sanders will join 20,000 other women in the Nike Women's Marathon to raise money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

The race, which is the world's largest marathon, will start at Union Square and curve around the Embarcadero into the Presidio before heading south and looping around Lake Merced and ending at the Great Highway by Golden Gate Park.

While gearing up for the race, which is sponsored by Safeway, Sanders took time out of her training schedule to give runners who also happen to be SF Weekly readers some training tips. So here they are:

SFW: Can you tell us why you're running this marathon?

Sanders: As soon as I stopped swimming at Stanford University, I started running. In my life I feel like actions speak louder than words. I always tell my friends to show their kids and lead by example and not only at the table but when it comes to exercise also.

It's important for me to show that and to live that. What's great is that Safeway and I share the same philosophy in encouraging people to make healthier choices, not just when it comes to nutrition but in their everyday life as well. I love training for something; I think it's so much more fun than just working out.

SFW: What did you do to prepare for this race?

Sanders: I spent the summer in London at the Olympic Games. As soon as I came home from the games I was going to run a half-marathon with my girlfriend. But then you get caught up in the moment and before I knew it, I hadn't really trained for that half-marathon. My girlfriend said, "It was as if you just hopped up off the couch and ran the half."

Since that point, Aug. 18, I've been running three or four times a day. Because I've put so many miles in over the years I find a big difference when it comes to the wellness at the table. Nutritionally I've put more effort into my training. I make sure I get some protein in the morning and I'm eating lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, which is really cool because I consider myself my family's nutritionist.

SFW: What is your diet like?

Sanders: Quite simply, my diet has and will always be everything in moderation. People look at Olympic athletes and think they must cut out all those things everyone else indulges in and speaking for myself, I never did.

When you talk about me growing up with nutrition, it starts with the decisions you make at the grocery store. I also take advantage of the seasons. If it's summer time I'm all about fresh fruit and vegetables and I jump on that.

SFW: Does your diet change the day before a race?

Sanders: I used to carbo load. But then I ran my first marathon, actually on a whim. All I could think of was that I needed protein. I remember going to the grocery store and buying one of those roasted chickens. I remember downing a bunch of that and, yes, I had some carbs, but that's what I felt I needed. Everyone is different.

The biggest message I can send to people who are gearing up for their first marathon is do not change. Do not change the day before or two days before. Always remember it's not the night before, that's not really the food or the fuel that you're going to be using during your race; it's really the week leading up to it.

Make sure that when you look at your plate it's a beautiful blank canvas to start with and you want lots of color on there. You want to make sure you have whole grains and protein. It should not be beige in color, it should be green and bright red, and orange and yellow. If you can make that happen leading up to the race, you're going to be in really good shape.

My go-to food before any long training run is toast and peanut butter. I also think that Greek yogurt is awesome, and you can add in some nuts and dried fruit or fresh fruit or you can even add that Greek yogurt to some oatmeal to get a full, well-balanced meal.

SFW: What is your training routine like?

Sanders: Last year I trained for the Chicago Marathon. I had my schedule and I would cross it off like a calendar, and then I would look at it and feel like I accomplished so much, which I think is a key psychologically for people training for a marathon.

I do fartleks and tempo runs. One of my last track runs was 12x800 [meters]. I'll be honest, those are my toughest. I feel like I can run forever the same way I can swim forever, but the tempo runs and the 12x800s really got to me.

In a comforting way I want people to know they're not alone. If those hurt, they hurt me too, but they're so good for the end result of your race. I can't emphasize enough, sticking to when you're supposed to be running recovery and really remembering that it's supposed to be recovery. If you need to put on some mellow music while you're running recovery, do it. Even if you feel great, run slow. IT'S SO IMPORTANT to remember that recovery is recovery; you have to give your body a break.

SFW: Do you have a particular race strategy?

Sanders: Every race I do try to think, "I'm going to negative split this." That' what I would love to do. All I can really muster up is, and I say this to everyone running their first half- or full marathon, do not get caught up in the hype of the beginning of the race. You really can set yourself up for a much more difficult race if you're too fast in that first mile or half-mile.

It's amazing how that first part of your race really does come back to haunt you if you've taken it out too fast. Let everyone pass you. Do not buy in to it, stay with your strategy and know what it feels like to run at that pace.

Even if you're behind your race pace, no problem. Later, you can start to pick it up a little bit, but you're going to be a lot happier come mile 12 or mile 24.

SFW: What about liquids? What do you drink, water or a sports drink?

Sanders: I mix it up. I got this advice from one of my girlfriends for my first marathon, and I've done this for every single race. I take every option, I don't drink it all, and I walk through every station. I grab it, I walk a few steps, I take a few sips or gulps and I throw it down. You need to make sure you mix it up because you're losing so much sodium. You need to make sure you have a good balance.

Everyone is different so come up with your own race plan. To me, it doesn't cost that much to walk through the station and really get some good fluid.

SFW: What kind of shoes do you use?

I've run basically in the same kind of shoe since 1996, although I'm in the market to look at my feet differently. I remember when I first started running, I got shin splints. I was still at the training center at Colorado Springs and I went in to the sports medicine department there and I had them check me out.

Their suggestion was that I stop running. That wasn't an option for me, so I took it upon myself to go to a few great running shops and have them check out my feet and my gait.

I needed a shoe with a bit more structure to it. I've been barefoot most of my life: either flip flops or barefoot on the pool deck. Although you'd think that would make me a good candidate for barefoot running, that doesn't work with me.

SFW: What would you say the biggest challenge of the race is?

I'm going to say the start. I say that because I remember my 400 IM [Individual Medley] at the Olympic trials in 1992. I should have broken the world record and I took it out too fast on that first 25 [meters] of a 400.You would have thought I was carrying 10 pianos on my back down that last 50. I had absolutely nothing left in the tank. It wasn't because of any other part of my race except for that first 25.

That sticks in my mind about how important the very beginning of the race is, and how hard it is to let a lot of people pass you when you're competitive, but you have to run your own race. You have to run your own race and be happy, take it all in.

It's like your wedding. Take a moment and check out the funny signs. When I ran Chicago the funniest sign I saw said "This parade sucks." I kept seeing it -- this person showed up at different stages of the marathon -- and it had me laughing every time I saw it. So my suggestion is to take it all in and enjoy it.

Summer would like to invite everyone out to the pre-race expo taking place Saturday in Union Square at 1:30 p.m.

"My 40th birthday is Saturday so at 7 a.m. when that gun goes off it'll be my very first race as a 40-year-old," said Sanders.


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