Running a marathon isn’t as simple as showing up to the line and putting one foot in front of another for 26 miles. Hopefully this post will give an outline on what to expect and give you a greater understanding on just how to run a marathon.
It is important to break down the marathon into different phases and outline what to expect and how to approach each phase. Each one is distinct, and the approach you take will determine how you fare and how you feel in the final miles. This goes for a beginners or elite runners.
Phase one…The Start.
Before the race, many people are worried about the last miles of the race and how they will fare. The reality is this is always an unknown. Every marathon is different, and nobody ever knows when the race will transition to feeling uncomfortable to just plain misery.
The body near the end is either running out of fuel, or the muscles are compromised. Often both are happening at the same time. Sometimes this occurs well before expected. The fact is once this happens all you can do is keep your body moving forward. So, instead of the worrying about the final miles, which you have no control of, the concern should be focused on the first portion of the race when you can influence the race.
This portion of the race will often determine the outcome and how you fare during the tough portions of the race. The most common mistake is going out to fast.
This is especially true for people new to running big races. Adrenaline is one of the most potent drugs. This high can lead people to run 20 percent or more above their target race pace in the first few mile, because everything is so easy. Some will compound this mistake by continuing to push this pace in the second phase by trying to “bank” time until the body starts getting tired.
So the BIGGEST rule in running a marathon is DO NOT GO OUT TO FAST!
Easier said than done.
Here are steps to take to avoid this trap.
Start with people similar ability. In the large races where there are corrals with pacers, Start in the proper corral. Never start with the faster runners.
For runners whose projected finish time is slower than 3:30, consciously make the first 6 miles a warm up. Know your ballpark target pace and run 5% slower. After the 10 k mark then
Runners whose projected time is slower than 4 hours, WALK up every significant hill in the first 6 miles. If there aren’t any hills, then take at least one walk break, preferably at an aid station.
For advanced runners, the goal is to settle into your relaxed race pace as quickly as possible. Equally important is to relax the mind. Avoid stressing out because of slower runners or other obstacles that may be in your way to settling into your pace. Look for opportunities to knock seconds off your time by drafting or by hitting the tangents better than your fellow runners.
Phase two… Settling into pace.For first time runners, or those just trying to finish, the only goal is to run around your pace for your long run.
Advance runners will be running faster than your Long Run workout pace, but just shy of oxygen threshold pace. Do not let adrenaline kick in and try to push the pace. RELAX,RELAX, RELAX!!!!!
There are two parts to this phase.
1) Running near your projected pace
Just because you feel amazing in the first miles isn’t a reason to run just a bit harder. Avoid the temptation to bank some extra time.
First a word about projected pace. I am not a big fan of a precise predetermined pace. Make Adjustments when conditions aren’t ideal.Every race is different. People tend to get stuck with a number and refuse to make minor adjustments for simple things like wind, hills or a warm day. This can lead to disaster in a marathon
It also can limit your ability to do better than you think you can. Experienced racers that know how to listen to their body to take advantage of adrenaline that can give a boost if harnessed correctly. By drafting, and running a smart race it is possible to successfully run faster than a target pace.
In the early stages, It is best to try to run at a pace which uses the least amount of energy while maintaining a good tempo near your target range. Keep the focus is away from the body and on the course. Cutting every inch of the course possible, by running the tangents, is an excellent way to keep the mind relaxed, yet focused. Pay attention to the aid stations and hydrate early on warm days. Again, avoid every temptation to press the pace because of how good you feel.
After mile 6, or when you are thoroughly warmed up try to get into the float pace.
2) Making adjustments to your pace when needed!
Somewhere around mile 12 is the place to take a reality check. BE HONEST! Is the pace starting to take a toll?
If so now is the time to back off. Do not wait for the body to start fighting to maintain a pace. By being proactive, you can stave of Phase three by several miles or more. At his point make sure not only to hydrate your body but also add to your caloric intake with gels or whatever else you use. Usually, aid stations are at every mile marker. From now on, make a conscious new assessment before each station.
Make a point to do an honest assessment. Sometimes this is tough as it means you might not hit your ideal goal time. By backing off early, one can postpone Phase three by several miles. In fact, after a brief respite, one can sometimes get back into the rhythm of the original pace. So by being honest and backing off you may save your race, or it may keep you within a couple of minutes as opposed to being 20-30 minutes off your target.
Phase three holding on.
Phase three is where things are getting rough.Hopefully you are still on your original pace, but everything is now hurting. It is time to start focusing. Your legs may be struggling, but generally, your arms are in good shape. Make sure you are using them to their full potential.
Shorten your goals. After crossing a mile marker, Do not think about how long it will take to get to the next mile. Focus and running the next 1/4 mile as strong as you can. Try to find other runners slower than your pace. Focus on gaining ground on them and then passing them. Once you catch them, find the next slower person ahead of you and work to reel them in. Sometimes when fatigue sets in a person forgets to take the time and energy to take more calories. Do not make this mistake. Have set mile markers to take in fuel. Make sure you know when and where to eat and take steps to keep hydrated at every aid station.
Phase Four… Just trying to get to the finish line.
In a perfect race, you may never get to this stage. There is a big difference between suffering and just struggling to hold on to your pace, compared to hitting the wall or have the body fail you in countless other ways. When this starts happening it is essential to take a realistic assessment of your situation. This may be easier said than done. If the body is severely compromised, then most likely the mind will not be operating and reasoning at its best. The first analysis should be based on the possible worst-case scenario. Part of the process is to examine the possibility the problems are more than extreme fatigue or running out of energy. If you are exhibiting severe symptoms of Heatstroke, Heat Exhaustion, Hyponatremia, (Water Poisoning) Dehydration, Or Hypothermia, then seek medical attention immediately.
Follow this link to have a clear understanding of what to look for.
In addition, if you appear to be having other medical issues also stop and seek help.
The majority of the time, the situation isn’t so dire. It may feel as if your body is going to quit, but with adjustments, you still will finish. The next thing is to determine if you are indeed hitting the wall, or bonking. As it is known in some circles or if you are just extremely fatigued. There is a difference between the two. Your approach to the final miles will vary depending on which problem you may be facing. In a Bonk situation, one may still be running fairly or very well; then out of the blue, the body rapidly starts shutting down. Sometimes, the legs still can feel relatively fresh, considering how many miles have been run. What has happened is the body just has run out of easily consumable fuel
How to recover from a Bonk
You can recover from this! Start eating. Eat your gels or whatever nutrition you have, take fruit from spectators. Do whatever you can do to get calories. You can recover from a bonk! It is best to radically slow your pace down, preferably to a fast walk. After a few minutes resume light running. Often as not, you can recover and get back close to your pace. Don’t get discouraged, even if your stomach has a hard time processing food at first.
For those suffering, because they are under-trained for the pace they choose or got caught up and went out to fast, there aren’t any magic pills to make things better. Cramping, extreme fatigue coupled with the mind just wanting to stop and give up is all part of the process.
For some walking may be a better option if you are moving slowly. Walking will use different muscles. A combination of walk-running may be in order. Try to run easy, but then walk strong. Swing your arms forward while walking to help generate speed. There are plenty of race walkers that go faster than most runners. Shorten your goals. Try to find a specific point to start running again.
Try not to come to a complete stop. Forward momentum, is always preferable to coming to a full stop unless of course, you are facing a medical dilemma.
Sometimes taking a proper assessment can help. Keep in mind; life sucks for everyone at the end. Look around, are you passing more people than are passing you? Well, maybe you aren’t doing as bad as you think. Focus ahead and try to pass another runner close to you. If you are more compromised than focus on the course. Set mini goals, such as getting to the next intersection or light pole.
Hopefully, you will not get to the fourth phase. Just remember these words…DO NOT GO OUT TO FAST!
Here is more detailed information on what to expect on race day