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  • The Marathon Taper

    THE MARATHON TAPER...HOW TO ACHIEVE OPTIMAL PERFORMANCE

    Why Taper?

    • Training provides the long term improvements necessary to successfully complete a marathon.
    • Training leaves athletes a bit tired most of the time.
    • The 3-week cycles provide some reduction in fatigue, but it is not enough to completely eliminate it and allow your body full physiological recovery.
    • The goal of tapering is to balance continued training and resting to allow for the best possible marathon experience.
    • The International Journal of Sports Medicine examined over 50 scientific studies on tapering and concluded that there is no doubt tapering works.
    • Studies have found improvements in performance of up to 16% with most studies showing 3 – 5% improvement. At a 5% improvement, that means a 3:30 marathon can become a 3:19 marathon through proper tapering.
    • A single workout, on the other hand will give you less than a 1% improvement in performance!

    How Long Should You Taper?

    • Studies show for the marathon one should taper for a minimum of 2-weeks with 3 weeks being optimal. Too short a taper will leave one tired on race day while too long will lead to a loss in fitness.
    • It is wise to err on the side of tapering too little rather than too much.
    • NEVER try to make up for lost time due to injury, etc during the taper weeks. By this time any gains in fitness that will impact marathon performance have already been realized and attempting to make up for lost miles or workouts will just leave you fatigued at the starting line.

    How Should You Reduce Training to Improve Marathon Performance?

    • Evidence indicates that the key to effective tapering is to substantially reduce mileage while maintaining intensity.
    • Reducing mileage reduces the accumulated fatigue
    • High intensity effort maintains fitness level
    • Exactly how much to reduce training mileage depends on your current training mileage, age and health. Older runners tend to need a longer taper than younger runners.
    • Studies have shown as a general rule of thumb:
    • 3rd Week Premarathon: Taper 20 – 25%
    • 2nd Week Premarathon: Taper 40%
    • Marathon Week (6 days before): Taper 60%.
    • Three weeks before is the most important time for a successful taper.
    • Marathoners often do too much this week because the marathon still seems a long way off.
    • It is much better physiologically and psychologically to allow your body to start to rebound this week, or you will find yourself feeling flat the last two weeks.
    • Often marathoners also decrease training efforts. This can result in a small loss in fitness as well as a lack of psychological reinforcement.
    • It is more effective to intersperse harder efforts within the recovery trend.
    • For example, the Gazelle schedule has 3 x 1-mile intervals the 2nd week pre-marathon.
    • Marathon week itself is all easy recovery, with the exception of Tuesday or Wednesday where it is recommended you do a 6 – 7 mile run with 2 miles at marathon pace.
    • This is a dress rehearsal, even wear the same shoes and clothes you will wear for the marathon!
    • By this time, if you have tapered properly starting with the 3rd week, you should feel light on your feet, like you can fly...this will provide a great psychological boost!

    Carbo-loading and Hydration During the Taper

    • It is vitally important that your muscles and liver be stocked with glycogen at the starting line.
    • Marathoners used to deplete glycogen stores for 3 days (sometimes even completing a long run up to 20-miles the week before), then carbo-load the 3 days prior to the marathon. This is no longer recommended since carbohydrate depletion can suppress the immune system (this is why many marathoners get a cold the week after a marathon – glycogen stores have been depleted) and the long run will leave you sore and tired.
    • What works just as well is to eat a normal diet until the last 3 days and taper your training program.
    • Then the last 3 days, eat a high carbohydrate diet and do a short, slow run these days.
    • Your body will store glycogen to almost the same level as if you did the whole depletion and loading program.
    • Also, make sure you are well-hydrated in the days leading up to the marathon so that you don’t arrive at the starting line suffering from accumulated effects of dehydration.

     

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  • The Marathon Aftermath

    By Shelly Glover

    You may not have given much thought to marathon recovery. After all, you trained, ran, finished and got your medal. With a wave of blessed relief, you realize the pressure is off. Now what?

    Coping – The First Few Hours and Days

    What’s more painful than running a marathon? How about the fatigue and soreness of the hours and days afterwards? Expect it, its part of the deal. Marathon recovery goes backward. At first you’ll feel worse instead of better. Whether you are bragging or licking your wounds, quicken recovery with our tips for rehydrating, refueling, and reducing soreness.

    Keep Moving. When you finish the marathon, it’s a hike to get your medal, a hike to get your blanket and a hike to the baggage and family reunion area. That’s good. Moving prevents stiffness. A 15-to-20 minute walk is helpful. More is better if you can manage.

    Drink and Eat. Refuel with carbs and fluid soon. Drink until your urine runs light yellow or clear. This takes a while. Of course how long depends on what you drink. A swig of beer can go straight through you and cause further dehydration. With beer your urine will be clear, but you’ll still be dehydrated. At least you will think you feel better.

    Ice. Contain swelling in painful areas by icing for 10minutes or so. Repeat along with ibuprofen for the next few hours and days to combat inflammation.

    Stretch Lightly. Limber up, but don’t overstretch fatigued muscles.

    Closure. Go ahead, hang around after the race to celebrate. Share stories of the gory and glory. When you’ve gathered the strength, or friends to assist you head home for the shower. You’ll feel better. The shower is optional for your friends. Some runners say a hot bath or whirlpool relaxes and loosens their muscles. Experts resist. They say heat increases inflammation and body temperature. They suggest instead cold showers or baths. No thanks. Not for me!

    Stop and Shop. Take a nap. The day’s caffeinated gels and excitement may keep you awake, but just resting a bit is a good idea. Later, go for another walk (15 to 30 minutes) and stretch lightly, or swim to combat stiffness and help you relax. My personal solution to movement and relaxation: go shopping! Every good effort deserves a reward!


    The Morning After

    Take a bath or warm shower to loosen up. Treat injuries first with ice. Walk and stretch gently. A professional massage speeds recovery. Schedule one 24 to 48 hours after the race and another a few days later.

    The Next Few Days

    Get plenty of sleep. At night, go to bed early. Other times take naps. Shuteye boosts immunity and heals the overexerted body. The first few nights after a marathon, runners often have trouble sleeping. If that includes you, at least lie in bed and rest often. On the other hand, if you are having trouble staying awake, don’t worry. Your body deserves the extra downtime.

    Refueling and Rehydrating

    It takes three to five days to refill glycogen stores. Runners often don’t go for carbohydrates hard enough after the marathon. Forgetting to munch with an eye on nutrition prolongs fatigue and delays a comfortable return to training.

    Returning to Training – The Reverse Taper

    Rebuilding. One predictable truth about runners is – if something works, they’ll change it. Case in point, if a runner runs a strong marathon, the urge is to jump back into training with a little more mileage, a little faster, a little harder, or a little more of something. This is how success breeds failure. After your great marathon effort, don’t be so anxious to start training your heart out and improve. Actually take a few easy runs to enjoy the scenery.
    Hold Back. Even if you feel strong, you’re only as strong as your weakest (or sorest) spot. Take one recovery day for every mile of your race. Um, for the math challenged that’s about 26 days or roughly a month. Recovery rate depends on the runner and the marathon. It’s usually easier to recover from a good marathon than a disappointing one.

    Biopsies done on marathoners show muscle cells take up to a month to recover from the microscopic damage inflicted during a race. Besides recovering from soreness and blisters, you need time to ignite the desire to train.
    Recovery deserves as much planning as your premarathon schedule. Think of it as the premarathon taper in reverse – a few off days, then a few short runs, then a gradual increase in weekly mileage until you reach your normal, pre-marathon peak level.

    To Run or Not To Run?

    Many veterans insist on running the next day, perhaps even the evening of the marathon. They believe it helps recovery. But a study by Dr. Costill at Ball State University in Indiana indicates you may be better off not even running a step for the first week. Researchers compared a group that didn’t run for a week with a matched group that ran easily for 20 to 40 minutes a day. The nonrunners scored better in tests for muscle strength and endurance three days and a week after the marathon.

    Why pound away on muscles that need time to repair? If you insist on working out, stick to 30 to 60 minutes of nonimpact aerobic exercise. Swimming is particularly good with its natural massaging action. Frequent walks help too.

    First Few Return Runs

    After a few days of nonrunning, try two to four miles per day or alternate days the rest of the week. Increase mileage the second week to no more than 25 to 50 percent of normal and to no more than 50 to 75 percent during the third and fourth post-marathon weeks (but less than this is okay). By the fourth or fifth week you may be ready to resume normal mileage. For example, this may be 40 miles a week compared to 50miles at peak marathon training.

    Pace and Speed Work

    Forget about for awhile. Run easy according to how you feel. First aim to run without soreness. Then gradually get back to your normal training pace. Hard runs aren’t advisable for a month or so.

    Ease into speedwork. If your body is ready and willing, about 10 to 14 days after the marathon try a light speed session. Controlled fartlek or a tempo run will help you ease into quicker running. Repeat this (or put it off) the next week, or try a few long intervals at 10K pace or slower. By the fourth or fifth week, you may be able to run harder speed sessions.

    Anytime during your four-week “reverse taper” feel free to back off training. If you feel fatigued or sore, run less. Take plenty of extra rest days until you’re back to normal. Don’t run on an injury – damage is compounded in postmarathon legs. Remember, recovery is priority for at least 4 weeks after a marathon. There’s no need to rush: Research shows you won’t lose much, if any, fitness.

    Depression and Rebound

    Your emotional post-marathon experience depends some on your personality type, according to Maryellen Duane, Ph. D., clinical psychologist at Winning Lifestyles.

    Duane knows what’s she speaks. A 10-time marathoner, she’s on the frontlines as head of the New York City Marathon Psyching Team.

    Newbie’s often have a different post experience than veteran marathoners, she explains. “For first-timers, finishing the marathon is a lifetime experience. They often
    revel in feelings of accomplished and pride. Like having your first baby, there’s nothing like your first marathon.

    Rebound with your post marathon rush to tackle projects or lifestyle changes you’ve been trying to get up the nerve to do. You know, write the novel! Go get that new job! Start that internet site!

    As per Lombardi-ism, “It is time for us all to cheer for the doer, the achiever – the one who recognizes the challenge and does something about it. “Thanks, Vince. The doer is you. The achiever is you. You proved it finishing the marathon. Now go recognize a new challenge and do something about it!

    But alas – not all runners rebound from happy marathon experiences. Some runners must rebound from unhappy experiences.

    Unhappy competitive marathoners tend to focus on a single negative aspect of the race (for example finishing time) instead of the overall positive experience. They miss the pleasure. Come on all you narcissists; we are talking about you. That should at least make you happy!

    Even if you ran a good race, you may feel down for a few weeks. Allan Steinfeld, NYRP top honcho, at the AfterMarathon Clinic compared the let-down to postpartum depression. (Here we go with that baby simile again...) “Your ‘baby’ has reached the finish line and your long-sought-after goal, around which your life revolved for months, has been achieved, leaving you feeling empty, “ he explains.

    It’s okay to cool serious running for awhile. Shoo away the blues by delving into stuff you had to give up while consumed by running. Duane suggests setting another challenge for yourself. “Enjoy your marathon accomplishment, and then focus on a non-running goal. Try yoga, or cross country skiing. Run in a new place. Do something novel to avoid staleness.” Not only does this nurture a positive focus, but helps avoid injury too.

    But, don’t forget to run. Training during the winter months is a good investment in your future.


    Recap

    • Generally the first week after a marathon you run very little or a few miles here or there.
    • The second week try running about 10 to 20 percent of your base mileage going into the marathon. Some 15 to 20miles for the week is usually more than enough.
    • The third week after the marathon, it is ok to come back up to base mileage.
    • The third or fourth week try a little light speed training such as modified fartlek or
    • a tempo run.
    • After four to six weeks competitive runners, depending on conditioning, may return to racing. Novice and casual marathoners may want to take a little more time and return to racing within five to eight weeks.

    Race & Training Analysis

    After weeks and months of training a runner races the NYC Marathon, gets a time and moves on. That’s that, it’s over, done, kaput, fine and the end. The course is run. You’ve been there and done that. Onward ho, you cry, to the next race!

    Slow down. Hold on. Back up. The finish line clock isn’t the only valuable feedback from a marathon. A backward glance helps direct and focus where you are going with training and racing goals. Most marathons aren’t all good or all bad. While the event is vivid, mentally play back the episode. Take the time to set down what went right – and wrong into specifics.

    The objectives of analysis are to:

    1. Reinforce what you did well.
    2. Learn from your mistakes.

    Here’s a key to looking for clues in your marathon performance:

    Race Time
    Record your splits. These are your times along the way (i.e. at 2miles, 10K, 1⁄2 marathon, 20miles) How was your pacing? How does your time compare to your goals, other marathons, predicted time, and training partners?

    Weather
    It makes a difference in how your run. Write down specifics for accuracy.

    • Air Temperature
    • Wind
    • Rain
    • Humidity
    • Snow
    • Sun Glare
    • Heat
    • Cloud Cover

    Course Conditions

    • These variables can speed or slow your time.
    • Hills
    • Drainage slant or camber
    • Mud and puddles
    • Pavement conditions including fallen leaves, loose gravel, stones, oil
    • Car and spectator inference
    • Aid station bottlenecks
    • Runner crowding conditions
    • Crowd support

    Marathon Goal Time
    First-timers may have wanted to just finish. Others may have wanted to run the second half faster than the first. Still others may have wanted to beat another competitor or have enough energy to show off to the crowds on First Avenue. Mental Preparation. Record your motivational techniques. Maybe use a few from out list:

    • Visualization
    • Course memorization
    • Progressive relaxation
    • Themes such as songs or slogans to keep you sloggin’ along
    • Mental rehearsal

    Race Strategy
    Make notes on how you planned to run the course. Did they work? Eat and drink. Record what you did and if it was successful. If it gave you less than optimal results come up with an alternative for next time. Cover three areas of intake – before, during and after the marathon. Here are a few suggestions to trigger your memory.

    • Breakfast
    • Medications
    • Sports foods and drinks
    • Supplements
    • Miscellaneous foods on the course

    Shoes and Clothing

    • What did you wear?
    • Did the clothes rub or bind?
    • Were they the right warmth for race conditions?
    • Any ideas for improvement?
    • Which socks worked out?

    Aches and Pains

    • Notes what hurts when and where.
    • Transitory aches
    • Sharp pains
    • Blisters
    • Discomforts
    • Cramps
    • Where fatigue appeared first
    • Trips, slips, dips and zips that can result in pulls, plunges and pains.
    • Menstrual cycle status

    Training Review

    • How many total miles did you run in training?
    • How long was the taper?
    • How many long runs of 18 to 23miles did you complete?
    • While marathon training, how many races did you run and what was their quality?

    Summary
    This is where you play sportscaster and recap the event. Make a few notes on each topic:

    • Best parts of race
    • Lessons learned
    • Comments
    • Goals for next marathon

    Post-Marathon Cold
    One in seven marathoners will get a cold during the first two weeks after the marathon. Yuck! That’s a six times greater risk than controls who did not run a marathon. Maybe marathoning should come with a Surgeon General’s warning, “Marathoning may be bad for your health.” Yeah, well, before you start running away from running, look at it this way: six out of seven marathoners do not get colds after running a marathon. Now, which is the newsworthy headline?

    The take home message here is that exercise at mild to moderate levels increases immunity. The intense level of marathon racing lowers immunity temporarily to upper- respiratory tract infections, e.g. colds. Young rookie marathoners are more at risk than veteran competitors.

    Stay healthy:

    • Wash your hands frequently
    • Get your rest
    • Avoid unnecessary stress
    • Eat properly
    • Avoid that sneezing, coughing germ-incubating co-worker
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  • Long Distance Race Checklist

    Marathon/Half Marathon Checklist

    1. Get your packet early at EXPO – have time to look around – it’s fun
    2. Make sure you have YOUR CONFIRMATION
    3. Have your number pinned on your shirt the night before – it must be in front
    4. If you want crowd support – iron on your name or something to your shirt – people will yell what is printed to cheer you on!
    5. Tie the chip in to your shoe the night before
    6. Have an alarm or wake up call (not that you won’t wake up several times during the night)
    7. Remember to Body Glide the areas needed before you put on shoes, shirt, shorts
    8. Remember nothing new to wear today
    9. Double tie your shoes
    10. EAT breakfast
    11. Hydrate – hydrate – hydrate. Take at least one bottle of water with you to start
    12. Take an OLD SHIRT to put on for prerace warmth that you are willing to throw aside somewhere as the race begins or in the first mile or so (there are organizations who will pick up these shirts and give to shelter)
    13. Have a pair of cheap gloves (found at Meijer or a hardware store) or socks for your hands that you can throw aside
    14. If drizzling or raining take a garbage bag and wear it over your body until the start – there may be one in the race package
    15. Have a BATHROOM strategy for prerace – I suggest a trip to the porta-potty early for any bowel movement and use an empty water/Gatorade bottle (wide mouth) for while your standing in the huge line up to start – just squat and go
    16. Have a meeting place decided for afterwards – it is hard to find your family or friends if you don’t – there is a runner reunite area that has letters that you can use to meet someone
    17. Bring for afterwards: sandals (you’ll be glad to get out of your running shoes!), extra shirt (probably long sleeve), Ibuprofen, stretch or sweat pants, towel or towelette, and any personal special food/drink you like (there’s plenty at the event but some people have picky stomachs and may want that special item). Check in your bag if you do not have someone to carry it.

     

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  • Predicting Your Goal Race Pace

    If you have run a marathon or half marathon recently, you will have a rough idea of what your goal pace should be for that distance. For many Run Camp participants, however, the upcoming event will be the very first half or full marathon. Others may not have run the distance for an extended period of time and fitness levels may have changed. So how do you select your goal pace? Your training run and lactate threshold pace can give you a general indication, but a recently completed race of another distance can often be a great predictor of what your goal pace should be. Races used for prediction purposes should be run at a best effort. Also, races closer in distance to the goal race are a more accurate predictor than a much longer or shorter race. For example, the half marathon is a much better indicator of marathon time than a 5k is.

    For the half marathon, a recent 5k, 10k, 10 mile or even marathon time can give you an excellent indication of what your half marathon finishing time or goal pace should be. You can use the following conversion factors to determine the corresponding half marathon time and then use a pacing chart to determine the appropriate pace.

    5k                4.69
    10k              2.24
    10 mile        1.33
    Marathon    .472 For example, if your 10k time is 50 minutes (3000 seconds), your predicted half marathon time would be 6720 seconds (3000 x 2.24) or 1:52 or about an 8:30 min/mile pace. Likewise, if you ran the Crim in 1:30, your corresponding half marathon time would be 7182 seconds (5400 x 1.33) or 1:59 or about a 9:02 mile pace. Recently ran a marathon? A 3:30 marathon, 12,600 seconds, would correspond to 5947 seconds for a half marathon (12,600 x .472) or a 1:39 or about a 7:30 pace. For the marathon, a recent 10k, 10 mile or half marathon can provide a good indication of what your marathon finishing time and goal pace should be. Again, you would use the conversion factors below, than refer to a pacing chart to determine the appropriate pace for the predicted time.

    10k                     4.76
    10 mile               2.82
    Half Marathon    2.12

    For example, with a recent 10k time of 50 minutes (3000 seconds), your predicted marathon time would be 14,280 seconds (3000 x 4.76) or a 3:58 marathon. If you look at corresponding pacing charts, this would be about a 9:02 min/mile pace. If you recently ran a half marathon at 1:40 (6000 seconds), your corresponding marathon time would be approximately 12,720 seconds (6000 x 2.12) or 3:32, which corresponds to about an 8:02 pace. Keep in mind there can be many other factors that can impact your performance. Race time conversions, particularly from a much shorter distance, can be a bit aggressive for the first time marathoner. Training specificity, weather conditions, hydration and fueling are just some of the factors that can heavily impact performances. For example, you can have two people who ran a 40:00 min 10k. One may completed two 20-milers while the other wasn’t able to complete anything over 13 miles. The runner who trained specifically for the marathon will be more likely to run the predicted time, than one who has focused their training specifically on shorter distances.

    Reference: Pfitzinger, P., and S. Douglas. 1999. Road Racing for Serious Runners. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

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  • Decline Training

    DECLINE TRAINING: THE BENEFITS AND TECHNIQUES

    Sprinters have used downhill training for years to improve leg turnover, but it can also be beneficial to the distance runner as well and has been incorporated into many distance training programs. Decline training not only teaches you proper downhill technique, but will also improve speed while running on the flats and can even help prevent
    Injury and Muscle Soreness.
    When you first begin a decline training program, it is important to start with a small dose and gradually build up. Downhill running is easy on the cardiovascular system, so it is easy to overdo the pounding on muscles, connective tissue and joints. If you train carefully, however, you can actually decrease your risk of injury because your body will adapt so that it can better handle descents. After the first couple of downhill sessions, you may notice a bit of soreness in the quadriceps; this will eventually lesson and disappear as your muscles adapt to the demands of running downhill.

    Increased Leg Turnover
    Downhill training will increase leg turnover which improves acceleration and speed on flat terrain. Your maximal stride rate is controlled by your neuromuscular system and downhill running teaches your nervous system to allow you to run fast. Like any other skill, this is best achieved through practice.

    Improved Downhill Running Performance
    Bill Rodgers was a great natural downhill runner and often left his competitors behind as he ran away on the descents. He was able to make downhills his personal weapon by improving that skill during training. Anyone can gain this edge by improving skill and confidence running downhill.

    Reduce Delayed-onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS)
    If you have ever run the Boston Marathon, you have experienced firsthand the impact downhill running can have on your muscles. When running hard downhill, your muscles work eccentrically to resist the force of gravity, which causes microscopic damage to the muscle fibers and surrounding connective tissue. This leads to inflammation and muscle soreness. Although you will be sore after the first few workouts, training on downhills protects your muscles from future damage and soreness. The muscles not only repair, but are also better able to handle future demands because the adaptations that occur within the muscle. A session of downhill running every two to three weeks is enough to maintain those adaptations.

    Gaining an Advantage When Cresting a Hill
    Runners will often work hard running to the top of a hill then back off slightly to recover. By practicing downhill running, you can gain an advantage by maintaining intensity over the top of a hill and down the other side.

    Technique
    The key to optimal downhill training is to allow gravity to help you flow down the hill, using minimal effort. This requires proper downhill form; you must adjust your body position forward so your body remains as close as possible to perpendicular to the hill.    If you try to remain upright as you would on the flats, it will actually cause a braking effect.....a common downhill running error. As you run downhill, your leg turnover should increase as you gain speed. It is also important to prevent over striding, which will also increase the braking component of downhill running; increasing the jarring forces and slowing you down. To improve balance and stay in control, keep shoulders relaxed but allow the elbows to move out moderately from your sides.
    The downhill workouts most appropriate depends on your goals and experience running downhill:

    Downhill reps of 75-150 meters
    Downhill reps on a gentle grass slope are a great way to learn technique and improve leg turnover while minimizing the chance of injury. This technique is often used by sprinters to improve speed. It is very important to warm up well, including a few striders on the flat before launching into these. Concentrate on correct body position and on letting your legs turnover more quickly as you gain speed. Limit yourself to three to five reps the first few sessions, particularly if you haven’t done much speedwork recently.

    Up and Down Intervals
    Uphills and downhills can be incorporated in the same workout by doing intervals in which you run up a hill hard, than sustain the intensity over the top and down the other side. If you make these intervals two – six minutes in duration (with a one to two minute recovery jog in between), these make excellent VO2 max workouts and can replace the ones listed on your training schedule. These training sessions are time-efficient as they incorporate the benefits of several different types or workouts, and reinforce the ability to maintain effort over the top of a hill and shifting technique to pick up speed on the downhill.

    Hilly Courses
    Doing your regular training runs on hilly courses is an effective way to get used to running downhill without major changes to your training program. To gain the most benefit, concentrate on correct downhill running technique and increasing leg turnover as you run down the hill. Making downhill running part of your training routine allows you to gain experience so that downhill running technique becomes second nature.

    Race Simulation
    If you are training for the Borgess Half Marathon, your muscles need to be able to handle the 2 mile descent from the start into downtown Kalamazoo. If you are training for the Boston Marathon, you need to be able to handle the descent from Wellesley into Newton Lower Falls at 15 miles, and the plunge into Boston proper after cresting Heartbreak Hill. If you are preparing for the ING New York City Marathon, your body needs to be ready for the downhill into Manhattan at 16 miles.    It is important to try to simulate the descents that you will encounter in your goals races in terms of steepness, length, and where they fall within the race.

    Pfitzinger, P. 2005. “Moving Up by Going Down.” Running Times 328 (July/August): 16

     

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  • Pace Yourself or Brace Yourself

    Proper race pacing can make or break your half marathon or marathon experience and performance. The outcome can just as easily be determined by what happens the first few miles after the gun goes off as much as what happens during the many weeks of training and preparation. What is the best pacing strategy? Should you run hard early on while you are fresh? Run easy at the start and clock a negative split? Or how about running an even pace throughout the entire race?In 2005 I signed up to run the Martian Marathon. Physically I was well-prepared. I had the training under my belt and was feeling fresh...perhaps a little too fresh. The gun went off, the adrenaline was flowing and I ran the first mile about a minute faster than my marathon pace. The 2nd mile I realized my mistake and pulled it in, but was still about 40 seconds ahead of goal pace. By 6 miles, my pace was 30 seconds ahead, and by 8 miles, I started to slow ...to a pace slower than goal marathon pace. By 12 miles it was all over....my calves cramped up so badly from the lactic acid that had accumulated; I had to stop altogether. I dropped out and walked a 3 mile short cut back to the finish.

    Three weeks later, at the Boston Marathon, I practiced an entirely different strategy. I ran the first few miles right at marathon pace. It felt very slow, but I knew I had to conserve energy for the hills that loomed beyond the 15th mile.    By mid-race, I was very comfortably cruising along the slight downhill and flat sections of the course about 10 seconds faster than goal race pace, but feeling fresh. Eventually the hills, and a natural slowdown in pace came, but the slowdown wasn’t drastic and the hills did not present a difficult challenge. Because of the warm weather and hilly course, my calves started to cramp a little during the 17th mile, but it was different than the debilitating cramps that were caused by the accumulation of lactic acid 3 weeks earlier. Pretty soon I had crested Heartbreak Hill, ran down the other side and was approaching Boston proper. Before I knew it, the finish line loomed ahead of me and I crossed in PR time. My average pace per mile was 3 seconds faster than my first mile....and my time a PR on the most challenging road marathon course I had ever encountered.

    The answer to proper pacing lies within the principles we learned earlier on lactate threshold. Your ideal half marathon pace is just below lactate threshold and your ideal marathon pace is about 20 – 30 seconds slower than lactate threshold pace. If you run faster than lactate threshold pace the lactate accumulates in your blood and muscles, which affects the enzymes for energy production and forces you to slow down. When you run faster than lactate threshold, you also use more glycogen, so you are depleted more quickly. This is especially detrimental to marathon performance as it can cause you to “hit the wall” sooner.

    The best strategy, as evidenced by both physiology and my Boston experience, is to run relatively even pacing. If you run much faster than your average pace for any one part of the race, you will likely start to accumulate lactic acid and use more glycogen than necessarily. Proper pacing can be especially tricky for the half marathon since it is run so close to lactate threshold. It can be easy to creep above the ceiling. If you attempt to run a negative split and run much slower than your average pace, you will need to make up for it later on, again running faster than your most efficient pace for another part of the race. The best strategy, is to run nearly even splits, taking into the account the topography of the course. At Boston, my time splits weren’t dead even. The first few miles I ran on pace, the middle flat and slightly downhill portions I ran 10 seconds faster, and the up hills a bit slower. The nature of the course required some variation in pace to account for the variation in effort demanded by the terrain.

    Most runners shouldn’t try to maintain dead even splits, especially in the marathon. During the marathon, your slow twitch fibers gradually become fatigued and your body begins to rely more on the less economical fast-twitch fibers. This will make both your running economy and lactate threshold pace decrease. Towards the end of the marathon, your pace will be reduced slightly. This suggests a more efficient strategy would be to run the first half just slightly (2-3%) faster to allow for the natural slowdown that occurs.

    The first mile of a marathon or half marathon you want to run right at or slightly slower than goal pace. You still won’t be completely warmed up and won’t be prepared to go much faster. Once you have run the first mile, the best strategy is to find a good rhythm; a fast but relaxed pace. For the half marathon, this will be about 5 – 10 seconds slower than lactate threshold, for the marathon about 20 -30 seconds slower. At this stage, you should be cruising and saving your mental and emotional energy for the 2nd half. In the half marathon concentrate on maintain a fairly even pace for the first 10 miles, then dig deep the last 3.1 miles to bring it home. If you paced yourself well and stayed right below that lactate threshold ceiling, you should be able to run a strong final 5k.

    In the marathon, the halfway point to 20 miles is where the mental discipline of training really kicks in. At this point you are tired and still have a long way to go. Keep a positive attitude and watch your pace closely. This is where most runners start to let their pace drift, first 5 seconds per mile, then 10, then beyond. Concentrate on your splits.....at this point, most well-trained marathoners are still physically able to maintain goal pace. Sometimes, especially during this stage, it is not uncommon to have a bad patch, and then have it disappear. If you start feeling bad, press on, it may pass. Taking carbohydrate in the form of energy gels, etc often help with this. The last 6.2 miles is what you have ultimately prepared for during your many months of training and where your long runs will pay off. Dig deep here...you want to push as hard as you can, but not so hard your muscles tighten and you cramp up. Concentrate all the way to the finish line and cross over strongly (but don’t sprint at the end of a marathon)! Then Savor the fruit of all your labor...you did it!

    Occasionally weather or racing strategy may require you to change your pacing plan. If you are running into a head wind, there is a big advantage to running with a group of runners and taking turns drafting. You save considerable energy this way, but you also may need to run slightly faster or slower to stay with the group. The most you should deviate from your goal pace, however, is about 8 – 10 seconds per mile.

    Pfitzinger, P., and S. Douglas. 2001. Advanced Marathoning. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

     

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