Trouble Shooting Your Marathon

Congratulations on your recent marathon!  What?  You say the race did not go as well as you hoped or expected?  Well, let’s do a little trouble shooting and see if we can figure out why.  Many of the common “marathon gone wrong” complaints can have multiple or overlapping causes but our trouble shooting should point you in the right direction of the usual suspects to be examined and remedied if found guilty.

I felt bad from the start.  I never got into a rhythm or felt quite right and never felt energetic. Not feeling like yourself from the start and struggling to find your rhythm often points to an extreme taper.  In an attempt to save energy for race day it is logical to really cut back on mileage and intensity for a week or two.  However, not enough running can be just as bad as too much running leading into a marathon.  A general rule, people will vary, is to decrease your training by about 25%.  A greater training reduction may be the cause.

A similar culprit may be to blame for a lack of energy from the start.  Not eating enough the days before the race can leave you a little depleted at the start line and severely depleted long before the finish line.  Try to stray very little from your nutrition plan used before your long runs when you felt really good.  You can tweak your diet for race day but don’t look for a magic overhaul.

Somewhere over the last 10 miles my pace started to slow and I was able to fight through it to finish but could not stop the slide. Let’s set aside the obvious possible issues of mileage, long runs, and pacing and look for another cause.  When the pace slows in this manner beyond what is reasonable given your training, dehydration becomes very likely.  Dehydration comes on slowly, about as slowly as you are losing water through your sweating.  Reevaluate your hydration plan including prerace and on the course.  This should take into account conditions and your sweat rate.  You will be dehydrated at the finish of such a long race.  It is about limiting your losses to minimize the effect on your performance.  Just like the rest of running, this is something that can be trained.

I went from feeling really good to slowing down to survival mode in a matter of 10 to 20 minutes.  Much like our last issue we will eliminate training causes for now and focus on the single most likely cause of going from feast to literally famine in such a quick timeframe.  Glycogen depletion comes on in a hurry.  Think of your car and how it will run great with an almost empty tank of gas and not so much a few minutes later when it is really empty.  At some point your body just cannot find enough fuel to maintain race pace.  It can burn other much less efficient sources of energy to get to the finish but it is not a photo you will hang on your wall.  Reevaluate your prerace diet which should get you happily to 20-22 miles at a reasonable pace and learn to take in the extra 400-600 calories during the race to make sure you can maintain that pace to the finish.

I did plenty of long runs and my mileage was good but my legs still cramped over the last 4-6 miles and really slowed me down and ruined the great race I had going.  Let’s take your word for it that you had plenty of mileage and long runs going into the race.  We can simplify marathon racing or pacing to two factors, speed and distance.  I know, very simple and obvious, but follow me on this.  You can have plenty of mileage of the weekly and long run variety making 26.2 no big deal but without the proper balance of quality you cannot get there at goal pace.  Conversely, if the training quality is fantastic but you are lacking the necessary mileage volume you will not be able to sustain the pace and your splits posted online for the world to see will indict you for your mileage omission.

I am actually very happy with my performance but I got really tired and the race got really hard at the end.  It’s a marathon it’s not supposed to be easy and that my friend is why it is a big deal and they gave you a t-shirt and a medal for finishing!  Congratulations!