Friday, June 6, 2008

Lessons Learned from Recent Marathon

Ready for a bit of controversy? Before my marathon race I did a lot of reading. I read all the recommendations and then, as usual, I did my own thing. Here are my observations.

1- Mileage: It is disturbing to read (for example in the Cleveland Marathon official literature) that to run a marathon you need to be running 50-70 miles/week. My first 3 marathons were done with only 20-30 miles a week, peaking to 35. This year I was up to 40 miles/week, peaking at 50 mi/week. Yes, maybe you will run a better race with 70 miles/week (at what cost?) but please do not tell people that they need 50 miles/week to complete a marathon.

2. Long Runs: Yes, I know, they are important. But somehow I have managed to complete 5 marathons with basically only one 20 mile run.

3. Tapering: I never understood or experienced “Taper Madness”. For me, cutting down on mileage is a welcome relief after hard training.

After the experience of last year’s marathon, I became a believer of shorter tapering. They say that you cannot gain fitness the last two weeks before the marathon. Maybe, but you can lose fitness if you are not careful. This is what happened to me last year. An injury forced me to do very little running the last two weeks before the marathon. I did not mind it, thinking that tapering was good, and I paid for it.

This year, against the usual recommendations, I peaked mileage-wise two weeks before the marathon. A week before the marathon, 8 mi. long run is recommended. I did a 12 mile run at near marathon pace and then 7 more easy miles with my wife in the afternoon. I only tapered one week. The last week I ran every day, but shorter runs, but I did not run the last 2 days before the marathon. That's enough rest for me. And it worked well, since I had plenty of strength in the last part of the marathon.

4. Eating & Diet (my favorite topic!): Against most published advice, I went on a diet 3 weeks before the marathon. I kept the diet until the last days before the race. On Friday morning I was 162.5 lbs. I then ate well for two days. On race day (Sunday) I was 166.5 lbs. 4 lbs of glycogen and water that I needed for the race.

I am wondering about some of the things I read... "4 hours before the race eat a small meal...." Do they really expect me to wake up at 3 am to eat? All my eating was done on Saturday. When I got up on Sunday I only ate a 1/3 slide of bread with almond butter and half an orange. And a sip of water.

During the race I did not have anything to eat. No energy bars, liquid packs, gels, nothing. No food at all. It is not that I have sensitive stomach (I do not). It's just that I was not hungry, or weak, or anything like that. I did not need to eat and I was not going to force myself to eat. And I did not hit the wall. I did not come anywhere near feeling weak. I think I have large glycogen reserves. One day of eating (the day before the race or a long run) is enough for me.

4. Hydration: In my opinion, hydration is overrated. :) I made no effort to hydrate before the race. The morning of race I only had a sip of water. I was not thirsty and I did not want to force myself to drink water. This extra water will only be a problem at the race. Having to pee, holding it, looking for potties, and wasting time to pee. Who needs that?

The weather is a big factor. It was rainy and 50F. That's not weather for needing water. I took a bit water and gatorade at the aid stations and that was all I needed for the race.

5. Pacing & Walking Breaks: Even pacing is a myth that does not apply for ordinary runners. There is no way you can maintain the same pace for 26 miles. You have to plan for a at least 30 seconds difference in pace between the first and the last miles. You have to run the bulk of the marathon at about 10-15 second pace faster than expected time, to account for expected slowing down later on.

My first 3 miles were slow/cautious. I then settled in a comfortable pace for the next 19 miles. This pace was 15 sec faster than projected time. I built up a 3 minute buffer which helped me psychologically. I slowed down the last miles by about 30 seconds/mile but I had enough strength to finish with a fast last mile. I finished 2 1/2 minutes faster than goal time.

In past years I had taken walking/stretching breaks, even a break to change clothes, including shoes! This year I did not need/use any of that. I even ran through the water stops (trying to drink while running, something I had not practiced before). No potty breaks either. Just running.
Considering the good outcome, I plan to stick with this plan, until I have a problem next time :)

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