By Alex H.The training that goes in to a marathon is an accomplishment in itself, and we as runners want to ensure we give ourselves the best chance to succeed on race day. That means taking care of the little things leading up to race day and listening to our bodies leading up to the big day. The tiring long runs and muscle-burning intervals are necessary to make it to the line ready to go, but just as important is your strategy during the race! Sure, applying a proper layer of body glide is a great idea, and wearing the appropriate amount of clothing for the forecast is a must, but for the sake of this blog, I am referring to proper nutrition and hydration, and also proper pacing.
The energy demands on the body during a marathon make taking in calories and fluids absolutely essential. If you have trained with a specific pace you are targeting as your goal marathon pace, this pace should roughly correlate to your aerobic threshold, which is how fast the body can run while using fat as the main fuel source. Once twenty miles are covered at this pace, the body will hit the dreaded “wall” unless proper fueling is utilized. Some sort of gel, whether GU, Honey Stinger, Powerbar, or any other brand, with some slow burning calories and amino acids should do the trick. Practicing taking a gel every few miles in training will help you find a strategy that makes you feel adequately fueled and energized.
Additionally, taking in fluids is very important no matter if it is a cold or hot day. Do not make the mistake, however, of loading up on water like a camel! We cannot store that much water without having to use the restroom, so to avoid cramping and discomfort on race day, practice a strategy on your long runs that leaves you hydrated going in to the race, but ready to take in some sips of water, Nuun, or Gatorade every few miles. If you have trouble taking gels, you can try practicing with electrolyte blends that you simply mix in water which supply you with a similar level of electrolytes, carbohydrates, and calories as gels, but you can sip instead of suck down!
Now that you have found a fueling strategy that works for you and are ready to optimize your race day with proper nutrition, do not forget that proper pacing cannot be stressed enough! To circle back for a minute and revisit the topic about having 20 miles worth of energy at marathon pace stored in our bodies, that corresponds to our aerobic threshold. If we take the beginning of the race too fast, our bodies burn through that energy storage too quickly, and it is very tough to recover from! The most efficient way to run a marathon is evenly paced, which means every mile is very similar in pace. This pace will feel rather easy in the beginning stages and becoming increasingly difficult with every passing mile. Even pacing is not the only positive option, and many runners, including myself, prefer negative splits. Negative splitting races will leave you feeling better for longer, and although you may feel like you are holding back too much in the early stages, at mile 20 you will thank yourself! Every world record over the one mile distance has been set with a negative split pacing strategy, so coming back faster seems to be a good strategy based on the history of the sport!
The marathon is a tricky task, because worrying about gu gel’s, bathroom stops, not missing your mouth at Gatorade stations, and not hitting “the wall” does not prove to be so important in shorter races. Sure, taking the first two miles of your 5k way too fast is not a great idea, but having just over a mile to pay for your fast start is nothing compared to setting a 5k pr your first 5k of the marathon, and having 23 miles to go! Be smart, practice what you will do on race day, and nail your strategy beforehand so race day goes as smoothly as possible.
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