Michigan’s summer can have a handicapping effect on runners. Efforts feel tougher, paces feel slower, and races rarely produce PR’s given an equivalent level of fitness, especially over longer races. Once fall hits, however, it can feel like a veil has been lifted. Suddenly it’s clear how much miles put in over the summer have helped. There are few experiences in running like that first seminal long run when cooler weather finally comes – you feel strong as an ox, the pace is effortless, and the miles feel like they could stretch on indefinitely.
A fun part about fall’s newfound strength is great races around here to demonstrate it. Popular ones for our area are the Brooksie Way Half Marathon, The Capital City River Run Half, the Applefest 5k, Diehl’s Ciderfest Run 4 mile, and the ultimate fall tests: a full marathon.
Marathons take a special type of preparation. There are way too many articles to count online detailing all the ways you can screw up a marathon, and way too many on how to run your best. Instead of getting too far into that, here are what I see as keys to preparing for a marathon properly:
Running more will you prepare more than anything else when it comes to doing well at a marathon. That means missing as few days as possible. One of the most underestimated gains one makes in training is the huge improvement in running economy that comes from consistent “practice” at the art of running. Whether you’re comfortable with 15-30 minutes the majority of your runs, or an hour plus, try to do one every day that you can!
Picking The Right Race
Destination marathons are fun weekends, and it’s easy to structure a vacation around them. However, if you want to run a certain time, you’re best off following three rules of thumb:
- Pick a race close to you, and limit travel time and concerns in the days leading up to it.
- Pick a race in the fall or at a place where cool weather is almost guaranteed.
- Pick a race with terrain you’re familiar with. Flat is the way to go if time is the goal.
There’s a plethora of articles circulating the web, often detailing different strategies on fueling before and during a marathon. I take a pretty simple approach.
I shift my diet to one emphasizing carbs in the days before the race. Try not to take in extra calories. Instead, shift the ones consumed to a larger percentage of carbs. Even simple carbs are ok in the days leading up to the race.
Two reasons for this…
- Each gram of glycogen stored also stores an average of 3 grams of water – and as you’d probably guess, you’ll need some water in your system to run a good marathon.
- From a fueling perspective, a marathon can be seen as a race between getting to the finish line and avoiding depleting your glycogen stores, the most available and efficient source of energy the body has during the race. Deplete that level too soon in the race, and you hit what marathoners affectionately call, “The Wall.” (note the capitalization. not a fun time) “Carbo-loading” before the race helps maximize the amount of available glycogen stores you have to draw on at the beginning of the race. Combine that with good fueling during the race (generally 100 calories of carb heavy energy food for each hour of running), and appropriate pacing (not going out too fast, picking a sustainable pace), and you can get through the race without even hitting the dreaded “Wall.”
Don’t Get Too Hung Up On Distance
I get a lot of questions along the lines of “how long should long runs be?” What’s the furthest I need to train at to race a marathon? My answer: it’s not distance, it’s time. Consistent, frequent efforts of continuous running are the most effective strategy for building a good running economy. If you can build up to it, long runs of 1:45 – 2:20 are the furthest one needs to go to train at a glycogen depleted state before significant muscles breakdown, thus boosting marathon fitness. So in short, pick a plan that seems obtainable, stick to it, and try to run as frequently as you can. Work up to 1:45 – 2:20 long runs, once a week, if you’re able. The more you can run, the more prepared you’ll be. It’s “money in the bank,” and you want a nice account to draw from at mile 20.
Fall marathons are magical races – there are few feelings better than the hyper-relaxed, near euphoric state that follows in the hours and days after finishing – it can often feel like turning a chapter in the book of life – an apt metaphor for a race that can feel like a momentous journey in and of itself.
If you ever want to shoot the breeze about running, marathons, and life, pop into the store and ask for a marathoner – Red Fox is lucky to have several who have been successful in their endeavors. And we love to talk running!
Happy Running, and for those racing – get after it, and have a fun time doing so!