Advice from the marathon expert(s)

(Before I start this post, I thought I’d share this photo I found of the finish line of the marathon. Notice the guy who collapses just before the finish line. It wasnt me, but that’s how tough a day it was. – photo courtesy of Dallas Observer’s Unfair Park Blog)
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On my post about the five deadly sins I made during the White Rock Marathon, I got some really interesting comments/tips. Myriam and Conrad think I should stick to a three week taper. Derek, Ryan, and Billy both agree that I may have had the talent to run a sub 4-hour marathon, but probably didn’t run my long runs slow enough. Lindsay agreed that it is hard to stay level-headed when things go haywire and Susan, well, she thought I was awesome. (Check’s in the mail, Susan!)

Anyway, before the race, I exchanged a few emails with one of the premeire running experts in our time, Jim Fortner. He runs the Jims2 Running Page, which has all kinds of articles on running a marathon and the like. He is in his late 60s now and has run more than 20 marathons. After the race, I emailed him about how I did, told him where I thought I screwed up and he was kind enough to email me back.

Here is our exchange. Very informational.

On Wed, Dec 17, 2008 at 6:40 PM, Jim Fortner <jim2wr@verizon.net> wrote:

Thanks for letting me know how it went, Kevin. Too bad about the conditions and what they cost you. But congratulations on a PR!
I absolutely agree that not adjusting goal time and pace plan to account for the weather conditions was a big mistake. It is not possible to run the time/pace that are realistic for good conditions under bad conditions.
It is hard to back off of a goal that you have worked hard to reach.
Tempting as it is to “man up” and go for it, that simply doesn’t work in a marathon like it sometimes can in a 5k.
I also agree about a 2-week taper vs. one of 3-weeks. I think that many marathoners taper too long and too deeply. The last long run two weeks out doesn’t have to be the longest of a training program, but it shouldn’t be one of just 12-15 miles, either.
I do disagree a little about one point. There are several factors that affect cramping. But the most common ones are trying to run a pace that is too fast for the conditions, as you did this time, and inadequate training to race (not just finish) the distance, not running out of fuel.
Boost your training mileage another 20%, set goals that are realistic for the conditions, pace better and your future marathons should improve and your cramping problems should go away….mine did.
It’s a learning process, not just through reading and talking to others, but through firsthand experience and making mistakes. You clearly paid attention to what happened to you this time and learned from it. That’s progress.

Again, congrats on the PR!

Jim

(I had one more question about fueling during the run and whether or not it could, “bring me back from the dead” during a marathon. Jim replied….

Kevin,

Refueling during the race affects energy level and can give you a boost.

But that’s not the same issue as cramping. As you approach about 20 miles in a marathon, your body runs low on stored glycogen (carbs) and has to rely more on fat for fuel, which it won’t run low on if you continued to run several times the marathon distance.

However, fat doesn’t metabolize as efficiently as glycogen….you can’t produce energy at the same rate from fat as from glycogen. Thus, it becomes difficult or impossible to sustain pace because the necessary energy just isn’t there. Also, both glycogen and fat are metabolized aerobically. However, only glycogen can be metabolized anaerobically. The faster you run, the greater the percentage of energy is from anaerobic metabolism, the faster glycogen stores are depleted, and the earlier the “problem” occurs.

Compounding the problem, your brain can only use glycogen for fuel….it can’t burn fat. Thus, as glycogen stores get low, the brain becomes “starved”. It goes into a self-preservation mode and starts to shut down your body physically to reduce energy generation and conserve glycogen.

The fuel in gels and/or sports drink is carbs, not fat. Refueling early in a marathon povides a readily usable source of fuel that helps to preserve stored glycogen. Refueling in the later stages supplements reduced stored glycogen and boosts energy level when both your muscles are relying more on less efficient fat and your brain wants you to slow down.

The above three factors combine to create what is known as “the wall”.
OTOH, cramping is primarily caused by muscle fatigue, which is accelerated by running faster than you are trained to run and/or the conditions permit. Muscle fatigue can be exacerbated by low electrolyte levels, especially salt.

Most sports drinks and gels contain electrolytes which supplement those stored in muscles. So, although using them during a marathon may help to ward off cramps (whether they help at all is controversial), they won’t overcome inadequate training or a pace that is too fast.

Think of electrolytes in supplements that you take during marathons as “insurance” against cramps, but not a primary controller of them….they won’t offset a race pace that is too fast.

I hope some of this makes sense.

Jim

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5 Responses to Advice from the marathon expert(s)

  1. lindsay says:

    wow thanks for sharing! he sure gives some great advice and info. the in-race nutrition facts were really helpful, if i pr in my next race it’s all thanks to this post of yours :)

  2. Burger says:

    He seems pretty spot on to me! I’d pick his brain any chance I get if I were you.

    Good stuff – thanks for sharing.

  3. heatherdaniel says:

    Great post!

  4. Reese says:

    We learn something each time. I know some people who ran a perfect race within their first 2 or 3 marathons. Others take 5 or more. Finishing is great, P R’ing if greater.

  5. untpawgal02 says:

    Definitely a tough day out there last Sunday! I was looking just like that picture only back at mile 14 :(

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