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First Marathon Series Part 6: The Taper

Ahh, you’ve made it through the training and now it is time to cash out the fitness account that you’ve been depositing into nearly every day for weeks. This should be a time to be excited, but for many, it’s a time to completely lose your mind!

Many refer to this as the taper FREAK OUT!

It doesn’t have to be that way.

With any of our marathon plans, you’ll see a taper of 10-14 days. By most people’s definition of taper, a better word is probably you peak for 10 to 14 days. I say that because a lot of people argue that we don’t taper. Anyway, when you think about the purpose of a taper, it’s pretty simple, right? We are cutting back from the hard training we have done in order to be completely rested and to rock and roll.

Done right, and you can improve your performance by 2-3%.
Done poorly, and not only will you reap the benefits, you’ll actually lose some fitness! So let’s make sure we do this right!

The biggest mistake I see people make is cutting way too much from their training during the taper.

First..

Think about when we are building your training- what’s the number one thing people tell you? Don’t add too much too soon! Well, the opposite is true when tapering. If you take away too much too soon, it’s detrimental. You’ll probably feel sluggish like you got too much sleep. Now, cutting too much can come in several forms. One is just straight up cutting their weekly mileage. This is the no-brainer, but when we start chopping away mileage, we tend to start cutting out days we are running and the intensity we are doing. If we do this for more than a couple weeks, then not only do we feel sluggish because we are out of routine, we can actually start to detrain! To me, the key to cutting back is smaller percentages in mileage and workout frequency, but maintain your daily intensity.

Second

When we start cutting back mileage and workout frequency, we tend to think that we should automatically feel like a million bucks. When we don’t, we tend to think something is wrong. Personally, I feel like the more we keep our routine (even if we modify what we do on those days), we minimize this. Needless to say, the old phantom aches and pains always seem to show up in the last couple of weeks. You may find yourself wondering why your left big toe all of a suddenly hurts for no apparent reason. Chances are, it’s nothing. I don’t have a scientific reason why this happens but it does. I think it’s one of those things where we are hyper-aware. Think about coming back from an injury and you are in your first few runs back. You are constantly thinking about the injury and if it’s ok. We know it’s healed, but why do we keep feeling it? The same thing here we are just going through every joint and muscle, making sure it’s ready to perform in a few days.

The third biggest concern I see is nutrition.

This is tricky because it’s my experience that a lot of runners aren’t eating enough of the right foods at the right time. Many times, they just aren’t eating enough in general. When you get to the taper, they cut it back even more because they aren’t “training as much” and they really do themselves a disservice. Now should be the time to make sure the muscles have the fuel they need to recover from the months of training and to allow you to perform on race day. The flipside of that is people will sometimes start the carboload a little early and find themselves packing on a few to many pounds over the last two weeks. To me, the best thing to at this time is to eat to what the day calls for. Mainly I am talking about the right amount of calories. Short day = less calories and a long day/SOS = more calories. However, I am also talking about the timing of your calories (especially for SOS), and also the types of calories. Once you get to 3-4 days out, then you can start carboloading, but don’t save it for the day and night before.

The last thing..

I want to talk about self-doubt. This may creep in throughout the course of the training but will be multiplied with the issues we have talked about above. The most common is that a run during the taper doesn’t feel as great as it was expected too and the feeling is that your fitness has suddenly disappeared. Then they start noticing the aches and pains, then they think they’ve put on ten pounds. Pretty soon their mental state has spiraled out of control. We’ve all been there and I’ve done it before, too. What’s worked for me is trying to recognize the negative thought as soon as possible and stop it with a positive thought.

Go back to a tough workout you nailed.

Think about a situation where you could have given up, but you found a way to get the job done. Recognize that what you are going to do is very tough and it is going to hurt, but also recognize that you have put the work needed to accomplish your goal.

The last couple of weeks is time to physically recover from all the training. It’s not a time to let you believe that your fitness has suddenly disappeared and you aren’t going to reach your goal. Keep your routine, while gradually cutting the work back. Eat to your needs until the last 3-4 days. Combat negative thoughts with positive thoughts and keep present with why you are running this race to begin with. Let the taper work for you so that you can reap all the benefits of the months of work you put it in and sacrifices you (and maybe your family) have made.

Check out Hansons First Marathon book for yourself!

First Marathon Series Part 6: The Taper

Ahh, you’ve made it through the training and now it is time to cash out the fitness account that you’ve been depositing into nearly every day for weeks. This should be a time to be excited, but for many, it’s a time to completely lose your mind!

Many refer to this as the taper FREAK OUT!

It doesn’t have to be that way.

With any of our marathon plans, you’ll see a taper of 10-14 days. By most people’s definition of taper, a better word is probably you peak for 10 to 14 days. I say that because a lot of people argue that we don’t taper. Anyway, when you think about the purpose of a taper, it’s pretty simple, right? We are cutting back from the hard training we have done in order to be completely rested and to rock and roll.

Done right, and you can improve your performance by 2-3%.
Done poorly, and not only will you reap the benefits, you’ll actually lose some fitness! So let’s make sure we do this right!

The biggest mistake I see people make is cutting way too much from their training during the taper.

First..

Think about when we are building your training- what’s the number one thing people tell you? Don’t add too much too soon! Well, the opposite is true when tapering. If you take away too much too soon, it’s detrimental. You’ll probably feel sluggish like you got too much sleep. Now, cutting too much can come in several forms. One is just straight up cutting their weekly mileage. This is the no-brainer, but when we start chopping away mileage, we tend to start cutting out days we are running and the intensity we are doing. If we do this for more than a couple weeks, then not only do we feel sluggish because we are out of routine, we can actually start to detrain! To me, the key to cutting back is smaller percentages in mileage and workout frequency, but maintain your daily intensity.

Second

When we start cutting back mileage and workout frequency, we tend to think that we should automatically feel like a million bucks. When we don’t, we tend to think something is wrong. Personally, I feel like the more we keep our routine (even if we modify what we do on those days), we minimize this. Needless to say, the old phantom aches and pains always seem to show up in the last couple of weeks. You may find yourself wondering why your left big toe all of a suddenly hurts for no apparent reason. Chances are, it’s nothing. I don’t have a scientific reason why this happens but it does. I think it’s one of those things where we are hyper-aware. Think about coming back from an injury and you are in your first few runs back. You are constantly thinking about the injury and if it’s ok. We know it’s healed, but why do we keep feeling it? The same thing here we are just going through every joint and muscle, making sure it’s ready to perform in a few days.

The third biggest concern I see is nutrition.

This is tricky because it’s my experience that a lot of runners aren’t eating enough of the right foods at the right time. Many times, they just aren’t eating enough in general. When you get to the taper, they cut it back even more because they aren’t “training as much” and they really do themselves a disservice. Now should be the time to make sure the muscles have the fuel they need to recover from the months of training and to allow you to perform on race day. The flipside of that is people will sometimes start the carboload a little early and find themselves packing on a few to many pounds over the last two weeks. To me, the best thing to at this time is to eat to what the day calls for. Mainly I am talking about the right amount of calories. Short day = less calories and a long day/SOS = more calories. However, I am also talking about the timing of your calories (especially for SOS), and also the types of calories. Once you get to 3-4 days out, then you can start carboloading, but don’t save it for the day and night before.

The last thing..

I want to talk about self-doubt. This may creep in throughout the course of the training but will be multiplied with the issues we have talked about above. The most common is that a run during the taper doesn’t feel as great as it was expected too and the feeling is that your fitness has suddenly disappeared. Then they start noticing the aches and pains, then they think they’ve put on ten pounds. Pretty soon their mental state has spiraled out of control. We’ve all been there and I’ve done it before, too. What’s worked for me is trying to recognize the negative thought as soon as possible and stop it with a positive thought.

Go back to a tough workout you nailed.

Think about a situation where you could have given up, but you found a way to get the job done. Recognize that what you are going to do is very tough and it is going to hurt, but also recognize that you have put the work needed to accomplish your goal.

The last couple of weeks is time to physically recover from all the training. It’s not a time to let you believe that your fitness has suddenly disappeared and you aren’t going to reach your goal. Keep your routine, while gradually cutting the work back. Eat to your needs until the last 3-4 days. Combat negative thoughts with positive thoughts and keep present with why you are running this race to begin with. Let the taper work for you so that you can reap all the benefits of the months of work you put it in and sacrifices you (and maybe your family) have made.

Check out Hansons First Marathon book for yourself!

What is Cumulative Fatigue? How do I differentiate?

This year I have taken a much bigger effort to connect with the thousands of people that have used the Hansons Marathon Method over the last few years. Not because I was unsure if it would work, but rather to make sure I was doing a good job of communicating the main idea of the philosophy: cumulative fatigue.  What I learned was well, it is a mixed bag. Some of it is I think people buy the book but just follow the program and wonder why it’s so hard. This is a small group, but there isn’t much more I can personally do if they don’t want to explore why we do what we do. Then there’s the group who do everything by the book (literally) and see success. Then there’s the group that I need to do better job of coaching. With that, my aim is to pull out all the stops with the idea of cumulative fatigue.

Hansons Cumulative Fatigue

The result of a successful marathon!

What is cumulative fatigue?

Our goal with marathon training and half marathon training is to build a certain amount of cumulative fatigue that develops the strength and preparedness for the marathon.

What exactly is the definition of cumulative fatigue?

Here’s my version of the idea: When fatigue is coming from the culmination of training and not from one specific aspect. The athlete is fatigued, but still able to run strong, and not dip past the point of no return. The end result is that the runner becomes very strong, fit, and able to withstand the physical and mental demands of the marathon distance.

So, what do we do to achieve this end result? To me it’s really about 4 components for the marathon. Balance, Moderate to High Mileage, Consistency, and Active recovery.

Hansons Cumulative Fatigue

Trust the process!

What are the components of CF?

As you can see in figure 1, there are four “pillars” I use in reaching a person to reaching cumulative fatigue. We’ve talked about these a lot, so I’ll just link to those discussions.

What I will say here though is that these components all work as part of the entire system.

When you pull one piece out it’s like a giant Jenga tower spilling all over the dining room table.

Then what? You’re just left to pick up the prices and start over.

For instance, let me share with you a common scenario I will see in our Facebook groups. A person starts the program but doesn’t completely by into part of the program. Seemingly, it always has something to do with the idea of a 16 mile long run (insert shocked voice). I feel like one of two things happen. The most popular is that the person doesn’t really think that 16 miles is long enough and make their long runs the typical 20+ miles in a 40 to 50 mile week. However, in order to have enough energy, the rest of the week suffers somehow. A skipped workout here and a shortened tempo run there. Before long, the original training plan is a shadow of its former self, but the runner still feels like they are “following the method.” The second is that the runner believes too much in the 16 mile long run and develop a belief that the program is centered around the long run. They feel like even if they skimp on the rest of the training the 16 miler is all they need.

The bottom line is that the 16 miler alone won’t get the job done. Like any training, or cumulative fatigue component, it’s the sum of parts that makes it successful.

Past discussion on CF

Hansons Cumulative Fatigue

Know the difference between Over training and CF

What is the difference between CF and just overtraining?

This is an area where many of you need help fully understanding and I need a better job teaching. I will admit that it’s a very thin line between the two technical stages of training we are discussing. That’s functional overreaching and non functional overreaching.

Common symptoms:

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO:

When you are in a functional overreaching, you will be tired but your performances in workouts will not suffer.

When you start feeling like crap and your performances are getting worse, you have likely crossed that line into functional overreaching.

Now, there’s always a caveat to these things. Let’s say you were running too fast to begin with and through training hard you’ve slowed down to what you were supposed to be running? If so, I don’t think it’s non functional, rather a correction. Where you will get into trouble is if you continue to try to hit the paces that were too fast. Rather, settle into the proper paces and let your fitness and body come back around. You’ll still feel tired, but as long as performance is stable, you’re ok.

How do I reach CF without going too far?

And here we go. The meat and taters, if you will. There’s a number of things we should do 1) before we even begin training and 2) during the early stages of a training plan that will help immensely with our goal of cumulative fatigue and not over training. From there, we can discuss the things we need to do during training that will help safeguard us while in the hardest sections of the training.

Before we even start:

  1. At least have a discussion about what your goal is or should be. Many of the folks using the plan for the first time are people who have at least raced before, so choosing a goal makes it a bit easier for them. For those who have no clue as to what they should run should consult a coach or respected runners who will give them a no BS answer. If you recall a discussion we had about Strava data, we should that something like 60-70% of people are running a 4-5 hour marathon and training about 30 miles per week. An hour difference is a big gap, but it at least gives you a starting point to evaluate yourself. A brand new runner who is building from scratch will probably be looking more at the 4.5-5 hour range. A newer runner with a little bit of running underneath them might be looking at the 4-4.5 hour range.
  2. Look at your schedule outside of running. Do you know of vacations and other gatherings that you know will make training difficult? Big business trips on the horizon? A baby on the way (I don’t think my daughter slept more than an hour or two a night for the first 6 months of her life). I know there’s a lot of unexpected events that pop up, but at least plan for what you know is going to occur. Preparing for these things in advance will not only help you set a more reasonable training goal, but also allow you to absorb the unexpected a little better.

Early in the training:

I made a post about this a bit ago and I think is a must read for everyone new to the idea of cumulative fatigue: Avoiding the early pitfalls of marathon training.

A few keys to take away:

  1. Let your fitness build, don’t try to force the issue. I see this all the time where people think if fast is good, faster is better. No, running the right pace for what we are trying to accomplish is better. For instance, if your goal is 3:45 and it’s already an attempt at a big PR, then why make it harder on yourself and try to run faster than what is prescribed? I want you at peak fitness for your goal race, not the local school fundraiser 5k.
  2. Don’t rely on running alone. This one has always been a problem for me. As much as we feel strapped for time, we need to carve more out if we truly want to prepare. I am talking about things like flexibility, dynamic warm ups, core training, and general strength. I know I know. I hear ya and I have fought it forever, too.
  3. Sleep and proper nutrition are your best friends during a heavy training cycle. This is for your life, aw well. Should be non negotiable.
  4. Adjust for environment. The summer is a perfect example of this. For an October marathon, you’ll start training in June. This means that a lot of your training will be during the dog days of summer. So many times my athletes will overdo it trying to hit paces that aren’t reasonable given the temperature and humidity. Is it ideal? No, but that’s why we don’t be a ourselves up that we were 15 seconds slow per mile when it was 80 degrees with a dew point of 65 degrees and we’ve only been training for 6 weeks.

If you can do these things, you’ll set yourself up to be able to not only tolerate training, but also maximize your training adaptations during the last 6-8 weeks of the marathon segment (when it really counts). You’ll put yourself in the zone of cumulative fatigue without crossing the threshold into overt training.

Love the Sport!

Love the Sport!

What do I do if I take it too far?

The end result of what I saw many folks doing was taking cumulative fatigue into nonfunctional overreaching by the time they got to the strength segment of the marathon plans. If you find yourself in that zone or rapidly approaching it, here’s what I would do.

  1. Immediately start doing the things we just talked about. Consider vitamins/supplements.
  2. Spread workouts further apart (Modifying Schedule)
    1. Tuesday-Friday-Sunday
    2. Wednesday-Sunday w alternating weekend
  3. Within a month of race? Start taper now. If you are fried and performance has gone by the wayside, we have to bring you back and quickly. Reducing both volume and intensity is the easiest way to do it.
    1. Scale back to 2b.
    2. Focus on lower intensity SOS
    3. Don’t scale back so much you lose fitness

End Goal

The end goal is two fold. The first is to teach you how to train, regardless of system you use. We want to take you from guessing to knowing the how, what, and why if becoming a runner (regardless of pace, as pace is irrelevant). This is an ongoing process and hopefully incorporated into everything we provide. The second is what you are immediately concerned with- getting to the starting line healthy. I realize that things rarely go perfectly as planned. If you find yourself in such a situation let’s cut our losses, minimize the damage, and get to the starting line in one piece. This will at least allow you to run your race and you still might even just surprise yourself with what you can still accomplish. It certainly doesn’t have to mean throwing in the towel on a training segment!

 

Listen to our PODCAST on Cumulative Fatigue

Marathon Race Strategy: A few thoughts

We have talked before about tapering and general race strategy ideas. We talk about several of these topics over the course of HMM. However recently an interesting article was posted on online that looked at 80 million runs logged on Strava. It shows some interesting numbers based on a wide spectrum of runners. It also prompted me to look at and update some of our specific race strategy ideas.

I’d like to preface the actual data that the mentioned article provides as this will help clarify some of my ideas about pacing and race strategy.

First…

..most 3-4 hour marathoners (regardless of gender) were logging an average of about 35 miles a week. 4-5 hour marathoners logged an average of 25-30 miles per week. This is valuable data when we look at pacing but I wish they would have broken up the groups a little more. Instead of 60 minute groups, it’d be great as a coach to see 15 minute separations. There’s a big difference between a 3 flat marathoner and a 4 flat marathoner. Those differences get even more visible the faster one gets.

Secondly, in both the 3-4 and 4-5 hour groups, the breakdown of weekly mileage looked like this:

 

45% of volume was runs less than 5 miles
39% 5-10 miles
9% 10-15 miles
8% 15+ miles

What does this mean?

Well, there’s probably a number of ways to look at this. However to me, it represents what we talk about all the time. That is that a lot of folks in this range are sold the idea that you put in a few very short runs during the week and then make up a bunch of miles with a long run that’s completely inappropriate for the overall mileage. The reasoning: I’m running 4-5 hours, so I just need to be able to cover the ground. Will it get the job done? Clearly, but it’s such a painful experience.

To further my head scratching, most runners in these two time brackets hit their peak mileage at 4 weeks out from their goal race. After that, began a significant reduction in mileage over the next month. BTW when I talk about head scratching, it’s not at the runner, it’s at the idea that people are selling these ideas. What I mean is, for these two groups of runners, a month is an incredibly long time. On the one hand, it’s a couple more weeks to gain more fitness. On the other hand, when training is cut out, it’s a few weeks to actually LOSE fitness.

When we are looking at low mileage, slower runners, having a big drastic taper doesn’t make much sense because they haven’t been training maximally to begin with.

There’s less overall training over a specific block of time.

What’s my point with all of this? Well, there’s a few points I want you to take away. The first is that even if followed 80% of our training plans, you are vastly more prepared than the majority of competitors in your time groups. Why, because you’re running more mileage, more pace oriented work, and training to get better (not just survive). Secondly, because of that, I believe you are above these averages and ready to run above the averages.

Now, reading through all this data made me ask questions too. The main one, was “how does training affect pacing?” As someone pointed out on our coaching group, the experience of a 4-5 hour marathoner is incredibly different than a 3 hour marathoner. What I believe they are referring to is how they approach their pacing in a race. Unfortunately, I was unable to find much more than “if you train more, you’ll run faster.” I did find an article online from a coach laying out a blueprint to break 4 hours.

It basically outlined, start out fast and hold on. To me, that sounds like absolute torture.

I will say this, though. If that’s how you have trained, then that’s your best bet for success… if you trained with our program, you are strong enough to avoid that race strategy! You won’t have to try and put massive amounts of time in the bank early on, knowing that you’ll be making large withdrawals over the last 10k. This is true regardless of whether you are a 2:30 or a 5:00 marathoner. With that, let’s discuss pacing strategies for the spectrum of marathon runners. How I’ll do it is from pre-race through the finish line.

Pacing is key!

Warming Up

The first question is should I warm up? The second question is, what should I do for a warm up In this section, the answer isn’t the same for everyone. In general, the faster you are, the more you should be doing. For all of us, though, we have to balance being ready to run vs. conserving precious energy stores.

Sub 3:15 Marathoners

For you, performance is key, so the pump has to be primed and ready to allow you to get into a pretty fast race pace and settle in. I recommend a ten minute light jog, followed by some dynamic stretching and possibly a few strides. Time this out so you can hit the restrooms and get to the starting line on time.

3:16-4:00 Marathoners

This is probably an individual choice here. I would say if you tend to go out too hard in races, you may want to actually decrease the amount of a warm up. I have found that this will naturally inhibit your decision to go out too fast and lead to a more desirable conservative start. You should also consider the race itself. If it is a smaller race, you can probably do a light jog and dynamic warm up (this group can skip the strides) and get to the starting line just a few minutes before the start. If it’s a bigger race, you might literally be corralled in for 20-30 minutes, or longer! If that’s the case, you might want to limit drastically what you do for a warm up. If you jog 10 minutes and then stand in a corral for that long, you will lose any benefit a warm up provided and simply wasted some energy stores.

4:01-5:00+ Marathoners

For many of you, your average pace for the marathon will actually be slower or what you run during the race. The way the corral systems work, you’ll also be the last in line to cross the start line. You can choose to view this as a negative, which is understandable. However, the positive is that your walk to the start line (especially in a major marathon) will actually serve as a decent warm up. Someone asked a question about a dynamic warm up to help decrease the time they would lose, but I don’t know. I feel the same applies to this group. If you are in a corral for a long time (15 minutes, or more) then it might not make sense. If it’s a smaller marathon and you can do a dynamic warm up, jump in your place, and start within 15 minutes, then it might be a good idea. I just think your environment will dictate what you can and should do.

Everyone

The one piece of advice I give to all marathoners is in regards to fueling.

When you get to within 15 minutes of your start, take your first gel or whatever you are going to use for calories.

This ensures that your first calories aren’t coming from glycogen, and if they are, these immediate calories balance things out. Some people will say, but what about the insulin response? This is when you take sugar (carbs) in and then insulin response and you have a blood sugar crash. This is nonsense since you are going right into exercise. It’s going to be used before the body even tries to store it. However, for that to work, it has to be done within that 15 minute window. I don’t even care if you are crossing the start line and take your gel.

Finish line is in sight!

Early Miles (0-6)

Regardless of your pace, the start is imperative to how the rest of your race will go. The goal is to settle into goal pace as soon as you can. I realize that you may be dodging people in the first few miles but, stay calm about it. Don’t make any silly moves just to get around a slower group. Bide your time, try to take any tangents and then make your move when the opportunity arises. You might be a little faster here without even trying. It is ok for the first couple miles, but after that, you really should be settled into pace.

Speaking of pace, what’s the standard deviation in pace?

The faster you are, the smaller that range is.

For the 3:15 and faster crew, you are looking at a range of 5 seconds, maybe 10 seconds per mile either fast or slow. For 3:15-4:00 hours, I’d give yourself a range of +/- 10 seconds. Beyond that I’d say 15 seconds fast or slow is your max deviation.

Now, two things come to mind when giving these ranges. The first is, don’t read that as, “oh I can be x seconds fast and be ok.” That’s not how it works. What I am saying is that you’ll have some fast miles and some slow miles. If you can keep that range you’ll average out to be pretty dang close to your goal pace. If you are consistently fast early on, which is easy to do, there’s a good chance you’ll pay dearly for it later on. Conversely, if you settle into a pace and it’s slower, now is not the time to panic. It’s early and there are ebs and flows to the race. Don’t try to force a faster pace. Stay relaxed and see if you naturally speed up. Sometimes it just takes a while to get the diesel fired up.

As far as nutrition, everyone should be starting early.

As far as gels/chews, everyone should be looking to take their first “dose” about 30 minutes into the race. Remember, you took one about 15 minutes before, so at 30 minutes in you’re 45 minutes since your first caloric intake. Beyond that, look to start hydrating early on too. The biggest mistake I see across the board is that we feel good early so we pass on fluids and gels. The problem with that is that you won’t be able to make up for this deficit later on. You also have to remember that late in the race that same pace will feel a lot harder at 20 miles and you aren’t going to feel much like loading up on sports drink and gels. Bottom line is: start early and feel better late.

Middle miles (7-20):

If you were able to settle into rhythm early, this stretch will be much easier on you mentally. My advice across the board is try to be in a position to zone out and put your legs on autopilot. I know, I know, easier said than done. However, this is why we stress pace, pace, and more pace!

The time you spent doing the tempo runs during training will pay its dividends here.

In an ideal situation, you’re with a pack of runners with each sharing some of the work. This will allow you to conserve some energy and “zone out” for a big stretch. I know it may seem counterintuitive to detach yourself from the moment, but there’s a reasoning behind the madness. I’m a firm believer that it’s nearly impossible to concentrate that hard in a task that will last a minimum of two hours. You can do it, but if you have to focus that hard during the “easiest” portion of the race, I feel like you’ll be mentally fatigued as much as you are physically fatigued. This is a bad combination for the later stages when you need your mental fortitude to overcome the physical degradation. So, put yourself in a position where you can use minimal mental energy to stay on task, knowing that the hard part is on its way!

Lastly, what will help with what I just discussed is staying on point with your nutrition. Your muscles aren’t the only body parts that use carbs. The brain solely relies on carbs to fuel its fire. By keeping your blood sugar up you allow the muscle glycogen to be used where it needs to be and you keep your thoughts more focused and ready to dig deep.

Finishing strong (last 10k)

We have all heard it. The marathon begins at 20 miles. 20 miles is the halfway point in the marathon.

That’s really true regardless of ability. However, everything we have talked about is setting you up to handle the toughest part of the marathon. There’s no denying it, the last 6 plus miles will be a true test for you. Here’s my top tips:

Think small. In an ideal situation you get to 20 miles and you are starting to feel the effects, but feel confident that the big grizzly bear isn’t going to hop on your back. The effort is certainly there, but your thoughts are still crisp and you are still moving well. Going back to what I said about zoning out. This is where still being mentally sharp is crucial. You can gauge where you are at, calculate splits, and have the fortitude to really narrow your focus to the immediate task at hand. If you can do that, you can start to think small. By that I mean, not focusing on having six miles to go, rather you can focus on the next 10 minutes, or 1 mile, or the next street light. Whatever you can mentally prepare yourself to run your goal pace for. When you get to that spot, hit reset and don’t allow yourself to think beyond that. It’s a great way to break a big chunk of distance up into manageable pieces. If you are mentally drained and about to reach a bonking point, you can’t narrow that focus and you end up dwelling on the whole distance left. This can be incredibly devastating to confidence and then pace.

Continue to take carbs in. Even if you just rinse your mouth out with sports drink, you can trick your brain into thinking it has had carbs and keep your intensity up. So, even if your mind (or stomach) is fighting you taking anything in, keep that tidbit in mind.

If you were conservative on pacing and are wondering when to pick up the pace, NOW would be that time. I don’t know if I would just slam my foot down on the gas (as much as you can at the 20 mile mark), but a winding up of pace would be fine.

I want you to think way back to the beginning of this article and the statistics I wrote about the average 3-4 hour marathoner and the average 4-5 hour marathoner. They generally ran low mileage and based on their weekly mileage breakdown- grossly undertrained. That’s why you see so many being too aggressive early on and then trying desperately not to lose all that time back during the last 6-10 miles. For one, they probably have no sense of what their marathon pace is, because emphasis was placed on long slow distance runs and no pace work. The second is because the majority of training taught them to survive training rather than adapt to training, they raced accordingly. They spend months learning how to survive the distance and not how to be strong over the entire distance. The point is, you should be in a position to avoid those things, as long as you trained accordingly and execute the race plan. Granted, circumstances are out of your control, but this should be true within reason. Even if you can’t pick it up over the last 10k, you should be strong enough to minimize the losses, rather than just hope you put enough time in the bank. This is true across the board.

Above was the advice I give the majority of my personal athletes. I work with athletes trying to run 2:30 to runners just wanting to get across the finish line. Hopefully, you can pull something from this and apply to your own race strategy in the future!