We have to be supportive and help out these runners as much as we can because we all were beginners at some point.
This article is also helpful for intermediate runners as it will show you how to structure your training in a way that will allow you to finish the marathon with some reserve energy still in the tank!
However that’s not what this article is about… After I replied to Neil’s post, he asked me the following question:
How do you stay strong in the last stages of the marathon? This is actually a great question! And before we get started, I need to mention the following. There are possibly hundreds of different variables that will determine your performance on race day. However, if you train efficiently, you can make sure that you are physically ready on race day, at least from a training perspective.
From what I’ve seen over the years, many runners actually ‘under-train’ for their races.
But what does this mean?
Under-training simply means that you’re not ready to run your race, because you haven’t built up the muscular and psychological endurance needed to do so yet.
There are hundreds of training plans out there structured in a way that will only have you running your goal distance on race day. In my opinion, this is counterintuitive and hinders your performance in the race! Let me explain…
Let’s say you’re training to run a marathon, and you’ve already done a marathon three or four times, but whenever you’re training, you only ever go up to 42km or even worse, you never actually go the full distance!
But let’s imagine that you’re at least going the full distance (42km) during training. You’re literally training your muscles to endure 42km, nothing more. This means that when you’re reaching the end of the actual marathon, your muscles will be reaching their maximum workload capacity and thus, you will start to fatigue!
The ‘secret’ to avoiding this fatigue is (and I’ve been advocating this for years now) to overreach during your training. If you’re training for the marathon (42km) then you should be running a little further in training (say… 45km, for example). The further you can run in training (with proper periodization and planning etc) the bigger of a buffer you will be building for yourself on race day.
I know 42km already seems like a lot but our bodies are built to adapt to whatever we throw at them. Trail runners reach distances of over 100km, so we are certainly capable of going further than the marathon if we prepare correctly for it! However, if we train ourselves to run 42km, then our muscular and aerobic endurance will only go up to that distance, before it starts diminishing.
It’s important to train for the distance you want to run BUT if you want to gain an edge over your competition (and improve on previous personal bests), then you should take it a little further in training!
This will not only increase your muscular and aerobic endurance, but it will also prime you psychologically to endure longer distances – and suddenly, the marathon won’t seem so daunting.
Besides the physical aspect of overreaching during training, the psychological aspect also plays a very important role. During races (especially for the novice runners) we experience pre-race jitters right before the start of the race, and as soon as the gun goes off a bolt of adrenaline jolts through our body for the first few kilometers! This causes most novice runners to start the race too fast, draining a lot of their energy.
The whole racing environment is psychologically and physically draining – this could also be why you seem to tire out quicker during a race than you do during training. Some people thrive in a racing environment but from my experience, most runners start crashing after the initial adrenaline boost of racing (especially beginners).
That’s why it’s so important to build a physical and psychological ‘buffer’ in training by overreaching and going further than you’re planned race distance.
As a coach, my athletes (without exception) ALWAYS reach race-distance in their long runs at least one or two months before the actual race. I’ve discussed this with numerous coaches and they all seem to agree. If you’re training for a marathon, you should slowly work up to that 42km distance IN TRAINING, and actually run that distance IN TRAINING, so you know exactly what to expect on race day.
“But Coach Paulo, wont it be weird to finish a marathon… before the actual marathon?” - you may ask.
I understand exactly what you mean. You spend weeks training for the marathon so you can run the full 42km on race day, and not before! Right? You want to celebrate at the finish line, you want to celebrate finally reaching and finishing that distance, right?
I understand. And that is perfectly fine! However, if you want to perform optimally and finish in the best time possible in a marathon (or any other race) you need to know what to expect physically and mentally. Finishing the full distance beforehand (in training) will help you do just that.
The real issue here is the preconceived notion that you’re only allowed to run 42km ON RACE DAY! Apparently, if run the full marathon distance during training, crossing the finishing line will somehow be less special – and that’s just not true, crossing the finish line will always be special.
Crossing the finish line means you dedicated hours, weeks and months of your life to work towards a specific goal – and crossing the finish line means all your hard work has paid off.
Runners, here’s my final word of advice for you in this article… prepare yourselves in training to run the full distance and if you can, go further. This goes for the marathon and any other distance you may want to run. Going into a race without running the full distance in training first will hinder your potential!
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