With my first marathon now complete, I wanted to share some of my key lessons from the race. These tips are relevant whether you are a beginner looking to participate in your first marathon or an elite athlete preparing to step up the distance.

I chose to debut in the 2016 Perth marathon where I placed third overall in a time of 2:35:00. As an elite duathlete with a running background I had been asked many times about the marathon. There had always been other focuses and other races I was preparing for but finally the time had come. Below are some aspects of before, during and after the race which I feel are valuable to share.

 

Pre-Race Pace Runs – Know your pace:

 

Every good marathon training plan will have race specific training runs before race day. Progressive pace runs allow your body to become accustomed to the fatigue from increased distances whilst gradually increasing the pace until you are at marathon pace. Pace runs are perfect practice runs to check your pre-race routines and nutrition.

Given that I am training for duathlon, my lead up to Perth was unconventional with up to 350km of cycling per week in addition to my run training.  Despite the bike focus it was still essential to get a firm idea on the pace I was able to sustain for the 42km and so I completed a marathon specific progressive run prior to the event. The 36km run gradually worked its way up to a sustained effort marathon goal pace. It was tough, but the pace run gave me an indication of what to expect during the race.

 

Shoe selection – Cushioning and support reigns

 

I gave significant consideration to what shoes I would wear for the marathon. I had to decide if I wanted a responsive racing flat, such as a Saucony endorphin racer or Type A, to a cushioned mileage shoe such as theTriumph ISO 2. Given that I typically use a Type A for half marathons, my natural choice for a marathon would be the next most cushioned – Fastwitch. However, the unknown impact of such a long running event was a consideration I did not take lightly. I consulted my training squad’s biomechanics consultant – Front Runner Sports Coaching’s Ben Green. His advice – was that minimal gains from the weight reduction of footwear will negatively impact performance when the athlete’s fatigue starts to affect their biomechanics.

Having felt the effects of this first hand before of footwear that was too aggressive, I decided to use the Saucony Kinvara. The additional cushioning of the Kinvara does make the shoe slightly heavier and less responsive than the Fastwitch, however the structure of the Kinvara offers more cushioning that is welcome under heavy fatigue.

I am pleasantly surprised by how well my feet fared during the marathon by choosing Kinvaras over Fastwitch. I finished the race with some blisters on my big toes but no abnormal pain in my feet during recovery.

 

Nutrition – Ask the pros

 

To get the best out of your race and recovery I strongly recommend seeking professional dietetics advice to ensure you’re meeting the increased fuel demands for your body. Seeking professional advice early will remove the guess work from your nutrition and allow you to tweak and modify your race day plan to suit your personal needs and preferences.

For example, after “bonking” in races several years ago, I always carry a spare gel in long races. During the marathon I took my last planned gel at 32km and found that the consistency was wrong. I disposed of that gel, used my spare and continued the race with minimal disruption.

 

Race Day Pacing

Once you have determined what your marathon pace will be, it is important to stick to it! It’s easy to give in to nerves and adrenalin at the beginning of the race and start out too fast. Then the illogical race mindset can set in -“I feel good, I can hold this pace”. The marathon is an exceptionally long time to be running and rest assured the work and fatigue of the race will come to you. Front Runner Sports Coaching (of which I am a member and a coach), has shown statistically that athletes who run 2minutes quicker in the first half of a marathon can expect to gain between 4 and 10 minutes in the second half due to fatigue.

There is flexibility with your pace when running into the wind or up and down hills yet you do not want to be overly reactive. This is only a good in the final 5-10km and you are working at a pace you are certain that you can sustain. On race day, I was in the lead group of runners and running a few seconds slower than my desired pace,  however my instructions from my coach were clear – “relax in the first half and start the second half feeling good and you will have a good race”.

 

What I was not prepared for was the effect of a substantial change in pace mid race. Approximately 25km into the race an elite Japanese runner took control of the race and began to run 20s/km faster than the group had been running for the previous 25km. This increase in pace split the lead group and I had to react. Whilst I was not overly aggressive in my change of pace, I did increase my pace by approximately 10-15s/km more than for the proceeding kilometre and I settled into a pace that was around 5s/km faster. The effect of this sustained effort took its toll on my body and by 32km I was running alone, into a block head wind and the heavy fatigue started to really set in. Having experienced the effect of a significant pace change mid race my recommendation would be to adjust your pace as smoothly as possible. Ultimately you are in a race and if you’re racing at front you are going to have to change your pace with the race tactics. If I was in the same situation again, I would not increase my pace so aggressively.

Closing Stages – It hurts…a lot

Runners preparing for their first marathon will always hear from others about the terrible pain they experience from about 36km onwards. Whilst I was definitely anticipating the final sections of the marathon to be difficult, nothing could have prepared me for the struggle. For a first timer there is a very real physical and mental battle going on in the last 6km of the race. You are running further than you have ever done before – your mind is telling your body to keeping going and your body is telling you to stop, more so than it will have done in any other race. This effect can be compounded by the circumstances on race morning. As previously mentioned the race tactics in the lead group meant I was running alone for the last 12km of the race. My race data shows a significant increase in personal exertion highlighted by increased heart rate but paired with a significant decline in pace due to fatigue and the conditions.

 

Thomas Bruins is an elite Duathlete and member of Saucony Hurricanes Team.

Watch out For Thomas next post  Recovering After a Marathon for Tips on what to do once the big race is over.