Marathon Challenge

by Question by George, answered by Marius
(Bedford NY )

A marathon challenge greater than all of the rest is to avoid "hitting the marathon wall" around 25-30 km/20 miles into a marathon.

Hitting the wall means a drop in performance that is so substantial, that is is impossible to recover from it and finish in style. It has to do with a combination of energy systems/fuel, muscular factors as well as the nervous sytem.

George sent this very interesting question concerning a common marathon running problem.

"I just finished the NYC Marathon for the second time. I am a 52 year old man who trains 3 to 5 days a week on a moderate basis.

In 2004 I completed NYC (my first marathon) with a 3:58 time. This year, I shaved 20 minutes of my first half, (1:47) but gave back 15 minutes of the advantage in the second half finishing at 3;53. I hit the wall at mile 17 and just got slower and slower with very tight legs and redced energy.

I didn't eat anything during the race and was drinking 1/3 of a cup of water every 3 miles. Any suggestions to improve??



Good thing is, there are in fact many things you can do to overcome the marathon challenge of overcoming the wall :)

Three Main Ways To Avoid The Marathon Wall

I will share with you three main aspects that will likely make your next marathon a much more comfortable ride through the 2nd half :
  • Estimation of marathon time and negative splitting

  • Go hard on drinking practicing the weeks before

  • On and off easy long runs and hard long runs for the last 6 week period

1. Estimation of marathon time and negative splitting

If you look at statistics, over 90 % of the best all time marathon times are set with negative splits, meaning you run the last part of the marathon faster than the first.

Both current world records for men and women are set this way. And if you ask other marathoners about their personal record (if they have run multiple marathons) I bet at least 2/3 of their personal bests are run the same negative split way.

This is how you can do it : exactly the weekend 4 weeks prior to a marathon do a half marathon/10k.

From the half marathon time, add 4,5 % to the average km/mile time to find your marathon predicted "goal-time" which means what marathon shape you are probably in. If you run a 10k, add 9,5 % to that time to find your predicted "goal-time".

If you want to run 3:00 marathon, what would be 1.26.07 half marathon and 38.57 10 k.

For a 4 hour marathon, that means 1.54.50 half marathon and 51.57 10 km.

Now. This is the key.

To that exact predicted time, say 3:00 marathon, add 2 minute to the "average time" you are suppose to pass the half (in this case you add 2 minutes to a 1:30 half marathon, giving you 1:32) This means you should pass the half in 1:32 and run the second half in 1:28.

This stategy makes it close to impossible to run out of fuel and hit the marathon wall because you run exactly the right negative split pace.

2.Practice drinking as part of the marathon challenge

In your training, the last 4-5 weeks before a marathon brings lots of fluid (with sugar) and drink every 5k.

This goes for ALL hard trainings + the long runs. What this does is to teach your intestins to absorb more energy (which is a limiting factor) when you run the marathon later.

The result ?

You are able to get more energy into your system and running out of gas and hitting the marathon wall is less likely.

In the marathon itself, always drink sports drinks vs. water.

3. On and off easy and hard long runs

This is a biggie. What most marathon runners do in their marathon training schedule is to only run easy long runs to get used to running longer (typical 2 hour easy runs).

The most effective way though is to alternate a long hard run and easy long run every other week.

Say you are 6-8 weeks away from your marathon. And you have your long runs on Sundays. What you want to do is to run one Sunday for two hours easy.

But the next one, go for 30 minutes easy first, before doing continous running for 1:30 of hard running.

For example, if you run with heart rate monitor and max heartrate is 200 : first 30 miutes below 140 heart rate. Then 30 minutes at 160, then 30 minutes at 170 before finishing it off at 30 minutes at 175-180). THIS is what specific marathon training is : increasing pace with increasing length.

Which will make the post-30km of a marathon alot easier for runners on all levels.

Good luck with your future marathon challenges.

Best wishes,

Ps : it would be great to see your review, personal account of the New York Marathon in the NYC marathon section, personal accounts of marathons says so much more about the marathon itself vs. the regular "news" stories.

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