The marathon distance is a long and challenging endeavor. When you embark on marathon training it takes daily motivation and many miles of running. You must stay injury-free by monitoring proper build and recovery phases. In my opinion, if you are able to accomplish the daunting feat of training for a marathon, you have already earned your finisher’s medal! But of course the reward is not complete until you cross that 26.2 finish line. There are many variables that can affect your performance and I believe there are a few things you can manage during the race to increase your chances of success. It just takes planning and follow through.
Manage Your Hydration: Depending on the weather and the individual's sweat rate, a runner can easily lose 2-4 lbs of fluid per hour! During training, you should always weigh yourself before and after a couple runs to get an idea of your personal sweat rate. I personally lose about 32 oz/hour…that's 2 lbs of fluid (1 lb = 16 oz). Once you figure out your sweat rate, make an attempt to replace at least 50-75% of your loss through the aid stations of the race. You may want to carry fluid if it's an unusually hot marathon and I would consider a hot marathon to be 60 degrees or higher. Also, make sure to experiment with electrolyte replacement in training. Low sodium primarily will ruin your day as quickly as dehydration. Salty pretzels, electrolyte tabs, or fluid replacement drinks are all great options.
Manage Your Nutrition: Secondly, you want to make sure you are good on carbohydrates. Carbs are your main fuel source. Your energy flame burns as carbs and fat. Fat is burned but much less efficiently. In a marathon, your pace is likely burning about 80% carb and 20% fat. This will vary of course depending on your fat burning capabilities. Training lower carb can be a great way to teach your body to use more fat for fuel and spare carbs for your race-day effort. Your body can store about 2,000 calories of carbohydrates ready for use, if you have carb loaded properly the week before the marathon. For example, say you hit the start line fully-loaded at 2,000 calories and you burn 125 calories per mile. At a 80/20% carb/fat flame, you're burning through 100 carb calories per mile. Therefore, if you did not take in any nutrition during the race, you would BONK at mile 20. Plan wisely by taking in some carbs during the race through fluid replacement drinks and gels. In the days prior to the race, eat a lower fat diet, rich in carbohydrates. This should allow your body to top off your carbohydrate tank that is generally half-full during training. Choose more fruits and vegetables and plenty of my favorite, POTATOES!
Manage Your Pace: Now that you've got the hydration and nutrition squared away, you must consider a marathon pace; especially if it's your first marathon. Keep in mind there is no exact predictor of a marathon finish time based on shorter distance races. Everyone's muscle types are different and the 26.2 distance brings in a crucial strength factor. If it's your first marathon, I would advise you to run at a "brisk conversation pace" for 20-22 miles. This will ensure you are running below your lactate threshold and able to finish the last few miles at or above your initial pace. This is hands down the best way to experience your first marathon. Now, if you are a veteran marathon runner and looking to set a personal best, race pace can be tricky. If you have logged the training miles, gained strength, and improved your 5-10K times can certainly push the limits. You will be able to run the marathon at or just below your lactate threshold. LT is the heart rate level, once exceeded, causes you to produce more lactic acid than your body can get rid of. The only way to know this exact heart rate is through lab testing. My tip today comes from perceived exertion. Run as quickly as you can with as little effort as you can. This means 2-3 sentence conversation pace. Feels like an 80% effort and make sure to ease back on the hills to avoid any burn sensation in the legs. By maintaining this pace or effort for 20-22 miles, you will begin to experience some difficulty. Your perceived effort level will feel more like 85%. At 85% you will likely avoid talking much and your stride length and leg turnover will become shorter and slower. Do your best to focus on the task at hand! My guess is that the training all those weeks was much much harder than surviving another 3-4 miles on sore, tired, painful legs. Finish what you started, the reward is sweet!