Growing up, you’ve always heard “Practice Makes Perfect” and, as cliché as that might sound, it is 100% true. No matter your endeavor or discipline, the more you practice doing something, the better off you’ll be when you have to perform that task at your best effort.
It’s rumored that Michael Jordan use to take 500 practice shots per day in practicing his jump shot. Tiger woods would do similar feats in practice to improve every angle of his golf game. Hell, Michael Phelps coach would sometimes mess with his goggles so that he would have to learn to perform blindly if the need ever arose in competition (you might remember how that turned out).
So, as it is said, “The more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war”.
Nowhere could this be more true than with long distance running/racing, especially the marathon. It is said that “If you want to run well, run a lot”. Though you do have to regularly run in order to improve at it, I don’t necessarily agree with the high mileage thinking as do many running traditionalists but, I’ll save that debate for another blog. What we are going to discuss today is, the importance of efficiency and economy at race pace.
Based on observation of countless marathon performances, by myself, the athletes I coach, as well as many of my close friends and training partners, it is almost a constant that: the outcome of your marathon race, is nearly always closely tied to your best long run training performance(s).
If you look at a runners marathon training cycle and, you show me the best 2-3 long training runs of 15+ miles within that cycle, I can almost guarantee a prediction that their average pace for their marathon will be, within +/- 10 seconds. Meaning, if a runners best long training run came in with an average of 8:00 pace for 18 miles, their marathon pace is likely going to be within the 7:50-8:10 range based on what they finish their marathon in.
Though there are rare exceptions, doing countless miles at 8:00 pace will do you little good when you intend to race 26.2 miles at 7:00 pace. If you aren’t regularly practicing your MRP (marathon race pace), it will be very difficult to maintain that pace into the later stages of the marathon.
As you would expect, your body operates and functions differently at various intensities. The purpose of training at your various race intensities, is to develop efficiency and comfortability at those paces.
Many marathoners focus on covering X distance in training for their long runs (typically 18-24 miles) throughout their training cycle. As stated before, I am not going to get into the mileage debate in this post but, more so on the efforts and intensities of these long runs.
On race day, there are many things that can effect your exertion levels, be it a headwind, lots of incline or, most importantly, pace. Just as an automobile’s fuel economy and efficiency is effected by such things, so is the human body.
If you spend majority of your long training runs at paces that are substantially slower than your intended race pace, then how are you to know how the body will handle such a pace on race day? To understand this, you could make a fairly accurate analogy by noting your car’s fuel economy when driving at 60mph vs. 100mph. At what speed do you suppose you’ll consume the most fuel, as well as cause the most stress?
Many marathoners, especially newbies, believe that the dreaded “wall” is something that cannot be prevented and is just something that has to be dealt with. As per my observations, the “wall” is most often experienced by those who rarely touch on MRP during training.
The human body responds best to familiarity and routine. Eat some bizarre food you’ve never had before and, you are likely to be rushing to the restroom. Change your sleeping habits for a few days and see how tired you are until your body adapts. The same reason we get blisters, is the same reason we hit the wall in a marathon. It’s our body’s way of trying to respond to the stress that is being applied. But, what happens to that blister if you keep gradually applying stress to the same spot over and over? It calluses, right? Well, the same thing can happen with pushing back and or avoiding that dreaded wall in the marathon.
Simply put, THE WALL, is brought on by the depletion of fuel (glycogen). As the body starts getting low on glycogen, it begins to preserve the last bit of it’s stores for the “key components” of the body. Without getting too scientific on metabolic expenditure, it’s important to know that the brain, as well as other key organs, operate almost exclusively on glycogen (by way of glycolysis). The glycogen stores are most abundant in the muscles and the liver. When the body has used up all of the glycogen stored in the muscles, it does not draw from other organs or body parts to replace it. Because at this point in time (say as in the marathon) the body is in distress, it begins to run a self diagnostic test to assess what components of the body need to be taken care of first. So, when the body kicks into survival mode, guess what? Your brain and other vital organs are going to take precedence over the muscles in your legs. Long story short, the body is trying to survive and it doesn’t give a rat’s ass about your slipping marathon PR. It’s priority is to get you to stop whatever stress it is you are applying, so as to live to fight another day.
However, despite all of that, you CAN teach your body to operate more efficiently and burn less glycogen at various intensities. The trick however is, to teach the body into learning how to do that. Again, this is a separate topic for another day but, the body can be conditioned to burn higher ratios of fat vs. glycogen. Because of this, over time, you can teach the body to burn less of it’s precious glycogen stores and to go one step further, you can also teach the body to burn glycogen more efficiently at certain paces, such as MRP.
To do this though, two things have to occur regularly in training. 1.) you must start teaching your body to burn a higher ratio of fat vs. glycogen, by way of depriving it additional glycogen supplements during training. 2.) you must condition the body to operate efficiently at the pace you intend to run for your marathon.
As you progress throughout your marathon training, you should be conditioning your body to operate while taking in no fuel supplements while on the long run (no gels, Gatorade, etc.). As your body begins to get more efficient at preserving your glycogen stores, the next step would be to go one step further and, start picking up the pace on these long runs so that you are running at or very near MRP. As all of this adaptation comes together over the course of several months, the result is, a body that can operate more efficiently at MRP, without depending on the consumption of supplemental fuel. Then, as you get closer to your A marathon, you would start incorporating your planned race day fuel, so as it now acts like “high octane” during you key race simulation runs, as well as for the race itself.
Though this process takes a while to master, it is essential to running your best marathon. So, to summarize, you DO NOT want to wait until the marathon itself to get familiar with MRP. The more you practice this effort in training, the higher the chances of a successful marathon, where you’re not death marching to the line. At least every 3-4 long runs, you should be getting in a good portion (50-75%) at your MRP. As Bill Squires said “it’s the long run that puts the tiger in the cat”. More importantly, it’s the TYPE of long run that puts the tiger in the cat.
If you need more information on the details of DWEP Marathon Training, then us an email and we can put you on the right track for you next marathon.
Great job to all you who ran your marathons this past weekend and, good vibes and fast feet to all those racing this next weekend 🙂