Amelia Island Runners is proud that nationally known running coach Roy Benson is a member of our club and an active volunteer. He provides free individual coaching advice at our Wednesday group runs and works with our 1st Wind Runners youth running group, and with the FBHS cross country team. Now Coach is sharing his decades of knowledge with us in written form -- with this column written especially for AIR.
COACH BENSON'S TOP TEN TIPS FOR MARATHONERS
Here in Atlanta, our second great holiday running tradition is the local marathon, which we run on Thanksgiving morning. Around 1000 runners enter the marathon along with another 8,000 folks who run a
companion half-marathon. Unlike our first great holiday running tradition, The Peachtree Road Race 10K held annually on the 4th of July for 55,000 participants, our marathoners don't have to worry about serious heat and humidity,....maybe. Actually, you never really know about the weather around here on Thanksgiving Day; could be sweltering, could be freezing.
I can remember the time that my best friend and I talked our wives into running the half marathon and the hell that we caught afterwards. Turned out that they didn't appreciate our pre-race assurances that the nice, fine drizzle on that cool morning would help them finish faster. Seems that we over-looked the fact that you have to run really hard to get hot enough to use a cool drizzle as your radiator. We sort of glossed over the fact that they weren't trying to win the thing. Their plan was just to finish smiling while working off a pile of pre-turkey calories. But, since their recreational pace wasn't hot enough, the cool drizzle (okay, with some intermittent showers) simply chilled their soaking bodies to the bone. I'm tempted to say now that they should have been
grateful to us for making them so steaming mad, but I somehow that didn't seem to help them quit shivering uncontrollably at the finish line. The only hot things around were the words they used to tell us about our stupid assurances and the water Bill and I were in.
But here I go adding to your anxiety by idly speculating over possible weather conditions while I'm supposed to tell you not to sweat the stuff you can't control. Sorry about that, but I had simply hoped to prepare you for any and all types of weather. So let me lead off my top ten tips with a few words about your all-conditions outfits.
Tip # One
You need to have three types of tops in your locker: a singlet; a tee shirt; and a hi-tech, poly-pro, long sleeve, zippered turtleneck shirt. Race day temperatures will obviously dictate your choice, but keep in mind that most runners tend to over-dress in cool or cold weather. Don't have on so many clothes that you run the race inside your own mobile sauna. You can become just as dehydrated doing that as you can running naked on a boiling-hot, humid day. If it's really cold at the start, wear some disposable layers that you can donate to the homeless as you warm up during the first few miles. But don't throw away everything. Your top layer should be a lite-weight, nylon wind breaker that you can simply take off and tie around your waist when you get warm enough. You'll need it to protect you against chill if you run into a good headwind, or if the temperature should drop during the race. And, if you will be running in a big city, don't forget about those wind tunnels created by tall buildings.
Next, a word about your running pants: keep 'em short. If it's freezing cold, wear lite-weight tights, not heavy sweat pants. If the temperatures are merely in the low 40's, you should be fine in just running shorts.
Tip # Two
Immediately check your trainmg shoes and consider buying and breaking in a new pair. You don't want to be wearing a tired-out pair of running shoes with several hundred miles on them on the day of the race. On the other hand, you can't be wearing a new pair that you haven't broken in with about 100 miles of training.
Unless you're planning on winning something, avoid the temptation of wearing racing flats. Your regular training shoes will offer more protection from the pounding, especially on any downhills. Also, plan to wear the same socks for the race that you've been wearing during
workouts. Otherwise, blisters beckon. So will the dreaded Black Toenail Disease, if your shoes, Cinderella, are too small. To be sure that your toes have enough room, there should be a thumb's width between the end of your longest toe and the end of the shoe. Try this test while standing up, bearing weight so your feet will naturally stretch out. If you can't pass this Rule of Thumb test, move up another 1/2 size while forgetting about those cute little glass slippers.
Tip # Three
Plan to run as close to the center of the street as possible where the pavement is more level. Because the traffic has to be blocked off on the right side of the roads, runners shouldn't stay near the curb unless they have a short "mountain goat" left leg. On a slanted surface, normal
runners will find that the uphill leg will become "longer" because it touches down sooner and bears weight longer while the opposite is true for the downhill leg. This virtual Leg Length Discrepancy can cause the uphill leg to tire out sooner. It will also push the right hip outward putting a strain on the right leg's big, long, strong and already fairly tight tendon known as the IT Band. It's not a good idea to strain the ITB since it not only helps to keep the hip socket in its joint, but also helps move the lower leg through its range of motion. Side-hill running can cause pain at the point of insertion, outside and just
below the knee of the downhill leg. This will literally cripple you if this tendon gets mad enough from running 26 miles on a canted surface. In the "isn't-it-ironic" department, just as I was writing the above advice, one of my coaching clients called me from Chattanooga and wondered why the last 3 miles of his 20 mile long run today had caused this funny pain along the outside of his leg just below his knee. Running against traffic the whole way, guess which knee hurt.
Carry a biker's water bottle with you to use during the race. Since you can only absorb about 6-8 swallows per 15-20 minutes, you want the smallest bottle you can find so it'll be easy to carry in your hand. (Forget those goofy fanny packs that just add to your body weight.) Then, as you approach the aid stations, flip open the wide-mouth
top, pull up to the table, grab a cup of Gatorade and quickly but carefully pour it into your water bottle. As you take off running, snap the top closed and begin drinking out of the spill-proof spigot. You won't choke on the fluids, snort it down your nose, or worse yet, spill it all over you while not getting any precious energy-rich, fluids into your stomach. Bon appetite!
Tip # Five
Experiment now with energy aids. Be sure to find out what aid drink will be served on the course and then practice with it. If you find it doesn't agree with you, make arrangements to have someone hand you your own drinks along the course. If you want to try GU, the new paste-like energy supplement, remember that it needs water to be quickly digested and absorbed so you might as well just drink the Gatorade.
Tip # Six
Try running several PMP runs right at your Planned Marathon Pace. These are not your Long Runs, but workouts of from 4 or 5 up to 10 or 12 miles. Find a route with reliable split markers showing you the miles (4 laps around a running track = one mile) and practice running at
exactly the pace you'd like to run to meet your time goal. Ask yourself, or better yet, ask your heart rate monitor, how hard it was to do this. Imagine keeping up this pace for the whole damn way on race day. Seem possible? Seem too easy? Make adjustments you feel needed and
then cross your fingers that you've guessed correctly. The wall awaits those who go out too hard or too fast too soon.
Tip # Seven
Slow down your long runs to at least one minute slower per mile than your goal pace. Training at goal pace on your bi-weekly long run of ever increasing mileage will, in effect, have you running several marathons in practice and then showing up at the race completely trashed. Monitor users can put an additional restriction of 75% upper effort level on these runs to be sure that, under bad conditions, even a minute slower than goal pace doesn't become too hard.
Tip # Eight
Look at the number of weeks left before the race. How many weeks did you plan to taper from your last long run before the marathon? If just two, please re-consider and see if you can't squeeze in a full three week taper. Training for as long as you probably have in the summer heat for the popular fall marathons, or in winter conditions for Boston, you almost assuredly will need longer to recover from the rigors of your dedicated training than you realize. For example, local runners here in Atlanta training for our Thanksgiving day marathon would look at
something like this:
Nov 7 last long run 22-23 miles
Nov 14 recovery run 13-15 miles
Nov 21 taper run 7-9 miles
Nov 26 the whole enchilada 26.2 miles
Tip # Nine
Plan to run every day the week of the race. It's way too complicated to explain here, but trust me, your favorite old coach, when I urge you to taper from 4 or 5 miles on Monday to 2 miles on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Your immune defense system, your legs and your head will thank me for the suggestion. Just do it.
Tip # Ten
Include some workouts at your LT in order to guarantee a high level of 10k fitness. This should get you in shape to navigate a 10k at a pace at least one min/mile faster than your marathon goal pace. I usually write out a 14 day cycle for my coaching clients so they can fit in these
higher intensity workouts without risk of getting hurt. The first 7 days feature higher mileage and lower intensity workouts with the bi-weekly longer runs coming at the end of the week. The second 7 day cycle is a low mileage week (from 10-20 mpwk less) so they can find the energy
to run harder workouts like 4-5 x one mile at 85% effort with a 400 meter jog recovery interval. You can use 85% effort to guide these workouts, or, if you happen to know anyone who can measure your lactate threshold for you, pay the money and get the exact pace/mile and the accurate beats/min. When you calculate the investment
you're making in your marathon, paying a little more for some good science makes good sense. Why rely on the "Art of Training" when you're probably not much of an artist?
Bonus Tip in Closing
Hire a private coach before your next marathon and let him or her do all the planning and worrying for you. There are plenty of good ones around who are both good scientists and artists.
Miles of :-)'s.
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