The Importance Of Marathon Planning

10/30/2017 - 14:41

By Carolyn Mather
Over the past 20-plus years, I have written various articles about training for the marathon or for any distance event. I thought I would share a few of my insights attained from my 132 marathon completions and 40 years of distance running. There is really is no magic about the marathon. Training for the marathon is a BIG DEAL! It is mentally and physically tough and so much can go wrong in the race. Failing to plan effectively with all of the details is often the downfall of a marathoner. The major goal and the only thing that counts is finishing, so you must do your best to see that your goal is accomplished. To do this practice is a vital component of planning.

Identify the challenges. Weather is certain to be a factor, so train under as many conditions as possible. In this way your body and your mind will be trained for whatever Mother Nature throws your way. Know that weather will be the factor most beyond your control, so prepare for this challenge. Conquer the environment. Dress properly by dressing for the last 10K which is when you are most vulnerable to weather conditions. Cold wind on tired legs has ended many a marathoner's dreams. Being comfortable as you go the final miles is crucial. I remember running the Rocket City Marathon one year and a competitor had a coach who told her wearing tights was for sissies. As I passed her in the final mile she was struggling with cramps and the cold. I was fine in my tights and long sleeved shirt. That "little mistake" cost her $500. I also remember several elite athletes who did not finish their marathon due to the cold on their legs. Nowadays tights and other apparel is so light, there should be no issue in dressing for the last 10K.

You will need energy. Lean means not fat; it does not mean thin. Muscle is necessary to power your legs. Muscles are 75% water so the solution to pollution (lactic acid) is dilution. A constant infusion of energy is critical in training and in the race itself. Energy drinks (and gels) are necessary to keep muscle mass highly active. It is a big deal to get enough energy into your muscles. Typically 100 calories are burned a mile and 2000 stored calories are in your body. You use 50/50 carbohydrates/fat to run. Burning fat is more difficult and causes you to feel awful (this is why you "hit the wall”). The tendency is to slow your pace and your pace can get slower and slower.

You must put in sugar to forestall this from happening. Thus you must practice in training, drinking both water and the sport drink that will be used in your target marathon, along with whatever gels you may choose to use. You should never get into an energy deficit in training. Maintain your energy and hydration level at all times in your training cycle and during your race.

Conquer the distance. In training, run time as opposed to miles. Your last long run should be two to three weeks before the marathon. Practice marathon pace by doing marathon pace 20 minutes by two (or three). Recover for 10 minutes between each segment. Do this run 10 days before the marathon with an adequate warm up and cool down.

Divide to conquer the distance. Divide the marathon into three segments. The first 10 miles should be fun as you are at the starting line, injury free, not sick and well-prepared. You are good to go. The second 10 miles should be the questioning 10. How are you feeling? Do you need to back off? Can you do it? What is good or bad? The last 10K is the coping phase. If you are able to effectively develop coping skills in training, then you will succeed. You must learn to cope with fatigue, stress and pain. One trick used by many athletes is to convert the last 10K to friendly territory. Think forward not backwards. Your 20-mile warm-up is history. Forget the twos and mile 21 is mile 1 of your 10K. You have run many 10Ks, so do it again . Mental preparation can develop your coping skills.

The four major components for reaching your goals are patience, perseverance, the plan and support systems. The plan must focus on all of the elements covered above. Support systems include people and activities that will help you achieve your plan. Patience and perseverance are an integral part of the plan and include monitoring your rest and recovery and your nutrition. A final conundrum is to avoid injury. So do the least amount of sensible training to fulfill your plan. It is definitely better to err on the side of under training than over training. Do your long runs, but not too frequently(every 10 to 14 days) and ensure proper recovery.

One added thought to remember is to rest, hydrate and eat the week before your marathon. Do not make any changes in your diet. Just eat a few more carbs.

You have planned effectively. Pack for any weather conditions and wear what you know is tried, true and tested. Do nothing new. Get to your marathon a day early if you are flying. AND do not check your luggage. My best example of this is when I was attempting to get the Olympic Trials standard. My husband and I flew from Binghamton, NY, to Jacksonville, FL, in early December late on Friday evening. I always carried my uniform and racing shoes with me, but not all my gear. Imagine my dismay when race morning dawned at 30 degrees and our luggage, which included my warm ups was lost. I went to the start in my heavy coat and attempted to warm up. It was ridiculous and I knew I could not race in shorts and a singlet. I did not start and our luggage arrived later in the morning. We flew back home and wasted all that training and money.

Finally make a packing list during your training/practice and check off all of the items as you pack. I remember several athletes who arrived with two left shoes or just one shoe. Planning and preparation will get you to the start in fine shape. Now relax and have fun!!

Carolyn Mather, R.N. PhD. lives and runs in north Georgia and is a member of the Atlanta Track Club Elite. She can be reached at

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