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How to Tackle the Marathon

The marathon can be a fickle beast, but with some experience, wise training, and prudent in-race decision making, it can be tamed. I consider myself a seasoned runner but, when I stepped on the road for my first marathon I was in for a rude awakening. I had underestimated the toll 26.2 miles puts on your body, especially at race pace, and I had not respected the distance as I should have. I’ve since run a few more marathons, and although I’m still seeking faster times, I have improved my performance substantially. I’d like to share a few tips that I’ve found useful for improving my marathon performance.

There’s No Substitute for Mileage

Over the last few years I steadily increased my weekly mileage as I continued to be disappointed in my marathon performances. With each increase in mileage I, for the most part, saw an improvement in my marathon PR. There’s certainly a strong correlation between the number of miles we run in training and our marathon race performance. Increasing volume at first was a scary and tough decision for me. I endured three stress fractures in college, due to increasing volume and training load too quickly. I was under the impression my body couldn’t handle more miles. But I made the decision to increase mileage and I did so very slowly over time.

To increase your mileage I recommend an average of five miles per week for each training block. For example, if you are trained 12-16 weeks for a marathon and averaged 50 miles a week during that block, consider attempting 55 miles per week on your next 12-16 week block. This is a safe way to increase without jeopardizing an injury, but as always listen to your body and back off if you fear you’re overdoing it.

Slowing Down to Speed Up

Around the same time I decided to increase my mileage I also decreased the pace of my easy and recovery day runs. By slowing down on my easy days I was able to improve my half marathon PR by 2 minutes and my marathon PR by 8 minutes. Going slower allows me to run more miles and to be better recovered for my hard workout days. When we run a hard workout we cause micro-tears in our muscles and these, if given time, will adapt and heal stronger than before. This is how we get faster and stronger. But, if we push the pace the day after a hard workout, we may not be allowing the muscles to fully heal and adapt before we tear them down again in the next workout.

Another benefit of slower running on easy days is that your body becomes more accustomed to using fat as an energy source. At faster paces we mainly use glycogen as our energy source. But, in the marathon we often need fat in addition to glycogen as an energy source, especially late in the race when glycogen levels have been nearly depleted.

What’s a good easy day pace? That depends on how hard you ran the day before. But it’s not uncommon for my recovery pace to be 2:30 slower per mile than the pace I ran my hard workout at. Then if I have an additional easy day before my next workout I may go 1:45-2:00 slower per mile. But mostly I don’t even look at my watch during recovery runs, I just run whatever pace feels easy and at which I feel my body will recover.

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Fueling for workouts and races over 3 hours long.

There are alot of runners and triathletes out there who are learning how to take in some fuel during events and workouts over an hour and that is great news! The not so good news is that as some of those athletes start going longer than 2-3 hours problems start occurring that didn’t happen before.  So what is going on here? Isn’t 1-2 gel packs an hour enough? Do I absolutely have to have an electrolyte supplement? More water? What?  Well, the deal is that for events shorter than 3 hours, you can almost fake it on not doing enough. You may feel kind of lousy by the end, by you will survive even though you are running very low on energy, fluid and electrolytes. That is because you should have enough stores of all of those things to make through by doing only minimal amounts of eating and drinking. But…especially after the 3 hour mark…EVERYTHING CHANGES! You just can’t keep up with how much you are losing unless you make a SERIOUS effort to eat and drink more.

While it is true that you are hopefully getting about 50%-60% of your fuel from fat during longer,slower events, you are still blowing through quite a bit of carbohydrate. Most any runner or triathlete will still be using a MINIMUM of 125 grams of carbohydrate an hour. Then, in the case of  a Half-Ironman triathlon, the fastest athletes can burn over 200 grams.per.hour! And since we only have about 400-500 grams of carb stored in our muscle tissue and liver, it is easy to see how quickly you will start running out even if you are eating some fuel.  Yeah, do that math for a second.  ”Let’s see…I take 2 gels an hour or one pack of Clif blocks so that is about 50 grams of carbs I eat in a hour. Okay, well if I am blowing through at least 125 grams, but probably more like 150-175, then I am running an hourly deficit of about 100-125 grams. So by the 3 hour mark, I will have used 300-375 grams of carb and running very very low in fuel and by the 4 hour mark, I will be done!”  Yep, all those feelings of being light-headed, sick to the stomach, heavy legged, cranky, crampy, slowing down and feeling like you have been hit by a bus  somewhere between the 2 and 3 hour mark does not always have to be the case. Does this ring true to anyone? Is it worth trying more? (Notice here the picture of Mirinda Carfree holding 2 gel flasks full of 100 grams carb each while on her way to running a 2:56 marathon at the end of Ironman Hawaii 2009)

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Personal Hurdles: A Practical Approach for Consistency

About a year ago I read a research study that tracked changes in body weight of people participating in road races (running) for the first time (since there was an observed surge in the number of people running races throughout the U.S.) The study was considered important by the researchers because if more people running races was in any way related to improving the racers’ health, then efforts to increase road race participation might be a good way to improve public health. In other words, the researchers wanted to know if people were signing up for and running races as a motivator to start exercising more, and whether or not they actually were exercising more as a result of running races.

Did racing improve health?

The researchers actually learned that even over the first couple of years following peoples’ first experiences running races, these people generally experienced no improvements in body weight. Now, I think there were several things in this study that could have been done better, but I still think there was a potentially accurate message of great value.

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UtahRunning.com Press Release

Newly Launched UtahRunning.com Provides a Comprehensive Resource for Runners and Athletes

UtahRunning.com is a new website for running enthusiasts. This online resource features a community for runners as well as a comprehensive resource of races in Utah.

February 5, 2010 Salt Lake City, Utah – UtahRunning.com, officially launched on January 15th 2010, aims to become the premiere destination for Utah runners, athletes and race coordinators. As this new website seeks to encourage more people to run and lead a healthy lifestyle, UtahRunning.com provides useful tools dedicated to all things related to running. Resources include a list of upcoming races in Utah, and an expert panel of doctors, nutritionists, athletes, and coaches who answer questions about running.

UtahRunning.com’s expert panel includes twenty of the top running, fitness and health experts in all of Utah. Web visitors can ask their running related questions and get quality, informative answers. These experts include Olympic athlete Lindsay Anderson, who qualified for the 2008 Olympics in Bejing and represented the US in two World Championship events in Osaka and Berlin. Other experts include Paul Pilkington who is the Weber State University Head Distance Coach and Steve Scharmann who is a Sports Medicine physician currently practicing in Ogden.

UtahRunning.com is a centralized destination seeking to provide essential information to tourists and locals alike. In general, Utah is considered to be one of the top states for running enthusiasts. For example, recently, Runner’s World named Utah’s St. George Marathon one of the top four choices for “Marathons to Build a Vacation Around.” Further, Runner’s World ranked this marathon as one of the “10 Most Scenic and Fastest Marathon” and “Top 20 Marathons in the USA.” Running competitions take place year-round throughout the state in areas including Moab, Bryce Canyon, Zion, Canyonlands, as well as the cities of Salt Lake City, Provo, and Ogden. UtahRunning.com welcomes race coordinators and directors to visit the website and submit information about upcoming races in Utah.

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What shoes are the best shoes for daily running?

It is very important that you run in a running specific shoe. This is one of those things that is worth going to a specialty running store and spending some money on.

First of all, a specialty running store will be able to tell you what type of shoe you should be wearing (neutral/cushion, stability, or motion control…Look at Dr. Rocco’s article on How do I pick a good running shoe?).

Second, specialty running shoe stores will have the newest shoes out there. Now this isn’t a matter of fashion, it is important to buy shoes that haven’t been sitting on a shelf for a year. The cushioning system in a shoe naturally breaks down over time, even just sitting on a shelf. Make sure you switch out your running shoes often. A good rule of thumb is to get new shoes every 400-600 miles or at least every year (whichever comes first). Another matter to consider is what type of terrain you are running on. You may want to go with a trail running shoe if you are doing a lot of running on trails or snow.

Final point, spending time and money on finding a good shoe is a runner’s best injury prevention tool.

by Janae Richardson, Runner and High School Cross Country and Track Coach

To see other expert answers to questions from the Utah Running Expert page Click Here.

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Utah Running Races

Running is of the most focused physical activities that you could ever take on. It not only challenges your body but also your mind and your will. The ability to concentrate and find a rhythm in putting one step in front of the other is what running is all about. While to some runners Utah running races are about winning, to others they are about the accomplishment of finishing the race. If you are a runner, then Utah is the place you should be headed for the Utah running races.

The state attracts all kinds of runners, from professionals to people who are running a Utah 5K or a Utah marathon for the first time. With its diverse land forms the Utah land is a great challenge to run on. Also the fact that many of the cities in the state offer running routes help professionals and amateurs train for the many Utah running races held here. Utah running includes marathons, half marathons and family races. This makes it possible for virtually anyone who is interested in running to train and participate in Utah running races. Whether you live in Utah or are visiting you are sure to find a Utah marathon or Utah half marathons on at some part of the state, all through the year.

Some of these marathons require you to register much in advance. So do check for the details in order to avoid any disappointment. Utah running races offer a diverse terrain and it is best to train accordingly. Running is a sport that helps build confidence in one self and adds to the self concept one develops. It is a great way to bring discipline and order into one’s life and is recommended for all age groups. And the best place to go running is Utah, the state that goes all out to support runners.

Typically Utah running races will have the competitors broken up into divisions which will be male and female, and then also various age groups. Utah running races tend to be a wide variety of different lengths; therefore, they require a different array of athleticism. The good news is that you can get out and participate in Utah running races even if you are a beginner.

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