The biggest problem may be to decide whether you should run. You may feel unprepared, have an injury, have an illness or other similar problems. You, of course, must make the decision. Even though not running may be a major disappointment, remember that there are other marathons, your training will last for a while and you can easily continue to build on what you've already achieved. One race is never worth a major permanent injury. If you feel unprepared, you can run slower than you planned or run just part of the race.
Long before you toe the starting line, you should have an overall strategy for the race. As a minimum, your finish goal, time splits, the number of aid stops and type of aid you will take should be planned in advance. Contingency plans for adverse weather and other conditions also should be considered. Once you have established the race plan, the race itself should be reduced to a series of bite sized goals leading to your finish goal.
In a marathon, there are two things which determine how fast you can run: your aerobic potential and your endurance. Your aerobic potential can be determined from your performances at shorter races and extrapolated to give you a reasonably accurate idea of your marathon potential. One simple way to do this is to take a current 10K race time and multiply by 4.7 to get an estimate of your potential marathon time. A 40 minute 10K performance would lead to a 3:08 marathon while a 50 minute 10K predicts a 3:55 marathon. The training pace charts in the appendix give goal times and paces based on various 10K times. The time you get will be a reasonable estimate of the best time you could run for a marathon given your current aerobic fitness.
Now the bad news, unless you are an experienced marathoner with adequate endurance training, you will find it difficult to run a marathon at your potential. This is because a marathon has specific physical and mental endurance requirements that are only obtained through proper training and experience. (See the previous sections on specificity and endurance training).
Without these, you can expect a degradation of 10-20% from the best time estimate given above. If you feel that you don't have enough endurance training or you have never run a marathon, set your finish time goal 10% or so slower than the best time estimate. It is much more enjoyable to finish strongly than to experience the sensations people have variously described as "hitting the wall", "being jumped by a bear", "crashing" or "dying". The beginner's first and foremost goal should be to finish!
To provide subgoals, and to monitor your progress along the race course, you should compute a series of intermediate times or "splits" and memorize them or write them down on something that can be carried along.
Although it is generally accepted that more even splits (constant pace) provide the best results, some runners prefer to use negative (start slow, finish fast) or positive (start fast, finish slow) techniques.
Those using negative splits usually describe races where the technique has been effective as being very positive psychologically because they feel stronger than everyone else at the end. It is a major boost to pass people during the last few miles. For some runners this self reinforcement may aid performance enough to compensate for the slow start.
Positive splits ("money in the bank" or "kamikaze" approaches) are used as a strategy by some competitive runners to force the pace of their opponents. Running much faster than your average pace at the beginning of a long distance event will almost certainly result in early glycogen depletion and unpleasant feelings. Because some seasoned runners are very good at dealing with these feelings, they can use this as a winning strategy. However, positive splits are seldom used by knowledgeable runners as a strategy for running the best time. They must be avoided at all costs by beginners. Pace training is a great aid to this.
Write down your splits and carry them with you. The difficulty of performing high level math in your head while running in a race is well established. Splits can be written on wristbands, upside down on your race number or on various parts of your body with indelible ink. (Make certain that the ink or paper used is sweat and waterproof).
The splits recommended here are for even effort. On a flat marathon course, you can calculate your average pace per mile by dividing your finish goal time by 26.22. By multiplying the pace per mile by the distance, you can determine target split times for different distances along the course. You should figure out, at least, each of the first 3 miles and the 5,10, 15 and 20 mile splits. This will allow you to confirm proper pace early and then to check your progress along the way. If you have trouble maintaining a specific pace, you may want to check your splits every mile. If the course has hills, you should not maintain a constant pace. Your splits should allow for even effort which is slowing down on uphill and speeding up on downhill sections. A good rule of thumb for uphill of 100 feet/mile gain is to add 20 to 30 seconds/mile to your average pace while on steep uphill of 200 ft/mi add 40 to 70 seconds/mile. For downhill, subtract 15 to 20 seconds/mile for 100 ft/mi and 20 to 40 seconds for 200 ft/mi.
Many races have been won and lost because of course knowledge. These include examples as catastrophic as getting lost and as simple as having the inside position on the last turn before the finish. The last thing you want during a race is a surprise. Even good surprises have negative consequences and may leave you wondering if you could have done better if you had only known...
Knowledge of a race course can be divided into 3 pieces, the start, the main body of the course and the finish. Knowledge of the body of the course can be obtained in the weeks prior to the race by studying maps, topographical drawings, pictures, films and talking with others who have been on the course or better yet, by going over the course yourself by car, bicycle or on several early training runs. The important things to determine are the location and degree of any obstacles such as hills, tight turns or constricted areas and the location of dominant landmarks such as turn around points, aid stations, and points where you might want split times. Other items to consider are the type of surface you will be running on and exposure to potential winds, sun, rain etc. If you can, check out the course at the same time of day as the race will occur.
Little knowledge of the start and finish areas can be obtained prior to race day. If possible these areas should be viewed before the race for their general features and terrain. Knowledge of the finish may mean the difference between winning and losing precious seconds toward a personal or age group record. You should know exactly where the finish is and exactly when you could start to sprint if you wanted to. Notice if there is a turn or corner just before the finish and how far it is from this to the line. If there are turns near the finish, determine the best position to be in going through them (i.e. the route giving the shortest distance to the finish).
Your goal for the race A planned race has the best chance of being a successful race. should be determined in advance, with the training phase physically and psychologically geared for successful accomplishment of the goal. Last minute changes usually lead to disaster.
Planning the race includes knowing other aspects such as:
We have included a checklist of items you should need on race day. Use this and add anything else you might need. Plan your clothing needs by keeping weather differences in mind. The shoes you are going to wear should not be brand new, but should have been worn several times and be comfortable. Prepare, lay out or pack these items from a list ahead of time so you can just walk out the door for the race and know that you are prepared.
Adequate rest and sleep is extra important in the tapering phase. The most important night's sleep seems to be two nights before the race. Plan your week's schedule accordingly. If you are sleepless the night before the race, don't worry, so are most others. Many records have been set with little or no sleep the night before.
If you are traveling to the race, we suggest that you arrive early in the day preceding it. Review the course if possible. We have found that arriving several days to a week ahead in a different time zone or environment throws you completely off schedule without allowing adequate time to adjust. Arriving the day before seems to be extremely important if traveling to either high altitude or a hot climate. Best performances without adaptation at altitude are within 24-48 hours of arrival. Some short term adaptation takes place in the first 24 hours , but performance declines are noted in the period between 2 days and 1 month after arrival. Arriving several days early in a hot climate may dehydrate you before the race.
Run The Planet thanks Patti & Warren Finke and Team Oregon for the permission to reprint the complete online version of the first edition of the book Marathoning Start to Finish (Hypertext Version 1.02) by Patti & Warren Finke. © 1986, 1996 wY'east Consulting, All Rights reserved.