Your start should be planned to provide the shortest, most obstacle free route to the first turn, if there is one. Start toward the side of the road in the direction of the first turn. If the course narrows appreciably after the start, by design or due to parked vehicles, you may want to start more toward the middle of the road. Find out whether runners are to be seeded by pace and, if so, position yourself toward the front of your pace group at the start. If there is no seeding system, get far enough forward in the pack to be near runners of your ability. You can usually tell by their appearance. When in doubt, ask people around you how fast they plan to run. Avoid positioning yourself near runners of vastly different abilities. This usually results in a certain amount of jostling at the start and the potential of someone falling and getting trampled.
While waiting for the gun, you may want to use relaxation techniques to stay calm. It is extremely important not to get too nervous and lose control at the start.
When the gun goes off, start concentrating on the task at hand. Relax, find a clear spot in which to run and establish your pre-planned race pace. It is very easy to run too fast at the start. If you feel like you are running smoothly at an easy training pace, your speed is probably just right!
If you have trained adequately and are healthy, the first 5 to 10 miles should seem very easy to you. Many runners pass this time socializing with others. During this period of the race you want to establish a rhythm of pace, taking aid and meeting intermediate goals. Use concentration cycles to monitor these items and your various body sensations. Lock yourself into a smooth relaxed stride.
Somewhere in the second ten miles, runners start to get more serious about the marathon. Socializing will abate some as inner concentration cycles become more important. This is the time the physical and mental simulation you practiced before the race pay off as you pass goal after goal just as if you've done it all before. Use self-talk to maintain your concentration.
This is by far the most demanding part of the marathon. If you have prepared adequately and followed your race plan, you should have no difficulty. You will feel fatigue, muscle tightness and soreness during this stage. You may also go through psychological highs and lows. None of these things should surprise you. You have experienced similar feelings on your long training runs and know that they are normal. Encourage yourself with self-talk. Imagery can be used to advantage during this stage to maintain and even lengthen your stride. Picture yourself running as smoothly and effortlessly as you were running at the start of the race.
Somewhere during the last six miles, you will realize that you are going to finish! This usually gives you a big lift. Use it to help you. Start thinking of all the rewards at the finish line and how you will enjoy yourself after the race. Start congratulating yourself, you deserve it! But, don't lose concentration on the goal.
Make sure you run all the way through the finish line at the end of the race. Run until someone stops you or gives you a T shirt. Try to keep walking through the chute, stopping immediately drops blood pressure and gives rise to nausea. Try to stay in finish order and keep the other runners in order, this helps the race director give correct times and places to the runners.
If you can, do some kind of cool down, either an easy jog or a walk of 10 minutes or so to allow your blood pressure to return to normal and your muscles to cool down. Do not stop abruptly or sit or lay down. This may lead to a rapid drop in blood pressure, possible fainting, leg cramps, and/or nausea. Do not stretch. Stretching exhausted muscles is a sure way to injure them. A massage, if one is available, feels great and helps to relax the legs. Ice any areas that are sore by massaging them for about 10 minutes with an ice popsicle or ice cubes. Avoid getting in hot water for extended periods after the race as it may cause swelling. A hot shower is OK. A long soak in the hot tub may feel good at the time but may result in swelling in the muscles making them feel sore.
Drink fluids, especially ones rich in electrolytes such as orange juice or tomato juice (now is the time for electrolyte drinks vs during the race). You can drink a few beers now using them as a reward and to relax aching muscles. It is also necessary to keep drinking water throughout the rest of the day. Drink at least one glass every 1-2 hours. Eat some food, whatever looks good. A large balanced meal may be the best since it will probably contain some of everything you need to replace.
Remarkable as it seems, many runners complete 26.2 miles and miss important standards such as Olympic Trial Qualification by only 1 or 2 seconds. Could they have run faster? Probably. How? By paying attention to small details throughout the race. These are the things that experienced road racers do automatically.
First of all, this is not cheating. The only race courses which are "guaranteed" to be accurate are those which are "certified". In this country, courses are certified by the TAC (The Athletics Congress of the AAU) to meet international standards set by the IAAF (International Amateur Athletic Federation). Certification is handled by the NRDC (National Running Data Center) in Tucson Arizona. The NRDC requires that courses be measured over the shortest route open to the runners. This means that the course is measured on a route which cuts all corners as closely as possible to the inside apex, usually within 6 inches of the road edge. You are cheating yourself if you do not cut the corners as the course was measured. If you run down the center of the road, each right angle turn will cost you about 1 second in your finish time. To further ensure that courses are not short, the NRDC recommends all courses be set up to be 0.1% long, about 50 yards or 8-16 seconds in a marathon.
To run the shortest route, keep as close as possible to the inside edge of the road on all turns and as you come out of the turn assume a straight line route to the inside of the next turn.
Many of the current world records for sprinting events in track and field were set at high altitude. The reason for this is the reduction in wind resistance afforded by the "thinner" air. Unfortunately, long distance aerobic events suffer at high altitude because of the lowered ability of the body to transport oxygen to the working muscles. However, even at sea level, a significant reduction in wind resistance can be achieved by a technique known as drafting. As you move through the air, you create a pocket of air behind you that is traveling at the same speed you are. Anyone behind you who is in this pocket does not have to push any air out of the way since it is already moving at his speed. In tests done on bicyclists, it has been shown that nearly 70% of the energy used at 10 miles/hour is due to wind resistance. Bicycling is much more efficient than running. However, a significant reduction in effort can still be realized by drafting when you run, especially into a headwind (wind resistance goes up with the square of the windspeed).
The pocket of air where drafting is effective forms a wedge trailing off at 45 degrees from a runner's shoulder and is probably effective 1 or 2 yards behind him. This means you have to have to run close to someone, close enough to step on his heels or right on his shoulder and slightly behind him. If you can find 3 or 4 or more runners in a close pack, tuck in behind them for a really good draft.
Be warned that some runners do not like to be drafted especially into headwinds where you are getting an obvious advantage. In this situation, you might best offer to trade off the lead every mile or so with one or more runners so that everyone can benefit.
Some runners still refuse to stop at aid stations for fear of losing precious seconds. In a marathon, it is absolutely critical that you get enough fluids. Dehydration may cause you to slow significantly in the latter stages of the race or drop out entirely with cramps or sickness. You can get enough fluids at aid stations yet still not lose time if you practice drinking and you drink and use the aid stations efficiently. Some people are good at running with cups of water in their hands, other spill most of it. If you are a spiller, learn how to chug the water down rapidly. Often aid stations are long enough to do this twice while you are passing through them.
Most of the large marathons have aid stations every couple of miles. This means you can get enough fluids without drinking as much at each aid station if you chug some (at least 6 oz) at every station. You will probably drop some, but this will help cool you. If all else fails, stop and walk if that is what is necessary to get an adequate supply of fluids during the run. The short walk may help you to feel better and be ready to go again.
Start drinking fluids at the first aid station. Pick up 1 or more cups at each aid station, pour the extra over your head and shoulders if you need more cooling. Water taken in after the 22 mile point will probably not be used. Stopping at the last few aid stations can sometimes help psychologically. However, if you are having muscle cramps, a slow jog may keep the discomfort at a reasonable level. Stopping to walk may result in more painful cramps.
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.