Some people will glide through the London Marathon without any issues. Everything will go exactly to plan and they’ll finish in the time they want without their body falling to pieces. However, those people will be in the minority, probably quite a significant minority in fact, especially as race day is set to be a scorcher.
There are certain problems that crop up repeatedly when running a marathon, so Coach enlisted running coach Nick Anderson from Running With Us, Polar’s official training partner, to provide some solutions for when these mini (or indeed maxi) marathon crises arise.
You’ve Gone Out Too Fast
You knew this was a potential pitfall and yet here you are, running way faster than you should be. Fortunately, in some ways at least, the marathon is looooong.
“You’ve got time to rein it in,” says Anderson. “The real problem area in the London Marathon is Cutty Sark to Tower Bridge. That period, between six or seven miles and halfway, is where the real damage is done. People always say, ‘I felt fantastic’. Well of course you felt fantastic, you’ve been training for a marathon and this is only six to 13 miles. Please, please slow down and bank the energy.
“People try to create a buffer – get ahead of time – and that goes horribly wrong. You can lose that three or four times over at the other end. If you bank the energy you’ll be able to push on in the second half, especially at 18 to 20 miles.”
You Need The Toilet
In almost every life situation people are happy to just go to the toilet when they need it. The exception, it would seem, is when they’re on pace for a marathon PB.
“Look, the guy who came second in the Brighton Marathon this year, he stopped twice in the first half because he had a dodgy tummy,” says Anderson. “He sorted himself out and on he went – there are plenty of loos on the course.
“What you can’t do is run for 5K or 10K in agony, slowing down, trying to contract your pelvic floor and everything else. You just need to go to the loo. If you lose a minute sorting it out you’re probably going to gain five to ten minutes later on through avoiding things going wrong.
“If you were going to win the London Marathon and were on world record schedule and your name was Paula Radcliffe, well, we’d all do what Paula did, wouldn’t we? But for most people losing a minute is the wise thing to do.”
You Feel A Niggle
An altogether more serious issue than needing the toilet, when you feel a niggle it’s important to work out how bad it is quickly, because it’s always better to stay healthy and race another day.
“If the pain is getting progressively worse over the miles I would stop at the side of the road and stretch the affected area to see if that can alleviate it.” says Anderson. “If it’s a niggle you’ve had in training and it’s raising its head again, stop every mile or every few miles and stretch to try to get rid of it.
“If you’re chasing a time or a PB you’ve got to make a calculated decision. Athletes often try to push through it and then it suddenly goes wrong. That’s the risk – sometimes you are better off getting treatment. If it’s getting really bad and it’s early in the race or mid-race and you know you’re going to struggle later on, I would stop and get it sorted out. You can always race another marathon.”
THE CHAFING! THE CHAFING!
This is one issue you really should have sorted out though savvy pre-race planning, but there should be some Vaseline available on the course if you keep a sharp eye out.
“Vaseline and various gels – they do work,” says Anderson. “Look at the fabric you’re wearing, and there are plasters and pads you can put on which will stop you having an issue. There’s no reason to experience chafing – it’s all about planning.
“On a day like this Sunday when it’s going to be warm and you’ll be chucking water on your body parts to reduce core temperature, the fabric will change shape and change its weight, which will cause friction. You need good running underwear, and you should think about lubricating various areas.”
It’s So Damn Hot
Excessive heat is probably not an issue you’d expected to encounter in London, but here we are – it’s going to be hot hot hot on Sunday.
“If it gets well over 20°C on Sunday it will affect everyone,” says Anderson. “It would be good to wear a lightweight, possibly white, hat – something you can tip water on every few miles so it remains cold, which cools the head and brain down. I’d be tipping water down the back of my neck on my thighs as well.
“Think about your gel strategy – you’ll probably burn more carbohydrates in the heat, because your body is trying to keep its temperature down. Bring the gap between gels a little bit closer than you might in colder weather. And beware of losing a lot of salt. There are electrolytes in gels and sports drinks, but for some people that level of sodium is not enough. There are various salt products, like tablets, and the extra sodium will help to reduce some of the effects of the heat and reduce the chance of cramps.
“The main thing is to change your race strategy as well. Be prepared to slow down. You have to be realistic and accept you’re not superhuman – if it’s that hot, changing your goal would be wise.”
Pacing a marathon in different conditions from those you’ve been training in can be hard, but if you wear a heart rate tracker you can also use that to gauge your effort on the day.
“You’ll have a rough heart rate for your marathon pace from training, give or take a few beats,” says Anderson. “On Sunday, if it’s warm, if your heart rate is higher than that, but you’re running slower, that’s because of the heat. Your marathon heart rate is important and you need to have a rough eye on that, and not let it creep any higher, because that means you’re burning more energy and running in a way that’s unsustainable.”
You’re Only Ten Miles In And You’re Screwed
If running one more mile, let alone 16, feels impossible, focus on your motivation for signing up to the event in the first place. And maybe start walking.
“Why are you running? Are you running to raise money for a charity? Is this something you’ve got to do? In which case slow down and move towards a walk/run strategy,” says Anderson. “Reduce the pace – everything is now about getting round. Make it a fun day out, rather than trying to run a time.
“One bad mile does not mean the marathon has gone wrong. The marathon is 26 miles and every mile will feel different. But if you’ve had a number of bad miles and you’re starting to struggle and it’s getting worse and worse then there is an issue. You need to back off and decide if you want to finish. And if you’ve got to get around, you have to change your strategy, because if it’s not right at ten miles it’s definitely not going to be right at 20.”
Your Running Partner Has Left You For Dead
“There are thousands of people to run with!” says Anderson. “If you’ve made a pact to finish together, look after each other. But if you start together and one feels better than the other, you have to decide – and maybe accept that if one of you feels better, they carry on ahead.
“Don’t try to stick with someone you know you can’t stick with, then get to 18 miles absolutely knackered. Be realistic.”