The marathon is such an intriguing event for coaches and athletes. As a coach, I must admit that marathon preparation is a bit intimidating because so much can go wrong, even for the prepared athlete, during the marathon. That said, athletes who have done intelligent marathon training for several months and who are willing to commit to a race plan have a very good chance of running a quality race when the gun goes off. Here are four lessons to learn before you toe the line on race day.
You Can't Run Faster Than Your Fitness
The first thing to remember about the marathon—and this goes for any distance as well—is that you can't run faster than your level of fitness. This becomes a bit tricky in the marathon because when you have the fitness to run the 26.2 miles in 3:30, the 8-minute miles that are associated with that pace will feel really slow the first few miles. You might even get to the 10-mile or 15-mile mark and still feel good running at 7:40 or 7:45 pace per mile (or 3:23 marathon pace). But if you're in 3:30 shape and you try to run significantly faster than 3:30, you're going to "hit the wall" hard in the late miles.
It's not uncommon to see marathon runners have a good race through 18 or even 20 miles at PR-setting pace, but then slow horribly, maybe even to a walk. There's nothing like a few miles of walking to take you from a slight PR to a time that you're embarrassed to share with your training partners.
So be honest about your fitness. What was the pace of your marathon-pace runs? How have your long runs gone, and what was your pace? Have you done Yasso 800s to get an idea of what you might be able to run for the full marathon distance (though you need to be careful with this predictive workout—it only works if you've done all of the other necessary marathon preparation)?