With the fall marathon season in full swing, the roads and bike paths are filled with runners getting ready for the big day. For weeks and months, people just like you have been piling on the miles. They have watched their diets. They have learned the value of stretching and self-care. But there is one thing they aren’t prepared for; one thing that all the miles in the world can’t solve for them. What next?
It's hard to believe it’s that simple, but it’s true. Most runners simply…keep running. No downtime. No rest. No reflection. No time for growth…and ultimately no room for it either. Any marathon finisher will tell you the importance of being 100 percent mentally prepared for the challenges of race day; yet few choose to exercise their mental muscles in the post-race window when it makes the biggest difference.
Put Yourself on the Marathon Map
The vast majority of runners train and race off of guesses, dreams and approximations. “I want to run a sub-4:00 marathon” is a common sentiment, but not everyone has the physical fitness or pedigree to make it happen. Most can get there, but you really have to know where you are right now to be able to make an honest assessment.
Inside Marathon Nation we use a 5K performance test to determine our training and racing paces, as well as to measure our progress (or lack thereof). If you don’t test regularly, then you’ll need a really solid indicator of your level of fitness. Enter the marathon.
There is no hiding from 26.2 miles. If you have your splits, you can map out your performance mile by mile to uncover the true story of your running fitness. You can identify where your heart rate started to head for the sky, and where your pace dropped and the wheels were starting to come off. All of these factors can lead to a better understanding of your fitness. And once you know where you are, you can begin to create a realistic plan that will get you to where you want to be.
With a recent marathon in the books, you'll really have the chance to take your run training and racing to the next level. Here is a simple four step process that takes less than an hour. Inside Marathon Nation we do the following C.A.S.E. Study exercise to make sure we leave no stone unturned.
Phase 1: Capture (Approximately 10-15 minutes)
This is perhaps the most critical step, and it’s important to head into it with an open mind. Leave the analysis for the next step. Don’t let your brain get in the way of what actually happened on the big day. Your goal here is to gather/write down everything that happened on the day, including but not limited to the following:
What you ate pre- and mid-race. What you drank and when. The conditions, including winds and temps pre- and during race. The gear you chose and why. The pacing strategy you set upon and how it played out. The “decisive” point in your marathon where you either hit the wall or broke through it. You emotions pre- and mid-race.
Include anything you can think of and be sure to use a big piece of paper and leave room next to each item for future notes.
Pacing Example: You break down your finishing time into pace per mile splits either using your watch or perhaps using the timing mat information from your race as a last resort.
Phase 2: Analyze (Approximately 15-20 minutes)
Using a different color pen, review all the data and make notes on things you would do differently now in hindsight. You should have alternatives or notes for almost every single item on the list; if it was perfect, then circle that item to make it easier to find in the future. Do your best to critique your race from an external viewpoint; if possible share it with others to get their feedback and input on areas you can seek improvement.
Pacing Example: In reviewing your pace per mile splits, you see that the first five miles were your fastest all day, and that by mile 18 you were unable to sustain your goal steady pace.
Phase 3: Strategize (Approximately 15-30 minutes)
With several options available based on your analysis, and perhaps few more emerging over time, the strategy phase is where we put our lessons learned into what to do for next time. Again, this can be directed at any facet of your race from pacing to clothing to nutrition and more
Pacing Example: You plan on paying close attention to your early splits on race day, particularly the first six miles. You have set a target pace of MP+20″ per mile for this segment of the day and are prepared to walk a few steps for each of the first few miles if that’s required to keep your effort down.
Phase 4: Execute (Your Time Will Vary)
All the planning and information won’t help unless you put your plan into practice. Depending on what you have identified as critical areas you need to address, your solution could be as simple as buying better socks or as complex as seeing a sports psychologist.
We regard this step as critical, since putting the new changes into a really running situation is the true test. Remember, our goal is to improve over last time.
Inside Marathon Nation we do a race simulation run in our training build up, which is an excellent time to put these new elements to the test. You can also use intermediary “B” or “C” level races to test out your new pacing, fueling or mental strategies.
Pacing Example: Since you can’t run another marathon in training, you pick a half marathon or 30K race to put your new pacing discipline to the test. Your only goal here is to nail the early miles right and then run the rest of your race as you see fit. Once you reach the end you’ll really know just how valuable those early miles were.
Running a marathon isn’t just about a finishing time, even if that is your goal. Look closer and you’ll find your 26.2 miles include highs, lows, challenges, tragedy and (hopefully) vindication. Taking the time to get to know you race can mean the difference between repeating the past or significant improvement. Good luck!
A Brief Primer on Marathon Physical Recovery
No post marathon recovery article would be complete without a quick blurb on what to physically do. Done properly, recovering from a marathon should put you back on the road in incredible shape and ready to continue your forward progress. There are a lot of different ways to “bounce back” from a big race, but ultimately you’ll need to find your own path. Here are some key pointers:
- The First 24-48 Hours Matter: If you can do nothing else, crush your recovery right away to get things headed in the right direction.
- Eat Right: It’s tempting to throw down some serious treats after such an effort. Keep this to a minimum early on, as your body needs high-quality proteins and carbohydrates to recover…so maybe have one slice of cake and save the rest for a few days later.
- Stay Loose: Running right away is a no-no, but so too is becoming a wallflower. Plan on being active by walking or doing some light cycling. Follow each of these sessions with some light stretching and/or self-massage to maximize their impact.
- Stay Busy: Since the temptation to getting back to training quickly is pretty high, I recommend you keep a “to do” list of things you can get done at home and at work in the days following your race. This will help you not train as well as earn critical family/professional credits for your next big racing adventure.
- Run When Ready: Ideally you won’t run for about two weeks; any form of cross training is OK, but early running could hurt more than help you. Starting in week three you can begin incorporating light running. By week four you’ll be back on track and ready to go.