A runner once told me that he wasn't planning to take in any calories during his marathon. His hope was that adrenaline would get him to the finish line.
This is not a good strategy. Adrenaline is simply not a long-term fuel. Adrenaline temporarily increases your speed or strength so you can deal with an immediate disaster scenario. It evolved when our ancestors needed to run away from a predator or lift something heavy to survive.
Adrenaline surely won't help you run for 3 to 4 hours or more.
This runner made the classic mistake of under-estimating the difficulty of a marathon. Because of the distance, the marathon is a true test of your aerobic fitness, strength and the ability to manage your carbohydrate stores.
Use these tips to keep from hitting the "wall" in your next marathon.
Specific Marathon Training Is Key
When most runners plan their marathon training, they usually schedule a 20-mile run a few weeks before the race to prepare.
It can be helpful, but the compound effect of training—months of long runs, workouts and higher mileage weeks—is more important. Can you imagine if you started your marathon training already able to run 15 miles? How would that impact the rest of your training plan?
You would be better able to handle higher mileage and longer runs of 21 to 22 miles. And once you're comfortable with that kind of distance, you can focus on making your long runs even more specific to the marathon.
You can do this by running faster intervals during the second half of the run. Two classic examples are the "fast finish" long run where the last 1 to 6 miles are at your goal marathon pace. This is a very challenging workout, so only attempt it if you've built up to it.
The other example is alternating miles of your normal long run pace with goal marathon pace for the last 6 to 10 miles. This enables you to take a recovery period in between the faster miles while continuing to build your aerobic fitness.
If you have an ambitious goal, like qualifying for Boston, these workouts will help get you there.
Forget Adrenaline—Focus on Carbs
Some runners might be able to run a marathon with no fuel, though they'd probably run faster and feel better eating carbs during the race.
But most runners—and especially those whose goal is to run a personal best—need to make fueling an important part of their race strategy. It's critical to max out the body's glycogen stores if you want to avoid the wall and run a fast final 10K in the marathon.
Most runners will get benefits from eating 45 to 60 grams of carbohydrate per hour of racing in addition to carb-loading before the race. That's the equivalent of two gels and a few gulps of sports drink. Just make sure to drink water to help your body process the electrolytes.
If you're the type of runner who has big goals like setting a new PR or running a certain time, don't make the mistake of under-training or not fueling. You'll regret it during the final few miles of your marathon when you bonk, hit the wall, and slow to a crawl.
Train smart, stay fueled, and race fast.race.