You cannot fake a Marathon
By Mark Dillard
So I hope the title has caught your attention? What exactly does that mean? Are we talking cheating here or that you must do the work and train properly to finish 26.2 miles of running? Well, it is the latter! What exactly does it take to finish a marathon within what you think is possible for you as an individual? I will give my insights to these questions to help the first timer or the multiple finisher with some things to think about while training and racing the 26.2 mile trek to glory! Let me preface this with I am a 3:03 personal best Marathon and have run 6 total marathons with 3 of those in an Ironman.
My wife and I trained together to run the Denver Marathon this past month. Here are some things I learned as a coach and an athlete during the training for the race and racing. My wife and I agreed that we would do all of our training together and run the Marathon together as well. This was her first Marathon and it was within her reach to qualify for Boston. So we would get up at 5 a.m. most mornings and do mile repeats, or tempo runs and some pacing workouts. Then on the weekend we would run a long run together. I wanted us to run at least 1 if not 2, 20 mile runs to get used to the distance and being on our feet for 3 hours. Well, with our schedule we were only able to get in 1, 18 mile run a few weeks out from the race. All the other runs during the week were enough to get her to the finish, but to qualify would take pure guts for the last 6 miles. Race day came and we began running in the cool 40 degree temps, and we floated through 13 miles! We were not pushing it but focusing on our pacing strategy to get her to 3:50:59 so we could run Boston together. So, at mile 18 she has some leg issues and we slowed a bit and then returned to our pace. At mile 20 we were well within our time check at that point. At mile 23 however, my legs began to cramp and I had to walk. I told my wife to press on as she looked great! I tried everything to get in some fluids and salt tabs to relieve the cramps in both quads, but nothing seemed to help. I was forced to walk/ran/hobble the next 3 miles and finished in 3:53:30. I was just hoping my wife was able to finish under her time goal? I crossed the line and saw her with tears in her eyes and I thought; oh no, she just missed her cutoff? We hugged and I asked her if she made it and all she could do was show me her watch. It said, 3:48:03! She had done it! She was crying because she was worried something happened to me. I will always remember that day. Great joy for her and many lessons learned for me.
The lessons I learned that day are invaluable to me as a coach and as an athlete. Remember the title of this article? I tried to fake it! Not on purpose, but because I didn’t respect the training, or the distance. So you are probably thinking, you and your wife did the same training, so what happened to you? To tell you the truth, our training was bare minimum to qualify at that time, but the biggest lesson I learned was to remember to fuel properly during the race. My wife drank at the correct times and ate when she was supposed to. I, on the other hand, did not. I got behind on my electrolyte intake from the start. It started very cool in the morning, near 40, and was into the 70′s by the time we finished. I also did not stay hydrated the week leading up to the race. My wife is very tough and was able to push it at the end. Even when she was tired, she is very mentally strong, so that helped her finish strong.
Here are some key pieces that I failed to do that caused me to crumble at mile 23. So keep these in mind when you start training for your first Marathon, or next one! First, I did not do any 20 mile training runs. I feel that 2-3 20 milers would be a minimum! Second, I did not start my nutrition plan from the start of the race and got behind. I should have been better hydrated the week leading up to the race and did not. Third, I did not respect the distance. Lastly, my wife is tougher than I am! As a coach, I know all of these but clearly I failed to follow my own advice!
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