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There’s no magic in marathon: The five pillars of race day success.

There’s no magic in marathon. Maximizing your potential during a marathon doesn’t just appear out of thin air; it requires weeks and months of practice and training for the main event. It requires focus, dedication and often sacrifice in ways that you never could have imagined. 

The paragraph above can be read in two very different ways. It can make achieving your goals seem daunting and overwhelming OR it can actually make them seem that much more realistic and feasible!! Let's look at it one more time... 

There is no magic in marathon.

I promise you that there’s no magic in one’s marathon race day performance. BQ’s don’t appear out of thin air to runners who don’t train. If you trained for a 3:30, you will not run a 3:10. I know you feel great during mile one thru thirteen but please SLOW DOWN. Like I said, maximizing your race day performance requires months and weeks of practice learning the ins and outs of your body and what is truly capable of at the big event.

There may not be any magic in marathon, but there are, however, several building blocks that you can climb to conquer your race day goals. If you put in the work you will reap the rewards! It really is just that simple. 

Marathon success evolves out of mastering five training pillars: a training plan, recovery/nutrition, pacing, fueling and mental fitness.

The Five Pillars

1.Your training plan– Following a plan provides structure for the athlete throughout the weeks and months ahead. Each successive week builds on the workouts and fitness gained from the previous week and so on and so on as it serves to safely move an athlete’s fitness along while remaining injury free.

Far too often athletes will “wing-it” for their marathon training; often, they will skip the easy workouts and will jump in on track workouts, tempo runs and long runs in an effort to cut corners and gain fitness faster. The problem is that without the base mileage (easy runs) their body isn’t prepared for the high intensity workouts, often leading to injury.

2.Recovery/nutrition – What do you do in the other 23 hours that you are not training to recover from your previous workout and physically prepare for your next workout? For example, immediately refueling post workout with a recovery drink with a 4:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio will nourish your body with the nutrients it needs to efficiently repair muscle fibers; this small yet important recovery tool will help the body recover to ensure a quality future workout. Improving daily nutrition, sleep, post-run recovery drinks and stretching are all seemingly small tool that have a big effect on a runner’s race day performance.

3.Race day pacing- An athlete’s ability to control his pace during training runs and consistently practice negative splitting runs will serve well come race day as the athlete need to carefully manage his pace with his level of excitement for the event. 

Many runners start training runs too fast and peter out by the final miles, positively splitting their way to the end of the long run. Because of this I encourage all of my athletes spend the at least the first two to three weeks of training completely music-free as they are encouraged to hone in on what heart rate zone 1 (conversational pace) actually feels like in their breath and body. With practice athletes of all levels learn that they have different speeds: zone 1/conversational pace, zone 2/tempo and zone 3/speedwork.

4.Race day fueling- When it comes to race day fueling practice makes perfect. Every long training run or runs of intensity (tempo/speedwork) represents opportunity for the athlete’s body to practice digesting the added nutrition and the chance for athlete to practice when and how to consume the race fuel.

Many runners will stop in the local running store where I work to grab a Gu or Clifs Shot Bloks during their first 18 or 20 miler because “I was ok for 16, but I think my body needs the extra energy boost for 18 miles.” I want to firmly sway athletes away from the mentality that we should only take added nutrition when we “need it.” Do we only drink water when we are dying of thirst? NO! We drink water throughout the day to give our body the sacred resource that it needs to consistently function at a higher level throughout the entire day. Your body may not need the extra carbohydrates during your training run, but it will perform at a significantly higher level with it!

5. Mental fitness – A sign of mental fitness is an athlete’s ability to stay focused on the race day goals when the pain beings to emerge. Developing your mental fitness, learning what triggers your stress and fears on race day will only serve to improve your marathon performance.

How do you handle competing with other runners during a race? Are you likely to give up at the sign of being overtaken? Or, rather does a challenge push you to dig deeper? During a 26.2 mile road race you mind can go to many places both positive and negative. How effective are you at pushing out the negative self-talk and staying present in the task at hand? When the going gets tough during the last 10K are you able to lean into the hurt and believe? Or do you back away from your goals and surrender?

These pillars are the cornerstone of The Run Formula’s coaching services. The coaches at The Run Formula work closely with their athletes to review each pillar, expose areas needing improvement. Coaching services are intended to help athletes train effectively to bridge the gap between their goals and their present day fitness.

None of this happens with magic.

Hard work. Mile repeats. Dedication. Tempo runs. Sacrifice. And sprinkle of smiles for good measure.

Giddy up, we got this!  

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