Marathon Series Part 5: Post-Marathon Reflection – Mileage Matters

I am happy to say that I did it, I finished my first marathon in 14 years! The weather for the Bayshore Marathon was near perfect, and the crowds of participants and spectators buzzed with a contagious excitement. For a road race, the scenery was unmatched. The morning sun danced through the wooded shoreline and patterned the road with light and shadow in the early miles. In the later miles, the course cruised near the shore to give full panoramic views of the shimmering bay. For being on a peninsula with limited road access, there were plenty of spectators and water stations. I highly recommend this race for anyone wanting to add a marathon to their exercise accolades, and for those who have run it, you know my recommendation is well-founded.

In my performance, I am proud, grateful, and just a little disappointed. My disappointment only lies in my time: I was 17 minutes off from qualifying for Boston, which is my “dream goal” for marathon running. But now that I have had a month to reflect on the adventure, the lasting emotion is gratitude. I am grateful for the opportunity to experience the marathon again. With Covid-related uncertainties, injuries, and limited training volume, I am grateful I even made it to the start line. I am proud I ran it and finished. The muscle pain and fatigue in the last 4 miles strongly tempted me to drop out, but I knew the disappointment in not finishing would sting longer than the pain of those final miles.

Looking back at my training, I am confident I made the most of the time I had. My diet, training, and resting habits all helped prepare my body as fast as was physically possible. In the end, my limited mileage volume was the reason for the breakdown in the final miles. Since I only had 2.5 months of solid running training, my weekly mileage peaked at 31 miles. A typical marathon training plan peaks at 45-60 miles per week built up over 4-6 months (for a professional marathoner, weekly mileage can get up to 100-120 miles per week). Those extra miles prepare the leg muscles for longer bouts of exercise. And that is what I felt—in the last four miles, the leg muscles had become completely depleted. They didn’t have enough practice running long miles on tired legs, despite having a 22-mile long run in the training plan. Muscle breakdown was occurring, and no matter how much fuel and oxygen was going into the system, the muscles would not perform. Kind of like driving a car with flat tires: no matter how much gasoline is in the car, the tires will slow the car down. In contrast, my cardio was strong—I still had enough breath to talk to runners as they passed me.

My take-away lesson from the race: mileage matters. I called my shortened training plan “experimental” and it succeeded in getting me to the race and finishing the race. However, to avoid the feeling of complete exhaustion in those last miles, another month of training was needed. I think it is safe to say that a runner can do all the correct things with diet, sleep, rest, and strength/cross training, but if they don’t reach a high enough weekly mileage, the marathon will likely feel difficult. And as much as I wanted to push more miles into my weeks, the injury risk felt too great to do so.

Besides the importance of enough miles in training, here are a few other nuggets of wisdom for pre-race day and race day. Note: everyone is different, and people will find different tactics that work best for them. The following is generalized advice that is shared by many runners, and ones that I found true for myself.

  • Don’t get new shoes right before the race, especially a model that is different from what you typically train in. This includes the “super shoes” with the carbon plate and extra foam. It is best to get some training time in, even with the race shoes.
  • Plan meals for the day before and the morning of race day, and eat things that are familiar to your body.
  • If you take nutrition/fuel during the race, make sure you consume items and flavors you have tested on longer runs previously. Some yummy flavors taste awful in the late miles of a long race.
  • Hydrate a little extra starting two days before race day.
  • If racing a marathon, take water frequently during the race whether you are thirsty or not. Try to get a little water from most—if not all—of the race’s aid stations.
  • Try to sleep in a setting that is familiar to you the night before a race.
  • Dress in gear that is comfortable for temperatures towards the end of a long race, not the beginning. The morning of the Bayshore marathon was 52 degrees, but when I finished, it was 71 degrees, so I made sure to dress for the warmer temperatures. Better to be a little chilled in the beginning vs overheating at the end.

It’s been a great journey to get back to the marathon. We’ll see if it leads to more in the near future. I hold deep gratitude for all the people that supported me in this venture, including my colleagues who took the time for small treatments on my legs and feet to tolerate the training plan. Thank you for following my marathon series blogs; happy trails!

Want to read Patrick’s Marathon Series blogs from the start? See his first blog here.

Interested in training for a marathon? Find out how our Academy can help you on your journey here.

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