On to 2019, Reviewing Your Year, Part one
by Kevin Beck for LowellRunning.com
Already, without prompting from the Internet, you’ve started concocting your running goals for 2019. Soon, you’ll see about a zillion articles and blog posts throwing more variables and ideas at you than your mind can process at once. Focus on the marathon and forget the 5K. PR across all distances. Work on speed. Conquer your tempo run bugaboo.
The most important aspect of planning for the upcoming year – and obviously this goes for any strategic endeavor, not just those that involve a significant turn of the calendar – is reviewing the most recent year, and specifically how your training related to your race results. It takes literally minutes to jot down sane but challenging goals based on times you’ve achieved across a range of distances. But the reason you fix those time goals in mind is because you’ve achieved something remotely similar already. So how did you get to this point – and how could you have done it better?
(Note: Clearly, some runners have goals that aren’t tied directly to finishing times in races, e.g., “Complete an ultramarathon” or “Do one run a month of at least 10 miles.” Those are worthy aims, but this discussion centers on time goals, which more easily lend themselves to retroactive analysis and thus guided planning.)
I will assume that you ran at least one marathon or half-marathon in 2018 or, failing that, raced at some distance and are planning a half-marathon or marathon in 2019. If not, keep reading – this still applies to you. It’s just best to focus on the longer distances as a rhetorical starting point for the frank reason that this is where most runners screw up the most – or have things blunted or ruined for them thanks to factors beyond their control (e.g., overly warm or otherwise adverse weather).
For any race close to and exceeding two hours in duration, unless you are a genuine biochemical rarity, you will need to take in some sort of fuel after the race starts. This means that all marathoners and the vast majority of half-marathoners are obligated to figure this part of the racing scheme out if they want to be as good as they can be. While the abiding necessity for even elites to stay properly fueled during a marathon had already started to take root when I was a teenager running through the woods of New Hampshire in the mid-1980s, most of the talk about “hitting the wall” late in a race tends to center on improper pacing. While it’s clear that going out too hard for your marathon fitness level – which you may not know as precisely as you’d like in any case – the resulting pace crash tends to obscure nutritional factors that might have impeded your performance even if you’d run your proper pace from the gun.
One thing that I believe complicates the fueling issue for everyday runners is that they tend to observe what the elites do and adapt this to their abilities. If you know that world-class marathoners are known do marathon pace runs up to 35K in training, while you probably know you’d be ill-advised to try this if your time goal is 3:30:00, you are still perhaps better attuned to the reality that long, marathon-pace runs are important. But if you manage to avail yourself of the in-race fuel intake composition and schedule of a world-class marathoner, you might simply conclude that you can copy this to the letter, because, after all, the marathon is the same 26.2 miles for everyone. Well, yes – and a resounding “no, it isn’t.”
When your body burns through fuel during a race, it doesn’t have any sense of how far it has moved down the road. Instead, the reactions in your muscle cells relate closely to duration. As a result, you need to fuel up about as often as an elite does – that is, not every 5K or 10K, but every 15 or 30 minutes (those numbers are just rough examples). In brief, you need to account for about how much energy per minute you need on top of your body’s stores. It’s not an exact science but its tenets cannot be disobeyed. Specifics on that will have to wait because this post is going into a ditch as it is.
The greater point is that if you “bonked” in any of your races, what exactly was your fueling plan and how might it have played a role? (It almost surely did, if you had any kind of marathon crash-up.) Just as important, if you did get through a well-paced and successful marathon, what was your fueling scheme and why did you use it? Learn to not only question your perhaps erroneous decisions and assumptions, but validate those that seem to have worked – and that you may have been skeptical of at first. I say this because I see a lot of runners getting talked into things they think won’t make a difference – say, slowing down easy days or cutting mileage a bit – and then, even when the results are positive, wanting to discard the utility of the training alteration because part of their mind wants to cling to old ideas even when those ideas have been proven suspect or flat-out wrong. This is a natural human tendency in sports, relationships, politics and everything else, so you are not immune or alone if you find yourself accepting realities about your running self with some difficulty!
More on this, including specific ways to define and assess your past training, in a couple of days.