Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Sat, 5 Jun 1999 12:21:10 -0400

Wall Climbing

(from RC 285)

Brian McGrath's path might never have crossed mine if he hadn't attended the Napa Valley Marathon's breakfast with authors this spring. I got to know most of these guests, and none better than Brian, a software executive from Houston.

We talked in Napa about his running concerns (I even convinced him to try walking breaks the next day). This discussion has continued through e-mail.

"In my last two marathons -- Las Vegas and Napa Valley -- I was doing well into about 21 to 22 miles, then hit the wall and slowed significantly (particularly in Napa)," he said in his first note. So much for walks lowering or demolishing his wall.

"Can you suggest any training techniques to avoid this?" Brian wrote. "It is frustrating to be strong going through 20 then slow by two minutes per mile."

I replied that wall-hitting nearly always happens for one of two reasons, or both combined: long runs too short, or early pace too fast. Then I asked for his long-run history before these two marathons. His answer would help me frame mine.

He listed three marathons and a 50-K, all with less than three months: "I ran a 50-K in mid-December, ran Houston Marathon on January 18th. On February 7th I ran Las Vegas, then Napa Valley on March 7th. Plus I had long runs of 18 to 21 miles about every other week."

Brian's response brought up a third possibility (besides too-short long runs and too-fast starts) that I'd overlooked. This was being a little more tired when he started each of the marathons.

"Your schedule has been ambitious the past few months," I wrote. "You never allowed more than four weeks between these races, and appear to have squeezed a long training run into that narrow gap. So it shouldn't be too surprising that fatigue caught up with you in the late miles."

I added that the old one-easy-day-per-race-mile rule of recovery really works. It translates to allowing about a month after a marathon with nothing long or fast, and definitely no racing. One day per KILOMETER might work even better, which means six easy weeks to shake off the effects of a marathon.

Brian came back with another question: "Should my long training runs be more than 22, maybe 26 or 30, so my legs will know the full distance?"

Two answers:

1. His marathons themselves had qualified as his long runs of late, averaging one every three to four weeks. He needed no others of full length.

2. Jeff Galloway recommends covering the full distance or more in training, and who am I to argue with his success? I'd modify Jeff's advice slightly to recommend going up to full marathon TIME at easier than race pace, meaning you'll fall a little short of full distance.

"You're trying to get your body and mind used to being out that long a time," pointed out to Brian. He told me, in so many words, that he was so used to it already that he couldn't resist going long, often.

He'd already planned to run Rotterdam in April, six weeks after Napa Valley. For him lately, this qualified as an extended vacation.

His report: "I felt that Rotterdam was one of the best marathons I have run. I finished the last four or five miles real strong. I stopped for water at the 40-K mark and almost sprinted from there. Actually felt ready to run another five or six miles."

Any marathon you finish feeling strong is a good one, no matter what the clock reads.

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