Marathon tapering is still mystery to me. I can never really tell if I am doing it correctly or not. I’ve heard some people say that they have a lot of energy after tapering but I can’t honestly say that I have not experienced that. IN fact, I likely won’t find out if I did things correctly until about mile 20 of the marathon.
One of the problems for me is that I’m not exactly sure what to do. Some sources say “reduce mileage, but not intensity” while others say “cut back on the distance and intensity” or “reduce the volume of mileage first and then the intensity along with it”. Those are actual quotes from established training websites. Talk about confusing.
And then there is carb-loading. Here is what I have gathered so far: Your body uses glycogen and fat as fuel when you exercise. Since glycogen requires less oxygen, your body relies more on glycogen as intensity increases. The downside of using glycogen for fuel is that your body can only store a limited amount of it while fat is virtually unlimited. Even the most fit athletes.
When your body runs out of glycogen, it has to use fat as the primary source of energy. Fat requires a lot more oxygen which will cause you to slow way down. This situation is called ‘hitting the wall’ or ‘bonking’. To make things even more interesting, your brain also relies heavily on glycogen for energy so disorientation is another fun side-effect of bonking. I have had this happen to me and I found myself incapable of running in a straight line. It almost felt like I was drunk (and really exhausted). This is a big issue in marathons because your body is incapable of storing enough glycogen to fuel 26.2 miles of running at a moderate pace. Every source I have seen says that bonking typically occurs when you reach about 18 to 20 miles.
If I plan on participating in more long distance events, I will definitely need to learn more about what to eat and when to eat it while carb-loading. Problems with nutrition have been, by far, the biggest problem that I have experienced in long-distance activities. I usually end up learning this the hard way but I have figured out how important nutrition is before, during and after every race.
As for this weekend’s marathon. I am just going to try my best to eat food that contains a high amount of carbs and drink a lot of water. Hopefully, my glycogen stores will be full on race day. Beans and brown rice are supposedly good sources of carbohydrates and every race has a big spaghetti feast the night before. I guess I can’t go wrong with those.
Here is my strategy for the race: Start out slow and speed up later. By doing so, my body should use less glycogen per mile. If this works, I’ll have more energy in the late mails when everyone else is slowing down. The toughest part of this plan will be having that discipline to maintain pace while a lot of people are running ahead. I just have to tell myself that I’ll see them again at mile 23. I also plan on eating a gel every 30 minutes during the race. I say 30 minutes knowing that it will likely end up being closer to 45. I always have trouble finding a good time to eat when I’m running. I am also going to take 2 salt tablets every 5 miles to avoid muscle cramping. Afterword, I plan on slamming a couple bottles of Muscle Milk or something similar.
My spirits are really high for this marathon. I’m hardly nervous at all but there is a tiny part of me hoping that there isn’t another important lesson waiting to be learned the hard way.