Thursday, April 24, 2008

How to run a marathon

Running a race intelligently requires some technical and medical knowledge. DR JUAN DU PLESSIS offers some insights.

ON race day every runner gets excited but it is important to not get over-enthusiastic with all the hype around the race. This usually causes a fast start and most runners tend to exert themselves at the beginning of the race, thereby forcing them to run the first half of the race too quickly.

There are three ways to check how you should run.

Firstly, listening to your body can determine how fast is too fast. This is normally the best way to run the first few races before becoming a regular half marathoner.

The second method is by using the information provided by a heart rate monitor.

The third, by using a timing device.

It is always best to run the first few races according to one’s own central governor. Start the race slowly, at a pace that will allow you to go on for the full duration of the run. It is disastrous to start a run too fast.

Experienced runners have the ability to monitor and govern pace and effort. They can, most often, determine whether they are running too fast or too slow by being alert as to how they feel at various stages of the race. As a novice runner, the art of listening to the body will improve with experience.

It is always better to run a race slightly faster in the second half than the first half. Most people will be slowing down because of lactic acid build-up in their legs; but the runner who has saved himself from energy depletion will speed up and make the running experience more enjoyable.

Not only will you be sparing physical energy, but also mental energy, which can be easily depleted during intense running. By sparing both of these, the second half will be easier to complete and you will be able to focus better on how your body is feeling and coping with the challenge you have presented to it.

Even when running according to effort, it is good to know what pace you are doing, and what pace you should be doing. This will come from experience in training and also from running previous shorter races. The shorter races will help to predict the time that you can expect to run the longer race in.

The second and third methods — running the race according to heart rate — has its benefits and negative aspects. When racing, heart rates are elevated. This inevitably causes the runner’s heart rate to elevate by 10 to 15 beats per minute. This effect in the longer runs does tend to stabilise. Thus, the pace at which you intend to race may elicit 10 to 15 beats higher than that noted at the same pace during training.

As a result, if you run at a heart rate that you measured in training while running at your desired race pace, then, because of the excitement of the race, and the elevation of your heart rate, you will be running at a slower pace than you were in training, and thus will be under-performing in your race.

This means that it is better to get information from the heart rate monitor from several races and then gauge the desired race pace from these, rather than analyse training runs and gauging your race pace from this information.

Pacing strategies and heart rate monitors should be adjuncts to listening to the body.

Mental preparation for a race is very important. It is advisable to arrive at the race site the day before the race to view the route. Take a drive along the race route and take note of its ascents, descents and all contours that may be of relevance. A special priority is to take note of the hills in the last leg of the race. This is the stage of the race when you become tired and are running on willpower. If an unexpected hill pops up at this stage, it may be very discouraging and cause you to slow down a great deal. If you know the course, then you can run the race with the goal of saving some mental and physical energy.

It is often difficult to sleep the night before a race. For this reason, it is essential to get as much rest as possible two nights before the race.

After the race, most runners will be mildly dehydrated and should drink sufficient fluid to replace fluid and sodium chloride deficiency. It is important to ingest some salt in the form of a salty food after prolonged exercise.

Once the race is run, it is good to analyse what went right or wrong in the race. Training should then be readjusted to incorporate these factors.

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