Five Weeks to NYC Marathon

Hard to believe a month has gone by since my last post. The heavy training has set in and I have had to revisit my ‘running shoe dilemma’.

With my distances increasing to 75+k a week (83k this week!) I have found my poor toes suffering. The Topos that I bought, a full size larger than I usually wear, turned out to be just a little too big, even with extra insoles, and my feet were slipping in them causing my toes to bang into the toe box – especially when negotiating hills.

I’m embarrassed to report, I now have 7 pairs of runners not including several totally unsuitable pairs I gave away after just one or two runs. The Topos have a roomier toe box than all other runners and for long runs I found them the most comfortable despite being a little too big. I now have a new, slightly smaller pair.

After my longest run in my new Topos today (36km) I think I will be as comfortable as possible in them. My toes still felt cramped from 25 km on but it was bearable compared to all the others. It’s funny that most of my other shoes, especially the Mizuno’s, feel great for shorter distances such as the 5-10k. I still love my Nike Flyknits for these distances as well. I have also found with the judicious use of sports tape, my toes don’t end up too battered and bruised – just sore.

As my long slow distance (LSD) runs increased over the past four weeks I felt I was getting slower and slower. These LSD runs are considered to be the ‘bread and butter’ of marathon runners (reference below). They improve a runner’s ability to utilize fat as an energy source and also improve the ability to store more glycogen within muscles. Other benefits include;

  • An increased number of blood vessels to improve blood flow and transportation of oxygen and nutrients to working muscles. Waste products from the active muscle cells are able to be eliminated faster as well.
  • The heart muscle gets stronger and more efficient so more blood is pumped with every beat (increased stroke volume) and this manifests with a lower resting heart rate.
  • The number of mitochondria (organs within cells that generate energy required for muscle contraction) increases significantly

LSD runs are meant to be 10-20% slower than goal marathon pace but I often felt they were becoming ‘slow jogs’. The coaches at RunnersConnect assigned my pace for long runs at 6:10-6:55/km but some of my Wednesday West running group felt this was a bit too slow and encouraged me to pick up the pace a little. Fortunately, with encouragement from Pam Muston and Maria O’Reilly (from Wednesday West running group), I have picked up some speed. Getting back to some interval training on Saturday morning with Bruce Graham has also helped. As a result of some ‘tweaking’ by these experienced runners I was able to run the Mornington Peninsula half marathon in my second fastest time. It felt so good after my sluggish Vet’s half marathon in August. (Which reminds me! After over 8 weeks, my left leg and back pain finally resolved. I am sure this had a significant impact on my running and possibly one of the reasons I felt ‘sluggish’ for awhile.)

My better than expected result at the Mornington Running Festival came after a heavy workload during the previous week (76 km) and, of course, no taper. It was also a tougher course than I had anticipated – very undulating with some very long inclines. Not only that, it was typical Melbourne ‘four seasons in one day’ weather. We had to endure a cold 50km wind blowing straight off Port Phillip Bay and for the first few km’s rain and hail bombarded us from a sky of thick, dark black clouds. Fortunately, by the halfway point, the sun started to peek through some of the dispersing clouds so the return run was not quite as uncomfortable.

It has been interesting reading and listening to the many different opinions regarding adequate sustenance to maintain the energy required to complete a marathon without ‘bonking’ (ghastly term!) or ‘hitting the wall’. The ‘bonk’ has been described as the depletion of glycogen, the primary source of fuel used in endurance events, from the muscles and liver. Just as a car stalls and eventually stops when it runs out of fuel – so too does the body. Scary thought! From what I understand, it’s really a self preservation mechanism where the brain, which relies on glycogen to function, shuts down all other systems competing for the same depleted fuel source. It isn’t a pretty sight watching a marathon runner losing control of their movements and wandering around in a delirium state – and I hope I never have to experience it myself.

Just as it is wise to carry an extra supply of petrol when going on a very long road trip it is also wise to have ready access to some easily digestible carbs during an endurance event. Adequate ingestion of fluid and carbs well before any serious depletion occurs is crucial as once ‘shut down’ starts, the GI tract is far less capable of absorbing anything into the bloodstream. Supplying athletes with mini ‘gerry cans’ of fuel has become a gigantic industry and I have to say, wading through why one concoction is better than another has been daunting.

Apparently the body can only store enough glycogen for about an hour of continuous activity. This varies a little from one individual to another and can also vary with training. Fortunately, with training we are also able to utilise fat as an energy source and with specific training we can get more efficient at this. As I mentioned earlier in this post, this is actually one of the reasons for the LSD run. It is especially useful for slower runners who will take more than 3 hours to complete the distance. Faster runners do rely more heavily on their more readily available glycogen (carbohydrate) stores for energy.

Not being anywhere near capable of a sub four hour marathon (I wish!), I have implemented a little extra ‘fat fuelling’ training into my program as suggested by the RC coaches. I have completed two 32km glycogen depletion (GD) runs over the past month. This involved no food intake for 13 hours prior to or during the run. I am pleased to say I managed these quite well. The crucial point seems to be around the 20 miles or 32 km is when ‘hitting the wall’ tends to occur. That was one of the reasons I wanted to run over 35 km just once before the ‘big one’. It was good to complete this distance without any feeling of ‘bonking’!

Over the next few weeks I have two more long runs (32 km) in my training program and this will give me a chance to really practice my nutrition for the big day. So far I have found a light breakfast of toast, butter, peanut paste with half a banana on top and then two watered down endura gels with sips from 50 minutes and roughly every 30 minutes after that has worked. On race day I will carry three watered down endura gels.

Apart from the gels which contain some salts and carbs (the salt improves the uptake and retention of water from the gut), small amounts of water, often, and from the start, seems the ideal way to stay hydrated. Too much water, salt and carbs can be as dangerous as not enough so finding the right balance is crucial I think, and something I have to work out for myself.

On the 15th of October I will be running the Melbourne half marathon. This will be my last ‘tune up’ race before New York. I am not expecting a great time as I will be running 32 km on the Wednesday before. The purpose of this run is to run faster than training on tired legs. I will be happy of course if I can achieve a time under two hours.


1. Advanced Marathon Training 2nd Edition Pete Pfitzinger & Scott Douglas


About the Author

Jennifer Kellett established Hawker Place Physiotherapy in 1991 and is the principal practitioner of the family run practice. Jenny has served the local communities of Belconnen and North Canberra with commitment and pride for over 26 years. She is a strong advocate for maintaining fitness, health and well being across all age groups and has a keen professional interest in combining Pilates with weight training for treating postmenopausal women at risk of osteoporosis.

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