Three Marathon Training Pitfalls (and how to avoid them)

October 3rd, 2010 by Geoffrey Decker

Runners at the finish of the 2009 New York City Marathon

With the New York City marathon little more than a month away, more than 40,000 runners, the world’s largest field, are about to enter their final phase of training. These last few weeks are crucial to ensuring runners are primed when they toe the line on race day. To get their, however, runners face a slew of pesky challenges capable of derailing months of hard work.

I exchanged emails with several marathon coaches and asked them what the biggest pitfalls are and how runners can deal with them.

1. Overtraining – The Taper

A cornerstone of modern marathon training is the ‘taper,’ which calls for a reduction in mileage in the final few weeks before race day. This is an important period, as it allows the body to recover and recharge after a demanding five-month training schedule that includes 20-mile long runs and 50-mile weeks. In general, runners should reduce the amount of miles they run per run and per week.

Easier said than done, coaches warn.

“Almost everyone is getting nervous at this stage,” says Jonathan Cane of City Coach, which has eight runners in this year’s New York City Marathon. “They question their preparedness and often tend to overdo things.”

To compensate Cane says runners will try to run too hard on long runs and recovery days. He stresses patience to his runners. “Remember that the goal is to have your best run on [marathon day],” Cane says. “You can’t win a training run.”

Central Park Track Club’s Tony Ruiz, who estimates he is coaching more than 75 athletes for New York, says pre-race anxiety and overtraining can cause mental fatigue, or worse, physical injury. He preaches his runners to have faith in their training. “Have confidence and don’t add the extra stuff this month,” Ruiz said.

2. Under-training: Break the Tape(r)

Tapering can be counterproductive, especially when a runner dramatically reduces his or her training schedule in these last few weeks .

Don’t take it easy the last few weeks and expect to be sharp for race day, said Brian Rosetti, owner of The RUN S.M.A.R.T Project, an online coaching program. “Physiologically, your body will start to lose fitness leading up to the race.”

“Tapers can be fraught with danger,” emailed Pete Colaizzo, who has coached several marathoners and run 47 himself.

Both Colaizzo and Rosetti agree that runners should keep the same framework to their training, including long runs and workouts, but simply reduce the mileage.

“Stick with what works,” said Colaizzo. “And just do a little bit less.”

3. Keep A Light Load

One of the best things about marathon training is that runners can basically eat whatever they want and not worry about packing on the pounds. In the final weeks, however, runners risk gaining some unnecessary baggage that could slow them down on race day.

Colaizzo warns against the combination of a carb-heavy diet with a drastic reduction in mileage in the final days before the marathon. “It’s OK to carbo load; just make sure the load doesn’t become overload,” he says.

A couple of pounds might not seem like a lot, but consider lugging it over the span of 26.2 miles, or 50,000 steps. Those few pounds “could be the difference between reaching your goal or not,” said Rosetti.

Comments are closed.