Take cues from NASA to maximise your chances of a fast marathon finish.
Nate asks: I’ve been training to qualify for the Boston Marathon for a few years and I’m close, but I can’t seem to catch a break on the weather. My greatest frustration is in training for months only to have heat crush my performance. What do you recommend?
It’s nothing short of heartbreaking when you put in the time, have the fitness to pull off a BQ time – or any big time goal, really – and a warm front rolls in the week of the race. Ugh.
When NASA launches a rocket, the weather needs to be optimal for success. If it isn’t, they bag it and target another day. If nailing a certain time is your number-one goal, think like NASA. Here’s how:
Choose Plan A, B, and C marathons. Rather than putting all your eggs in one basket, shift your mindset from a single target marathon to a strategy that is 100 per cent about finishing fast. Set yourself up with (and register for) a Plan A marathon. Pencil in a Plan B marathon three weeks later and a Plan C marathon three weeks after that. If you’re trying to run a time that will qualify you for the Boston Marathon, make sure the events you choose are certified Boston qualifiers. (It should say on the website; when in doubt, contact the race to ask.)
Race locally and think small. Target local marathons (or at least ones within your time zone): your body clock won’t have to make adjustments, and if you’re near home, you can more closely simulate your everyday nutrition, sleep, and training rituals. Consider racing small- to mid-sized marathons that allow you to avoid standing in a corral for ages and having to weave through crowds. It’s also more financially feasible to race three smaller races, especially if the Plan B and C races don’t usually sell out – then, you can register for them only if necessary.
Commit to a DNF. In a marathon, it’s usually pretty clear by the halfway point if your time goal is a lost cause. When you race your Plan A marathon, do not finish it if you aren’t on target, whether due to heat or other variables. Instead, turn the event into a marathon-simulation long run and drop out at 28 to 32 kilometres. This step is hard. Nobody wants to quit a race, but if you want to run your fastest time, it’s better to be patient than to waste your training on a hot or otherwise off day.
Repeat (and maybe, repeat again). If you bag your first marathon, spend the next three weeks focusing on recovery and maintenance until your next attempt. The marathon you didn’t finish serves as your final long run for the Plan B race. Spend the first week after Plan A running short and easy to recover, then follow your go-to taper for the next two weeks leading to your Plan B marathon. If Plan B is a bust, follow the same protocol leading up to Plan C.