It thirteen point one miles
April 9, 2012 4:34 AM   Subscribe

Help me run the last three miles of a half marathon next month. I've run twice before and both times I stalled out at around 10 miles. I've got four more weeks to go, help me make the best of them.

So I'm training for the Pittsburgh Half Marathon on May 6 and I want to do better than I did in the previous two year's runs. Both times that I ran the half, I was running ten-minute miles for the first ten miles and felt pretty good but then around the ten mile mark, my legs just turned to wood and it took all of my will power just to keep them moving. I ended up doing this ugly walk-lope sort of thing for the last three miles just to keep going and finish. I had been heading toward a 2:10 finish but ended up around 2:20 both times. My heart and breath were fine and I didn't feel exhausted but my legs felt like they were pushing through tar.

Background: I'm in my late forties and somewhat overweight and have been running for a decade or so. I'm following Higdon's intermediate training guide and actually following pretty closely this year. Previous years I'd followed the beginner's guide but not really that well. I'm running around 25 miles a week with a mix of four mile runs, interval runs and long runs. Long runs are between eight and ten miles, usually between a 10:15 and a 10:30 pace.

Before the race I had a cup of coffee, a cliff bar and a pint of Gateraid and during the race I had a few energy gell things and stopped at every other water table for water. It was cold and rainy both time (Pittsburgh!) so I wasn't sweating too bad.

So what's causing my legs to want to seize up after ten miles and how do I prevent that from happening again next month? Do I do longer long runs? Stretch more? Eat differently (bananas)? Take walk breaks during the race? More weight training?
posted by octothorpe to Health & Fitness (21 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Have you run 13 miles to completion yet? You may want to try it, at a slower pace than you're starting your races.

Do you get cramps while running that are brought on by having a too-full stomach? If not, try having a bit more breakfast prior to the race. Also, what do you eat the day before? I'm not a big believer in carbo-loading, but those pasta dinners before marathons are really popular.

And it's probably too late for it to be effective for this race, but are you doing any weight training for your legs? Squats and lunges helped my endurance by a considerable margin.
posted by xingcat at 4:49 AM on April 9, 2012

Just relax and have fun. There's no magic formula to it -- you're going to have to experiment, see what works for you. Consistency is key when running long distances... it's always tempting, in a race environment, to go out way too fast. So... that's the main thing, just take it slow at the beginning of the race, build from there. Commit to a somewhat conservative pace (say... 2:15 or whatever) and stick with it -- if you're feeling amazing in the last 3 miles, you can hit the gas from there.

Sounds like you've got a good race plan, otherwise.

... in the meantime, get out and do some running and enjoy spring!
posted by ph00dz at 4:53 AM on April 9, 2012

I'd suggest four things:

1. Taking water at every opportunity, and walking through each water stop to make sure you drink fully;

2. Incorporating a 12-mile training run two weeks prior to the race (not something I'd ordinarily recommend, and not something I recall being in the Higdon intermediate program, but to get you past that 10-mile barrier once prior to the race);

3. Starting the race at a 10:45 or 11:00 per mile pace, to guard against going out too soon; and

4. Eschewing alcohol until the race is over, if you drink.

Good luck! I'll be in Frederick, MD that same weekend, enjoying a half-marathon of my own.
posted by cheapskatebay at 4:54 AM on April 9, 2012

Good advice above, the only thing I'd add is that this might be your problem:

octothorpe: "Long runs are between eight and ten miles, usually between a 10:15 and a 10:30 pace."

You should be training at the pace you want to run. So if you're running 10:15s and 10:30s, you should maintain that pace during the race. You're likely burning out after 10 miles because you're going too fast.
posted by Grither at 5:02 AM on April 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

When that happens to me at that point in a half, it's because I didn't take enough salt (legs cramping afterwards is another sign). I completely fixed it by taking gatorade instead of water at stops,or taking an electrolyte supplement. YMMV.
posted by ftm at 5:27 AM on April 9, 2012

You should definitely NOT be doing your long runs at the pace you want to run. My runs are usually about a minute slower per mile than I race.

My only suggestion would be going up to 14 or so in training. And don't go out too fast.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 5:28 AM on April 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

roomthreeseventeen: "You should definitely NOT be doing your long runs at the pace you want to run."

Worked for me for a full marathon. I guess I should've added a YMMV.
posted by Grither at 5:39 AM on April 9, 2012

I was also going to suggest that you need to increase your salt intake (through either a sports drink or an electrolyte supplment like these). Even when it's cold or rainy, you still are sweating and need salt replacement.

Also, you mentioned that you are eating gels. At least for me, it works best to be pretty consistent at eating them, particularly at the beginning of a race.

The other advice to increase your mileage pre-race and to try slowing down a bit is also good. It seems like with all distance running, there's a bit of trial and error and finding out what works best for you.
posted by statsgirl at 5:44 AM on April 9, 2012

I doubt that you are experiencing significant electrolyte imbalance at the 2 hour mark, although it can never hurt to get some sports drink in you. I think that most of us start to suffer at the 10 mile mark if we are running at something close to race effort. However, to drop 10 minutes or more in the last three miles suggests that you were undertrained for the distance. I think many of us would consider Higdon's beginner plan the very lowest amount of training that you should undertake to race well and if you weren't even sticking to that plan, its not that surprising that you started to give out at the 10 mile mark. If you are on the intermediate plan and following it more closely this year, I'd think you are very likely to do much better. The intermediate plan will get you up to 12 miles before the race which will make you better prepared mentally for the effort.

Personally, the plans that work best for me hit 13 miles in training once or twice before the race and have a longer taper than the Higdon intermediate. I would consider eliminating the "15k race" from your schedule and running long runs of 11.5 and 13 miles in the next two weeks and then dropping to something like 8 miles the week before your race. I think the longer taper allows your body to recover prior to the race -- running your longest training run 7 days before the race would not put me in the best race condition. Additionally, running a couple of longer training runs will give you more confidence and adjust your body to the demands of the distance. A lot of people max out at 10 or 11 miles, but I find that I do better with longer training runs. For my next half, I plan to actually peak at 15 or 16 mile long runs.

In terms of your pace, I think the idea that long slow distance runs are the foundation of endurance training is pretty well accepted as gospel these days. The idea is that you build your aerobic capacity by running at a pace at least a minute per mile slower than your 10k pace, preferably more like 2 minutes slower. You want to be way below your lactate threshold, safely in the aerobic zone. No competitive runners or coaches have suggested running long training runs at race pace since the 60s, I think.
posted by Lame_username at 6:26 AM on April 9, 2012 [4 favorites]

Increasing your overall mileage is the thing that is going to help you the most, and it sounds like you're doing that (doing the intermediate plan instead of the beginner plan, and being more consistent about keeping to the plan). I've gone from a 2:20 half to a 2:02, and some things that helped me:

- increased mileage. Ideally, you'd be running one long run (2+hours) and 2 medium-long runs (90 minutes) every week. Obviously we all have time constraints that may make this difficult. Also, this is not something to jump into; this would be something to work up to over the course of a few months. Maybe not in time for this HM, but maybe for one in the future.

-fast-finish long runs-- ie run 7 miles at your easy pace, and then pick it up for the last 2-- this will teach your body to run fast when it's tired. This is something also that can be worked up to-- start adding 5 faster minutes (HM pace or a little faster; not sprinting) to the end of your long run, then increase that to 10 minutes, then 15, then 20.

-long tempo runs-- a good one is 1 mile easy (to warm up), then 3 miles at HM pace, 2 minutes easy (to recover), 3 miles at HM pace, 1 mile easy (to cool down).

Don't start too fast, and with the increased mileage you should have a pretty good shot at your goal-- good luck.
posted by matcha action at 6:31 AM on April 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

I agree with those discussing nutrition. I recently did a 25K trail race, using a self-modified version of Higdon’s intermediate Half plan, and it worked for me. However, during the race I carried a bottle of electrolyte beverage and took a quick drink every 10 minutes while running, and took in ~100 calories every 45 minutes or so (I like GU gels and Clif Bloks). I’m 6’0", 160lbs., so your needs may differ, but the “Drink 10, Eat 45” has been my general nutrition formula for several years . Besides that, I focused on not overdoing it during the first 12 miles (keeping my heart rate between 82-88%) so I could really let it loose during the last 3+ (90%+). Best of luck!
posted by bwilms at 7:34 AM on April 9, 2012

It's been said above but:
1) drink the gatorade, not water. Drink more of it. If you lose five minutes to a pit stop but finish with slowing down, you've gained five minutes.
2) I know it's heretical, but I always run like hell to catch up to my partners when I take a piss stop. Having rested while waiting in line, I feel refreshed (even if my nose ain't refreshed).
3) Have a banana.
4) no really, get hydrated. Get up early, drink a quart of Propel or something two hours before the race, piss it all out, go run.
5) Train for fast finishes. I run, lightly, to my training partner's place at the start of each run (1.4 miles). When we're done, I run home. We keep about a 9 minute pace, and I push it to an eight minute on the way home (sometimes faster). At the end of every race, he's about ready to die, and I feel like I've got a rocket in my shorts.
posted by notsnot at 7:36 AM on April 9, 2012

octothorpe: "Before the race I had a cup of coffee, "

Don't do that. Coffee is dehydrating.

I think your problem is more likely to be undertraining than underhydrating--your training runs top out at ten miles, and you hit the wall at ten miles? these may be related--but drinking coffee before your race can't help....
posted by FlyingMonkey at 8:12 AM on April 9, 2012

LSD (long slow distance) is the universally accepted cure for your condition. The other catch phrase I've heard (attributed to various people) is "Start out slow, then taper off."
posted by Obscure Reference at 8:24 AM on April 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Practice running 13-15 miles. You have enough time to do that in the next couple of weeks before you start tapering. Start slower than your usual pace to make sure you still have energy for the last few miles.
posted by at 9:20 AM on April 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

I had been heading toward a 2:10 finish but ended up around 2:20 both times. My heart and breath were fine and I didn't feel exhausted but my legs felt like they were pushing through tar.

Training only gets you to the race. What is your race strategy? Do you try to run an even tempo? What if you go out deliberately slower the first 10km? For me personally, I have run my best times when I have run the 10km as hard as I could held on for the rest.
posted by three blind mice at 11:35 AM on April 9, 2012

This happens to me when I am undercaloried. I have trouble with digestion and fast running, and so err on the side of eating too little rather than eating too much before a race. I'm 6'2" and bounce between 205 and 215 depending on how much I'm training and how well I'm eating, and a clif bar would not be enough for me on a race morning and would lead to your experience. A banana and a clif bar would still leave me slightly undercaloried for a half marathon.
posted by Kwine at 2:14 PM on April 9, 2012

Taking water at every opportunity, and walking through each water stop to make sure you drink fully;

You know if you're drinking a pint of gatorade before the race I would be reluctant to drink water so aggressively during the course of the race itself. EAH is real, and dangerous. Unless you're running in heat you shouldn't need to drink so much fluid during the course of a half mara. Google around to get a real idea of hydration needs; there's tonnes written about it on Runner's World etc. For a half-mara, you probably way less food and water than you think. I ran a 1:45 last year with maybe 200mls of water in race and absolutely no food at all (food and racing for me results in terrible, terrible things... but obviously ymmv)

I think you might be overthinking this a little to be honest. Long runs and sticking to training plan are the key and you're on the right track for it. I would also recommend running the full distance at least once prior to race so you "know you can do it" (and of course you can).

The other thing is in-race behaviours - what are your splits like? If you're going too hard at the start, especially if you're going significantly faster than your training paces, then you're always gonna hit the wall sooner or later. It's easy to unconsciously speed out at the start, but take a wrist watch with a stop watch and time yourself. If you can't do negative splits, try at least to keep them within say no more than one minute per km or mile, preferably less.

I think you'll find that the better training you've done this time will pay off. :) Best of luck!
posted by smoke at 4:34 PM on April 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

smoke is right- some googling around will also show you how slowly a lot of those extra calories and fluids a lot of people are advising you to take in during the race are actually absorbed. There's a bigger chance if that harming you than helping you.

As far as nutrition goes (which I think is a red herring here) the key is to go into the race well hydrated in the days and hours leading up to it, and have some easily digested calories in you already at the start line. I used to make sure I'd had a reasonable dinner and then 400-600 calories of breakfast in me about two hours before the start of the race. That gave the food enough time to not want to come back up under duress, and I never needed to drink gatorade or take gels or anything of that nature during half or even full marathons. Sticking with small amounts of fluid throughout the race is probably a good idea, unless it's blazingly hot or you have lots of trouble taking in fluids (I never drank during half marathons and was never the worse for wear. I probably took in the equivalent of 8-10 ounces of water total over the course of every marathon-not something I'd say is optimal, but I don't think it tanked any of my races since I was well-hydrated before the gun went off)

As smoke and a couple of other people mentioned, it's really your training you need to look at, not what you're putting into your body during the race. You'll need to add some longer (say, 14-15 mile) runs to your training, done at a pace at least 45 seconds to 90 seconds per mile slower than your race pace. Also, the last three miles of every long distance race if you're running somewhere at your upper potential are usually grueling. A lot of getting through those final miles has to do with positive self-talk, accepting a high level of discomfort but trying to maintain form, and being psychologically prepared to feel like crap until the finish. Sad but true.
posted by stagewhisper at 4:54 PM on April 9, 2012 [4 favorites]

Personally, I always have negative splits - but that's because I start slow and am cranking by 4 or 5. So, do a long training run (12-14) and try starting slower than you feel like you have to. Before a race, I warm up with a "run" of about a mile (at like a 12 or 13 minute pace).
posted by Pax at 6:52 AM on April 11, 2012

Response by poster: So I ran 11 miles Wednesday on the mostly flat rivers trail running a pretty pace of 10:35 - 10:45 and felt pretty good during the run. My legs were starting to feel sore but not debilitatingly so. I had a water bottle of Gateraid with me and that seemed to help somewhat. I could have easily kept going for another two miles and finished the 13 but it was getting dark and the trail isn't necessarily safe at night. I've got another three weeks until the race so I'll try to get in another two long runs before then maybe a full 13 and even a longer once.

Thanks for all the great ideas, I'll hold off on marking best answers until I see how things work.
posted by octothorpe at 5:23 AM on April 13, 2012

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