For the average runner, breaking the 4 hour mark for their marathon is a significant achievement and as this blog series is focused on less experienced marathon runners we’ll discuss splitting the race into more manageable chunks that are relevant for the runner of average ability. If you are a more elite runner then this guide won’t be so relevant.
When you face any major challenge, it’s always wise to break it down into smaller chunks, as this helps the mind cope and makes the overall challenge seem less daunting. So that’s exactly what we’re going to discuss here for your marathon.
Break the marathon down into 4 main segments as follows:
Segment One (mile 0 to 13.1) – The “this is easy” bit
So after the initial nerves, you’ll be feeling fresh and excited; don’t let this distract you from your plan. In these early miles you’ll feel like you can push the pace, but the key is not building up too much lactate. So if you are aiming for around the 4 hour mark, then aim for around 8.30 pacing in this segment and certainly don’t exceed the 8 min per mile mark or you’ll certainly burn out later. Keep everything steady and consistent and remember to keep the calories coming. Aim for around 300 calories in this first segment, and whilst this might not seem necessary at the time, you’ll thank yourself later as the body will get less and less able to digest anything.
Segment Two (mile 13.1 to 20) – The “careful” bit
This is possibly the most tentative section of the race. There is great potential for over pacing and messing everything up, you’ll need to focus on reducing your pace slightly from the first segment (unless you have decided to stick with even splits throughout) by about a minute per mile. Keep yourself well hydrated as you will have lost a lot of water through breathing and sweating by now and keep the calories up (aim for about 200 in this segment). Your legs may start to feel quite achy and heavy towards the end of this segment, this is normal; however if you have severe pains (i.e. sharp, consistent shin pain, knee pain or alike) then speak to a medic.
Apart from this you may still feel pretty good through this segment, but again resist the temptation to push it otherwise you’ll more than certainly feel it in the next segment:
Segment Three (mile 20-23) – The “Really tough” bit
This is the segment that breaks most marathon dreams. You’ll start to see people around you change, from runners to zombies! There’ll be a lot of pained faces and more people limping, slowing down and even sat at the side of the course as they hit “the wall”. This is arguably the most mentally challenging part of a marathon, you will have been running for about 3 hours now and then you face the prospect of another hour running whilst you aren’t feeling too good! Stay positive, try to cheer up those around you who look like they need motivation, this will deflect your mind off your own struggle. You’ll want to drop your pace to around 10 min per mile and if you start to feel dizzy or really weak, then get some energy down your neck, you don’t want to hit the wall (this means you completely run of our glycogen and you’ll need to stop or walk for about 30 mins which can destroy your marathon time).
Segment Four (mile 23-26.2) – The “I’m going to make it” bit
Don’t get us wrong, this is still a very hard part of the marathon, but it’s the last 5k, you’ve come so far and only have a 5k left to go. You still need to make sure you don’t hit the wall, so if you are slightly ahead of your target time, then maybe walk through a water station to slow your heart rate a bit and give your body a tiny bit of rest. You should aim to maintain the 10 min per mile pace still and if you have anything left then give everything you’ve got for the last couple of hundred meters. Your thoughts should all be on that finish line now, think about everyone cheering you on and how happy you’ll feel when you finish.
If you have any thoughts or advice for our readers, why not share them by leaving a comment below?
Here is the next blog article in our marathon series: