Taper Thoughts: Eat All the Carbs

Blog, Sue Cloutier

This week I’ve been working on the carb depletion/carb loading strategy I mentioned in an earlier post. The purpose is to achieve “glycogen supercompensation”, which means that after being depleted, the muscles store even more carbohydrates then they would usually hold (normal glycogen compensation). I’ve been reading a lot about how to avoid hitting the wall, and in addition to fueling during the race, it doesn’t hurt to have as much glycogen as you can physically carry in your muscles on race day to get you to the full distance. Apparently, the only thing limiting the amount of glycogen you can actually hold is the size of your leg muscles.

Looks down at my tiny legs and frowns. Ruh roh.

In the past when carb loading, I just ate extra carbs the day before the race. This time I am trying to be a lot more precise because honestly, I need all the help I can get. I ran a long run, ate very low carb for four days, and am now on day 2 of “eat all the carbs”. Okay, technically I have to take in about 450 grams of carbs each day to properly fill my glycogen for the pace I plan to run in the marathon. How did I come up with that number, you ask? I used this handy dandy Endurance Calculator. Isn’t the internet a wonderful place? I gotta tell ya, after two days of trying to eat at least 400 grams of carbs, I am realizing how much less I had consumed pre-race in the past. Considering that the body apparently only absorbs about 25 grams of carbs per hour, taking in 450 in a day is nearly impossible. I would have to eat 25 grams every hour for 18 hours a day! I am doing my best, but since sleep is still a priority in the days leading up to the marathon, I won’t force myself to stay awake that long. I am also getting sick of carbs. I would love to eat some fruit, but another thing that I learned is that fructose is not easily converted to glycogen by the muscles. I read that AFTER consuming 3 large glasses of apple juice and eating a banana. Whoops.

I’m not sure how much glycogen my tiny legs will actually hold, but I’m going to fill them up as much as I can. I will also be fueling very well on race day, taking in at least 120 calories every hour in the form of cornstarch for the first 3 hours (to cut down on the number of gels), then Gatorade and energy gels every 3-4 miles after that, as much as my stomach cooperates. By the end of the race on Sunday, I will really be looking forward to going back to my low-carb lifestyle!

Taper Thoughts: Expectations

Blog, Sue Cloutier

When I think about the upcoming marathon, I keep fluctuating between extreme confidence and complete doubt. When I think about how well the half marathon went, how I plan to pace myself super conservatively, how I am going to nail my carb-loading and fueling strategy, I am sure that I am totally going to rock this marathon. When I think about my training, how I only really trained for about ten weeks, how my mileage peaked at 35 miles per week and averaged around 25, when I remember how bad I crashed and burned in my first two marathons, I am sure that this will be the most painful and slowest marathon yet. The reality is that the actual race will probably end up being somewhere in between.

Because the work is done now, there’s no time or possibility to do things any better than I have. The only thing left to do is take good care of myself in the next two days, and come up with some definite goals that I can be happy with, regardless of the race experience.

So my “A” goal, my stretch goal, the miracle result that I could hope to achieve if everything goes perfectly on race day, is that I meet or beat last year’s time, along with running the entire distance. I consider this to be highly unlikely, and will not expect this result, although I would be very happy to achieve it!

My “B” goal, the real goal, is to run what I consider to be a decent time for my fitness of 4:45 or less. This I think is do-able if I relax and run conservatively in the first half. I still hope to do this without walking much, if at all.

My “C” goal, is to finish under 5 hours. This would probably happen if I bonked, but was able to push through with a decent walk/run in the second half.

My “D” goal, is to finish, no matter the time. Regardless of if it’s 5:01, 5:30, or 6:30, I finished a freaking marathon, and I will have some fitness gains from doing it. Which is why I am doing it in the first place. I can still be happy with this result, as I will use it as motivation to come back strong in the spring.

Worst case scenario is I seriously injure myself, resulting in substantial time off that will affect my running in the spring. I think this is unlikely barring any unforeseen accident, as I’ve been careful to take very good care of myself this time around and am feeling quite strong all around now.

I think it’s good to have multiple expectations that I can be okay with. This is NOT a goal race for me. I consider it a stepping stone to the next marathon that I can run better. If I can run this easy, and have fun, that will be a huge win in my book!

Taper Thoughts: Negative Splitting the Marathon

Blog, Sue Cloutier

So remember yesterday when I posted in detail about how I determined my marathon pacing splits, and all the cool websites I used for that? Well, 24 hours later, I am tempted to throw my entire predetermined strategy out the window. Have I mentioned that I’m your typically indecisive Libra? I change my mind constantly.

Today I was listening to The Runners World Show, and they mentioned a neat challenge put up by the run-logging website, Strava, called The Back Half Challenge. Based on the premise that most marathoners run the first half of their marathons faster than the second half (known as a positive split), Strava is offering a brand new pair of New Balance running shoes to anyone who runs a marathon this fall with a negative split. That’s right. Just run the second half of your marathon faster than the first half, and they will give you free running shoes. I mean, how could I not go for that? I love running shoes. And I haven’t yet run a negative split marathon, so that would be a great challenge. I’m also not tied to any specific goal time either, as I’m not sure that I am fit enough this fall to beat my current PR.

But why should this new challenge prevent me from executing my splits as previously planned? I did plan to start out conservatively, and progressively speed up over the race, hopefully resulting in a negative split, and possibly getting close to my PR. Surely, if I followed that strategy, I would qualify for the Back Half Challenge, right? Absolutely. I guess the issue is that I’m not entirely confident in my ability to execute it as planned. In going for this challenge, I feel I have a better chance of running a negative split if I run a bit slower for more of the first half of the race than I have planned. Say, running 11-11:30 minutes miles for the first 13 miles, and then picking up to 10:40-10:30 pace for the last 13. This would give me a much better chance at that elusive negative split than if I was running closer to my goal pace of 10:35 for most of the race. I do feel confident that I can run a negative split though if I’m really serious about reigning myself in during the first half.

I haven’t decided yet if that’s what I’m going to do. I’m actually kind of scared about starting out so much slower than my race pace. What if I get too comfortable at that pace, and I can’t pick it up later? What if I bonk anyway, and run a far slower time than I expected? Whenever I have doubts like these though, it helps to remember my training. I did the work. I have the fitness. I know I can do it. So all that’s left to do now is to decide which pair of New Balance shoes I will be requesting!

Taper Thoughts: Marathon Pacing Resources

Blog, Sue Cloutier

With ten days remaining until my third marathon, and my last hard training run officially completed, I’m now starting to feel the taper crazies set in. The hard work is done, just a few easy runs here and there before race day, so now all of my running energy has to be focused, well, somewhere. And that is why I am sharing my taper thoughts with you now, and in the remaining days leading to the marathon. Getting all of these crazies out of my head, and into yours, I guess?

Today I want to share some of the websites I use the most in planning the logistics of my marathon racing strategy. I am a huge running nerd (as if you already didn’t know), and I plan out everything. Because it is really important to me to have my marathon go well (I didn’t train all these weeks for nothing, you know), I want to be sure that (a) I’m not running too fast on race day so that I don’t blow up at mile 16, and (b) that I’m running fast enough to run it to the best of my current ability. It’s a fine line. But how do I determine exactly where that line is, and what I should do to stay just under it?

The first tool that I use is a race time calculator app or website. My preferred app is Runner’s Ally Running Pace Calculator, available on both iOS and Android. You just enter your most recent race time and distance, and it will give equivalent times for other race distances. Another great race time predictor is the Jack Daniels VDOT Running Calculator from the Run Smart Project. One thing to keep in mind is that different calculators can give different results. Based on the half marathon race I ran on Sunday, my predicted marathon time from the Runner’s Ally app is 4:36:49, while the VDOT calculator predicts a marathon of 4:32:55, a difference of about 10 seconds per mile. I prefer to go by the more conservative estimate.

The second resource that I use in determining my marathon racing strategy is FindMyMarathon.com’s Pace Band Creator. A pace band can be worn around your wrist during the race and has specific paces to run each mile to hit your desired time goal. There are several websites out there that offer pace bands, and some that allow you to create your own, but the cool thing about FindMyMarathon’s service is that it can give you varying splits for each mile based on the specific course that you’ll be running. When I put in Baystate Marathon as my marathon course, and 4:36:49 as my goal time, it spits out a band with the splits I should run each mile in to hit that time. You can also select whether you want to aim for negative splits (starting slow and finishing faster), positive splits (starting faster and finishing slower), or even pacing/effort, and it will adjust the paces for each mile based on your preferences. There are also options to choose size and color of the pace band. You can purchase a physical band that they will mail to you, or you can just print the band on paper and tape it around your wrist. Warning: I have done a paper band in the past and I sweat so much on race day that I smudged the ink on the band and it was pretty much useless. So it might be better to spend a few bucks on something that won’t smudge!

As if having exact splits for every mile of the marathon predetermined wasn’t enough information for me, I also use the handy dandy Official Runner’s Cumulative Time and Pace Calculator. “But, Sue,” you’re probably thinking, “Why do you need another pace calculator? You already have two, plus a pace band! Don’t you think you’re overthinking this a bit?” Well, yeah, probably. But all data is helpful! And here’s what I do with the Cumulative Pace Calculator — the key word here is cumulative. If I input all of those predetermined splits that I got from FindMyMarathon.com, this calculator will give me my cumulative times and paces throughout the race. So after the first four miles of my race, if I hit those splits, I know will average a 10:50 pace, though the splits are all different. After 10 miles, my average pace will be 10:42, and by the end of the race I will average 10:35, my target pace for the marathon. This is incredibly helpful information because in the highly likely chance that I don’t hit my splits as planned, I still know the average I need to hit to stay on track.

“But, Sue,” you’re probably thinking, “Aren’t you overly focused on time? Don’t you want to have fun during your marathon?” Good question! Yes, probably, and yes. I have run two marathons, and the lesson I learned from both of them is don’t start too fast! You see, I thought I learned this after the first. I had fun, but I ran too fast, and was hurting from mile 16 on. In my second, I was determined to do better. And I did. I cut 40 minutes off my first race, and still had a good time during the race. But I still started too fast, and that last 10K was one of the most miserable 10K of my life. So, my theory is that if I plan better, and execute exactly as planned with a conservative start and better pacing, then that last 10K won’t be so miserable this time. Maybe I’ll have fun from start to finish this time!