Taper Thoughts: Carb Depletion and Carb Loading


During this marathon training cycle, I have been very focused on recovery as an important part of my training after returning from stress fracture. This meant only training four days per week most weeks, and sometimes as little as three. During taper, I have been even more vigilant about rest days and recovery. Now that the hard training is done, I want to be sure every muscle is completely healed and adapted, and any possibility of weakness in my bones is treated with care and rest. I want to run this marathon, but I also want to be in a good, strong position to train hard in the spring and go for some PRs. So I have given myself at least two days rest between runs this week, and may run even less during my last training week. I am a little freaked out that I might lose fitness, but I know I’m better off resting now than not.

Given all that, I have not run yesterday or today, and with the marathon just over a week away now, I’ve been doing a bit of reading on training, tapering, and marathon racing. I can’t help it. It’s on the brain this week. And as a result, yesterday I discovered my new favorite running-centered blog, ScienceofRunning.com, which is written by elite running coach and former Oregon Project coach, Steve Magness. And I got to say, I’m in love. With the blog, that is. It’s all about the science of running, from the physiological to the psychological. I live for this stuff.

The article I was reading today discusses the advantages and disadvantages of carb depletion and carb loading in the week before the marathon. My typical marathon week carb loading plan goes as follows: 1. Eat everything in sight, especially the junk food. 2. Repeat as needed. End of plan. But to be completely honest, I have essentially been doing that for the past three months. And since my training mileage this time around hasn’t been the 6 days per week, peak at 55 miles that I’ve done in the past, all that junk isn’t quite getting burned up as I’d hoped. I have gained ten pounds while marathon training. Whoops.

So now I’m considering that maybe doing a 3 day carb depletion, followed by a 3 day carb load might be a really good idea. I’m no stranger to low carb eating, and dropping a couple pounds of water weight might help me run a little better on race day. I feel like it’s a little risky as I’ve never done that kind of carb loading before, but if I want to try it, this is the best race to do it with, since I’m not going for a specific goal time, have little to no expectation of PR, and have been really missing my low carb lifestyle these past few weeks. Plus, there have been studies to show this method to be quite effective in doubling glycogen storage and boosting performance. Might be an interesting experiment, and if nothing else, something to talk about on the show. As if I needed more to talk about.

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!