Posted by: Dean Hebert | October 28, 2008

Training: Marathon Bomb — Was it a lack of sleep?

Coach Dean Hebert

Coach Dean Hebert

Here’s a question from a reader named Stacy that asks about the impact of sleep in particular as it related to a marathon gone wrong. Being the dad of a 13 month-old myself, I can attest to the fact that sleep deprivation goes a long way to undermining training recovery. Coach Dean jumps in with the answer:

I just recently ran a marathon and on my day of the marathon I just didn’t feel good even at the start. I am thinking I lacked in some rest. I have a one year old daughter who wakes up at least one time a night and I work full-time. These last few weeks I have been so ready to get the marathon over with. I don’t think there was a mile that I felt good at. I felt pretty weak/dizzy at mile 10 already. I also drank an espresso right before the race which I usually just do some coffee. I ate well the week the before the race and I did Gu and other food during the race. I ended up walking quite a bit at around mile 15. I remember when I did my 18 and 20 mile run it was pretty good. What do you think happened? My goal was to finish right around 4 hr, but I did 4 1/2 with all the walking. I am happy I finished, but disappointed because I know I can do better. When would be a good time to do another race?

The fact that you had decent long runs earlier on in your training indicate you were on the right track. You were getting in better shape; getting stronger. However, without quality recovery time it is very possible your body was still suffering after effects from training when you hit the starting line. Your last long run should have been about three weeks prior to your race. There is very likely a connection between your lack of rest and recovery with your performance.

Sleep is essential to recovery from training. Lack of sleep, disrupted sleep, irregular eating patterns and the general stress associated with being a parent of a young one are real. All these things can effect race as well as training performances. Rest is what makes you stronger. That is when your body rebuilds from the micro-damage done during training. It is not just the easy days of training (in the hard-easy workout pattern)… it is your ongoing sleep, rest, nutrition and hydration, which play a huge role in your training recovery.

Even in the best of circumstances, it is not uncommon at all for marathoners to be “ready for it to be done” as the final month or weeks approach. It is physically and mentally taxing to stick with training building up to the marathon. Just this weekend I had a conversation with one of my runners who stated “I would love to run marathons if it weren’t for the training.” She is in the final five weeks of training for her marathon.

Other than a brief walk at a water stop; if you are walking by 15 miles there is something wrong. Without seeing the details of your workout schedule, sleep patterns the week of the race, hydration and nutrition routines; it is difficult to pin your poor performance on a single factor. It could be all of those things. It could also be “a bad day” on the run. There are times that despite doing everything “perfect” or according to the “book;” they still end up bad days.

By the way, the espresso would have absolutely zero effect in my opinion. A demitasse of espresso has ½ to 1/3 the caffeine of a cup of regular coffee. And if you are a regular coffee drinker, the effect of such a small amount of caffeine will be imperceptible. But, I will add that if that is not your usual pre-race routine – don’t do it. Never do something before a race that you have not practiced in training runs – coffee, Gu, breakfast, warming up routine, stretches – nothing! You are asking for problems.

Your next race depends on the distance of your future race and your recovery progress. It takes a minimum of a month to recover from a marathon. And that is providing you do get sleep and proper nutrition. It can take months to recover if those things aren’t optimal or you truly over-extended yourself in this marathon. I have seen it take six months and longer for some runners.

There is both physical and mental recovery that is required. Everyone recovers differently. So, my advice is not to think about another race until you have energy and bounce back in your legs; and your attitude towards racing is one of “can’t wait to get out there and go for it.”

Good luck!

Coch Dean Hebert, Tempe Arizoma, USA
Contributing Editor, Running Advice and News


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