Posted by: Joe English | October 22, 2010

Training — Where did our marathon training go wrong?

running-advice-bugBrian writes in with a pretty common question that I’d like to explore a bit today:


“My brother Greg and I just ran the Baystate Marathon in Lowell, MA. 5 weeks out, we both ran a 20 miler. 3 weeks out we both raced a hilly course of about 11 miles + plus some extra miles for a total of 16 miles. We were scheduled to run a 20 miler that three weeks out (Hal Higdon).

We both were running strong and on pace for a 3:20 marathon. At mile 17, we both had leg problems. I had a lockup with the outside of my right thigh (IT band?). My brother Greg had heavy legs. We struggled to finish at 4:00. We both had 2 easy, but faster miles in the beginning of the race at a 7:30 pace. Very frustrating. Where did we go wrong in our training?”

When I get questions like this, I would usually think about four different lines of inquiry to get to the bottom of the problem. You give me some good clues above, but we’d probably need a little more information to get definite with the answer. Here’s a bit of what I see in your question and the things that I’d look at.

The first thing I would normally look at is the pacing of your long runs and their relationship to the pacing in your race. What often happens is that runners will do an 18 or 20 miler at say 8:30 pace and then run the first half of their marathon at a faster pace — say 8:00 minutes per mile. Running faster in the race than in your training is a sure-fire way to have your legs give out on on you at mile 17 in a marathon. Your pace in your goal-paced runs should be the same pace that you plan to run in the marathon. This helps build the repetition in the muscles to reproduce that pace consistently on race day.

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