How does one get through the later miles? Whether it is mile 10 of a half marathon or mile 21 of a full, there is a point where it seems the proverbial wheels are falling off. What is happening, how do you get through and how do you keep going? Even legendary long distance runner Bill Rodgers walked a bit before winning his first Boston Marathon. So, we’re all susceptible to the challenges of running and walking long distances.

Despite running for many years, the first time I raced was in the 2005 Disney Half Marathon. I ran four to five days per week thinking I would be ready with my longest run of eight miles. Let’s say that once I hit that point in Orlando, I was truly in new territory. From that point forward, all I could think about was simply finishing. It was no longer fun and I still feel the tightness in my legs. A couple of times I considered stopping to walk, yet wouldn’t let myself, thinking of how much my sons Matthew and Patrick went through every day. The people along the route may have been cheering, but it wasn’t for me. In my mind it was for everyone else who had properly prepared for their race. Minute after difficult minute I kept moving forward until I saw the turn off for those running the Half (At this time both the Full and Half Marathon were run the same day). My final thoughts were gratitude that I was finished and wondered how people could keep going to run a Full Marathon.
After crossing the finish line I wanted to stop and lay down, but knew it would take a truck to pick me back up and walked slowly in the Epcot parking lot trying to forget how much my legs were hurting. After getting something to eat, I lined up for the bus back to my hotel room. I tried to lift my leg up the first step and it nearly brought tears to my eyes. Knowing there were others behind me, I forced myself up the steps and fell into the first available seat. The ride back was a wonderful break, but once back at the hotel I learned going down the steps was much harder. The driver was patient as I struggled down each step to make my way back to my room for a long nap thinking I would not do this again.

I can laugh now. I describe my walking that day as a scene from the movie “The Night of the Living Dead”. I repeated the same struggle after my first marathon and my second. Then I started talking to other runners and reading how to overcome this cycle. What I learned is better hydration and fuel were important elements to add to my training and especially to race day.
Whether running is something you enjoy or it is just a part of your fundraising, having a plan will help you to do well and minimize the aches and pains.

Begin with training runs. Make certain to get in enough time and miles on the road to prepare yourself for running or walking a marathon or half marathon. Professional coaches and online programs have suggestions either by miles or distance. The important part is to condition yourself for being on your feet for a long time. Much of running or walking is the physical aspect, but preparing yourself mentally is also important. Three, four, and five hours is a long time to run/walk. Some people use music and others find a partner to chat with along the course. Think about what works best for you and incorporate that as much as possible into your regular training.
Drinking and eating while running and walking these distances will help prevent dehydration and minimize running out of fuel along the way. It is important to work these elements into your regular training to simulate what you will experience during the race. Dehydration leads to muscle aches and cramping, as much as under-fueling. It isn’t too difficult to find a plan on many running websites that explain how to manage these issues in training and on race day.

Warmer weather can also have a negative effect on running, yet being smart about slowing your pace and ensuring you get enough water and sports drink along the route will help you avoid trouble.
Another method that is helpful is the run and walk approach. This has been advocated by coach and Olympian Jeff Galloway for many years. The idea is to balance running with frequent walking breaks that preserve endurance and lessens the aches at the end of the race. When running distances over many miles, the body must adapt both to the pace and being pushed to the limit. Allowing periods of rest help minimize overworking muscles.

There are many schools of thought on the best approach for beginners to run or walk marathons and half marathons. There is no one method that is right for everyone. The key is to choose a plan that fits your life and makes the most sense to you. Also look at the whole picture to include nutrition and hydration while exercising to ensure the best results. When considering any increase in physical activity, please consult your physician before undertaking any plan.

For further reading:

Jeff Galloway’s website: http://www.jeffgalloway.com/training/index.html

Runners World on Sports Nutrition: http://www.runnersworld.com/article/0,7120,s6-242-301--12904-0,00.html

Runners World on Sports Hydration: http://www.runnersworld.com/article/0,7120,s6-242-302--10086-0,00.html

Runners World on Running in the heat: http://www.runnersworld.com/article/0,7120,s6-238-267-269-5380-0,00...

Running Times on Sports Hydration: http://www.runningtimes.com/Article.aspx?ArticleID=12467

Running Times on Sports Nutrition: http://www.runningtimes.com/Article.aspx?ArticleID=12054

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