A guide to going under 3 hours
Running a controlled and paced race is crucial to your chances of going under 3 hours. If you go out too fast, you'll burn out, but you've got to keep your speed up, cause it's even harder to speed up significantly in the last 10 km.
Make sure you keep track of the time so you can get to the start line in plenty of time. It may take you a few minutes to fight your way to a good starting point - if you're running sub 3 hours you're going to want to be in the front 10 or 20 percent of the pack at the start.
Getting stuck at the back of the pack can add several minutes to your time - even though your net time may only start once you cross the start line, you'll spend the first couple of kilometres fighting through the masses of slower runners.
Conversely, if you do start from near the front, don't feel pressured to keep up with the faster runners around you, stick to what you're comfortable with. Many people naturally get a little carried away at the start of the race, try not to be one of them! Every bit of energy conserved here will help when the going gets tough later in the race.
Watch for other people's feet as well - tripping is a common hazard at the beginning of the race when there are thousands of runners in a very constricted space.
The first few kilometres give you a chance to settle down and establish a solid, consistent pace. Try to keep those split times steady and at the appropriate level (consult your pace card if you need). You should (assuming your training has gone well and you're healthy) feel like you're floating on water for these first few kilometres. If you're having to push already, then there's probably something wrong.
If you've managed to do a good training program, then the first 20 kilometres, even at race pace, should feel like you're cruising. It's a significantly shorter distance than your long training runs, and you're at the peak of your fitness and rested. Main thing to do here is to maintain a steady pace, and to make sure you keep up the fluid intake.
Don't make the mistake I made, which was to let my pace increase because I "felt fine". I did feel fine for the first 21 km, and ended up running the first half of the race in 1:25ish. It can be argued that this was good because I had more margin in the second half of the race, but I personally think it did more damage than good, and I only just scraped the second half of the race in 1:34ish.
Everyone usually develops their own preference for drinking and eating energy gus during their training weeks. Your options are usually water, organiser provided sports drink, your own custom sports drink if you've set that up, and energy gus.
The advice I followed with regards to drinking was to alternate drinking water and sports drink. So at 2 km I'd have a bit of water, then at 4 km some sports drink, and so on.
Then at about an hour and 15 minutes I'd have my first energy gu - make sure you have it with something to drink. Then energy gus about every 45 minutes after that until the end of the race. This should buffer you out with enough liquid and energy to get to the end of the race.
By this stage you'll be well over your initial freshness, and things will be starting to get a little tired, a little hard. The key once again, is to maintain steady pace, as pace fluctuations will kill your rhythm and you'll tire much faster as a result. You need to make the extra effort to keep up the fluids and gus, even if you don't feel like chowing them down.
For most runners, sometime between around 24 to 32 kilometres they will "hit the wall" or "bonk". This varies between people, but can be an indescribable experience. It's brought on by the depletion over the previous two or so hours of all your glycogen stores.
Some of the effects include feeling very weak, much fatigue, dizzy, and even hallucinations. I personally also felt nauseous which had the bad ramification of making it very hard to stomach liquids and energy gus.
At this stage, assuming you've trained properly and rested properly, it becomes a matter of just pushing on as best you can. There's no immediate 'cures' for hitting the wall, although keeping up the intake of drinks and carbohydrates during the race can help reduce its impact. There's also some evidence that carbohydrate loading in the days leading up to the race can help, although not all athletes believe carbohydrate loading is beneficial.
This is where all your training hopefully allows you to push through those last few kilometres. If this is your first sub 3 hour, then it will be painful, no matter what. Ideally, you have a few minutes margin at this stage of the race to buffer any slow down.
During my race I actually dropped off the back of the sub 3 hour group a few kilometres from the end of the race. However, I'd been tracking times using my pace card and knew they were about 3 minutes ahead of sub 3 hour pace, so I could slow down a little and still make the time.
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Copyright 2007-2010 Michael Milford