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How to Run the Boston Marathon 2012: Part IV

Posted by on Monday, April 9, 2012 @ 8:41 am | Leave a reply

BY:

Mark Cucuzzella MD, Professor West Virginia University School of Medicine, LtCol US Air Force
2006 and 2011 Air Force Marathon Champion and Air Force Marathon Team Member since 1988

Now a few extra ways to get from start to finish quicker on the same gallon. 

  • If you can add a little gas along the way then you can go more into gas mode.  This works a little at best.  If running too fast you shunt all blood to working muscles and nothing digests.  If you are in hybrid the early going you can continually add fuel- the key is not only the correct fuel, but the right pace.  A Powergel every 25 minutes is easy to digest and tops off the tank.  Carry them with you at the start.  The weight is nothing compared to the benefit you will get.  If you do the gels then you can drink water instead of the energy drinks which are often less predictable on the run. Boston has a Powergel station at Mile 17.  Carry 4 at the start (one every 4 miles or so) and reload at mile 17.
  • Maintain effort on uphills.  Your pace will slow. You can easily use all your gas here if your effort increases.  Shorten your stride, relax, and use your arms.  Then allow gravity to take you down. Do not over reach and heel hit on the down hills- remember run over the ground not into the ground. If it is windy get behind a group.  This can save lots of physical and mental energy.
  • If you are having a “bad patch” – try to refocus on relaxing, fuel a bit (sometimes a blood glucose drop triggers the sense of doom), and have faith in your training and race plan.  Another nice trick is when you hit mile 21 it is not 5 miles to go, it is 4 and change. Mile 22 is 3 and change to go.
  • Do not over drink water. This can lead to a dangerous condition called hypontremia.

The fun of the marathon is that we are always learning and enjoying the adventure of it.  I’ve done over 70 marathons now with a couple under 2:25 in my younger years.  We learn from experience, taking chances, and occasional failures. My first marathon was the 1988 Marine Corps was 2:34, when I could run about 30 minutes for 10 k.  24 years later I hope to get near this time again and my current 10k is about 35 minutes (2011 Boston was 2:37.00).   I’ve learned a few things in 20 plus years on how to train and race efficiently and economically, but still there are uncertainties every time you line up.  So relax, taper up, and seize the day.

I’d like to especially thank all the Armed Forces Members around the world who sacrifice daily in the service of their country and for all the volunteers who make the Boston Marathon a Patriot’s Day celebration.  May the wind be at your back, like 2011!

(Click here to read part 1)

(Click here to read part 2)

(Click here to read part 3)

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How to Run the Boston Marathon 2012: Part III

Posted by on Friday, April 6, 2012 @ 10:46 am | Leave a reply

BY:

Mark Cucuzzella MD, Professor West Virginia University School of Medicine, LtCol US Air Force
2006 and 2011 Air Force Marathon Champion and Air Force Marathon Team Member since 1988

So how do you know you are running in your best hybrid mode? 

This is difficult because the sense at this level (Aerobic Threshold) is not as profound as Lactate Threshold (or Anaerobic Threshhold).  A slight increase from your optimal pace will switch you from hybrid to all gas without you realizing it, and the effects are felt miles later. Charging up hills early will tap your gas quickly.  If you want to speed up early….DON’T. Relax and maintain effort, not speed.  You should feel easy in the early stages, it is a marathon.

You must rehearse a bit in training.  I focus on relaxation and breathing.  If I’m breathing one cycle to 5 steps, then I’m hybrid.  If I’m breathing faster I’m using mostly glucose as fuel.  Belly breathe- allow lower belly to blow up like a beach ball on inhalation and pull your belly button back to your spine on exhalation.  Then you will fill the lower lung areas where oxygen exchange occurs. Notice the breathing efforts of those around you and many are rapid breathing- they tend to suffer somewhere past half way.  Rehearse complete relaxation from the top down- eyes, jaw, shoulders, allow your legs to relax and extend behind you, relax and soften your knees and ankles.  Find you own cue for this.  If you use the Heart Rate Monitor in training strongly consider one during the event.

In a marathon, the last 3-4 miles you will be mostly gas to maintain the same speed as fatigue sets in and heart rate rises.  The breathing is usually on a 3 to 4 steps per breath cycle- that is OK.  Still stay relaxed and use the cues that you have rehearsed to keep your form. Speed up only when you can “smell the barn”, this occurs when you see the Citgo sign (Mile 23).

Land softly, especially on the early downhills.  I run with a forefoot/midfoot landing harnessing elastic recoil. Focus on posture and hip extension. Use a slight forward lean from the ankles (think “face forward” and look ahead).  I’m never sore after marathons now and feel I can keep doing them until I enter the retirement home. I won the Air Force Marathon in 2:38 four weeks ago and feel fine now for another effort.  With good form it is “No pain…thank you”.

Your shoes matter too.  Make strong consideration to not running in minimalist racers unless you have trained substantially in them and adapted your structure to a natural barefoot style gait. I advocate gradually adapting all of your training into more minimal and level shoes.   If you relax your lower legs and load the springy tendons in your feet and Achilles, these shoes with no heel elevation put you in perfect position to allow natural elastic recoil of plantar fascia, Achilles, calf muscles, and hip flexors.  New research and runner’s experience is now making the case for running with a more efficient stride and questions modern running footwear. The evolving world of modern sports medicine is going back to the future too and rediscovering what evolution has taught us.  My shoe for the last 3 years at this race has been the Newton Distance.  A fast and efficient shoe for those who have worked on form.  For a library of information of footwear, running form, and biomechanics visit our website at The Natural Running Center( http://naturalrunningcenter.com). You can view lots of minimalist shoe information on http://www.tworiverstreads.com

Tomorrow: Now a few extra ways to get from start to finish quicker on the same gallon.  

(Click here to read part 1)

(Click here to read part 2)

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How to Run the Boston Marathon 2012: Part II

Posted by on Thursday, April 5, 2012 @ 11:42 am | Leave a reply

BY:

Mark Cucuzzella MD, Professor West Virginia University School of Medicine, LtCol US Air Force
2006 and 2011 Air Force Marathon Champion and Air Force Marathon Team Member since 1988

So how does this apply to you in your Boston Marathon, whether you are going to run 2:20 or 4 hours plus?

As you enter the weeks prior to the race here are a few strategies to help you set your plan.  Running your best marathon is part art, science, guts, faith in what you can do, and a little luck.  Running your best 10k is mostly about fitness. The best analogy I can think of is this: if you have trained your body properly with the right mix of aerobic level training and some up tempo stuff in recent weeks, you have built your efficient hybrid engine ready to race the marathon.  Many of you have driven in a Prius and watched the subtle shifts between gas and electric on the screen.  You do not perceive these shifts. Your engine(muscles) runs on a mixture of gas and electric, and how much of each depends on the effort.  This is why slow aerobic training is critical for marathon success, you build a massive electric engine.

You are starting the race with one gallon in the tank- assuming you have eaten a nice meal the night before with a breakfast top off.

  • If you are in all gas mode, your engine will run about 1.5 hours at a strong pace….then you are out of gas.
  • If you are mostly electric you can run all day, but maybe not so quickly.
  • If you are using the proper mix you will go quick and efficient for duration of your event, and you can even do some topping off along the way.

The glucose utilizing pathway (glycolysis for the science folks) is the gas. This is your stored liver/muscle glycogen and blood glucose (pasta meal and breakfast) – easy to access for ready energy.  The fat utilizing pathway (gluconeogenesis for the science folks)  is the electric.  In marathons you must be in hybrid the entire race.  Hybrid is where your energy (ATP) is coming from both sources.

Many runners are in great “10k shape” (an all gas event), then run their marathon in the gas mode- and usually crash.  Glycogen sparing strategy need not apply in races of less than an hour as long as you had a good pre-event meal to fill the tank. In marathons and ultras- top end fitness matters little and can only be applied very near the finish. Glucose gives 36 ATP per molecule, fat 460 ATP per molecule.  You must tap into the fat burning tank. Now you know how a bird can migrate 7000 miles without a Powerbar.

Tomorrow:  So how do you know you are running in your best hybrid mode

(Click here to read part 1)

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How to Run the Boston Marathon 2012: Part I

Posted by on Wednesday, April 4, 2012 @ 12:06 pm | Leave a reply

BY:

Mark Cucuzzella MD, Professor West Virginia University School of Medicine, LtCol US Air Force
2006 and 2011 Air Force Marathon Champion and Air Force Marathon Team Member since 1988

I’ve had the pleasure of running the Boston Marathon 18 times with a string now of 10 consecutive.  My only misses were for military and work duties and a foot surgery.  In all these efforts had 5 under 2:30, 6 between 2:30 and 2:35; 3 between 2:35 and 2:40; 3 between 2:40-2:44; and one DNF (my first one in 1989 with all the rookie mistakes J ). My best learning experiences were when the men and women started together and I had the privilege of running alongside and witnessing the patient approach and incredibly efficient running  of the top ladies.

In the 1998  Fatuma Roba, the Marathon Gold Medalist in Atlanta and 3 time Boston winner, scooted over the ground with an incredibly efficient motion.  She hydroplaned along the ground, hips extending, arms relaxed, and face always relaxed.  She stayed out of trouble by tucking behind the lead pack of more aggressive ladies.  I followed behind the train and we hit half way in about 1:13.  Fatuma then opened her stride up in the second half moving away from all of us to run a 2:23.  An amazing second half effort.  I was pleased with a 2:27 that day and credit Fatuma as any thoughts to go faster sooner were mitigated by her patience.

A few years later in 2001 I witnessed multiple world champion and Boston winner Catherine “the Great” Ndereba employ the same strategy.  Her light springy stride and complete relaxation of effort were a contrast to other ladies in the pack who’s body language and breathing displayed they were putting out more energy than Katherine.  As a group we hit the half in 1:14.  Katherine kept relaxed down the last set of downhill during mile 17 then tightened the screws with a huge acceleration over the Newton hills, running a 50 minute last 10 miles for a 2:24.  Katherine helped my day.  By cueing off her pacing and relaxation I ran an  even race and finished in 2:29.

The other runner who taught me to have fun out there was the legendary 3 time Boston winner Uta Pippig of Germany.  In 1997 I ran with her until she dropped me at Cleveland Circle mile 22.  The crowds loved Uta and the noise escalated as she approached.  She smiled the whole way.  Maybe this was her cue to relax, feed off the crowd’s energy, and have fun in the moment. In marathoning you must be present in the moment; not thinking about how far you have to go,  what you may feel like later, wondering if you are going to slow down, fearing  the wall is coming.  Uta ran a strong fourth place that day in 2:28 and I finished a few strides back in 2:29. She is an example of how our brains govern our effort….when we are positive it flows.

All of these ladies made sure to get their fluid and nutrition at all stops. The few extra seconds used here paid dividends down the road.  They ran over the road not into the road, especially on the downhills…you could hardly hear them land as they did not employ hard heel striking technique.  Their posture was tall and their arms always relaxed.  But most vital was their efficient energy conservation and utilization strategy.

Tomorrow: So how does this apply to you in your Boston Marathon, whether you are going to run 2:20 or 4 hours plus?

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