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Busting a few marathon myths

Posted by Matt Pepin, BostonGlobe.com Staff  April 1, 2013 10:58 AM

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100allysonmanchester.jpg Allyson Manchester is one of six Boston Marathon entrants testing Polar personal training gear and blogging about it for Boston.com
As a slightly nervous marathon rookie, I have spent the last 20 weeks cobbling together running tidbits from a variety of sources. I have mined the festive blue and yellow mailers from the B.A.A., dozens of running blogs, friendly sales associates at Marathon Sports, library books, and well-intentioned friends who probably don’t know much more about marathons than I do.

BAA-pamphlet.jpgbig-book.jpgzen-book.jpgAt this early point in my marathon life, I feel both the thrill and terror of raw experience. I do not yet own a huge depository of personal trials and errors. From my diet to my training plan to my compression socks, I am relying largely on secondhand information as I prepare for Patriots Day.

If my wildly impractical English degree has resulted in no other benefit, it has certainly trained me to think critically about the information that I consume. Thus, I offer you a short list of marathon myths, all carefully sifted through my hypercritical lens. I have tested these myths on my training runs, and am anxious to see if I discover any more myths after I run the actual marathon!

Myth: Use the energy while you’ve got it

Many first-time marathoners run their fastest miles in the beginning of the race, attempting to log a few splits at goal pace before their energy depletes. Two weekends ago, I participated in the local charity team “test run” from the starting line in Hopkinton to the top of Heartbreak Hill (mile 21). This was my first encounter with the Boston Marathon course.

As I crossed the starting line, I felt the urge to fly. My legs were fresh and I had been anticipating the run for days. Additionally, the first two downhill miles in Hopkinton are like butter! Thankfully, I heeded the advice of my experienced teammates and held back for the first half of the run.

Conserving my energy helped me to feel stronger during the later miles. Tony Ruiz, a coach at the Central Park Track Club in New York City, suggests the “10-10-10” method of compartmentalizing the marathon. Run the first 10 miles slower than race pace, run the second at race pace, and then turn on the juice for the final 10K. The fancy term for this method is “negative splitting.”

According to Ruiz, “most athletes who negative split never experience ‘the wall.’ This is because they do not deplete their glycogen stores early in the race.” Negative splitting takes practice, due to the fact that “holding back” is not part of most runners’ genetic makeup. Runners usually have one setting, and that setting is full force.

In perfecting the difficult art of “holding back,” I turn to music. Gentle yet uplifting songs, such as “You’re a God” by Vertical Horizon and “Ooh La La” by Faces, help me to practice control during the first miles of long runs.

Myth: Always static stretch before a race
Static stretching before a race can decrease your muscles’ ability to store and return energy. Instead, prepare for runs with dynamic stretching!

Dynamic stretching involves moving your legs in controlled patterns, rather than holding a static stretch for 20-30 seconds. The benefits include improved range of motion, increased heart rate and blood flow, and loosened muscles.

My high school cross-country coach introduced dynamic stretching as a way to run more efficiently. My team loved the stretches so much that we got a little bit “extracurricular” and incorporated them into our moves at school dances! My favorite dynamic stretch of all time is called the hurdle seat exchange. To complete the stretch, find with a fairly wide-open space (if you can’t secure a high school dance floor, a patch of grass works just as well). Begin with your left leg fully extended and your right leg tucked behind you. Aim the fingertips of your right hand toward your left foot, and roll left (over your left leg). As you roll, make sure to extend both of your legs straight out. As you finish the roll, assume the opposite starting position (right leg extended, left leg tucked behind) and complete another roll. I usually perform 20 total repetitions.

Myth: Running Apps
Before training for the marathon, I was not very concerned with measuring my running routes. Now that I am keeping formal track of my mileage, I try to be pretty exact with distances. I started mapping my routes with various running apps, such as MapMyRun and RunTastic Pro.

Newsflash (to me): running apps do not properly gauge elevated terrain, so distances can be distorted by at least one mile. The Polar RCX3, on the other hand, is incredibly exact. While some Polar watches come with a built-in GPS, I chose a model with a detachable GPS. The GPS clips to my shorts and syncs up with the watch. I am glad that I chose the detachable GPS, as it significantly decreases the size of the watch. I only need the piece when I am measuring and exploring new routes.

Myth: Carb-loading knows no limits
Debunking this myth breaks my spaghetti-obsessed heart. On the night before my long runs, I used to ravage pasta and bread with reckless abandon. I recently learned that your muscles can only store a certain amount of carbohydrates at one time — any additional carbs get stored as inhibiting fat during the race.

Runner’s World suggests eating 100 extra grams of carbohydrates (the equivalent of three bagels) during the day before the marathon. Seek to emulate a sheep or cow (graze throughout the day), rather than a lion or grizzly bear. Additionally, you can maximize carbohydrates by pairing them with healthy fats, such as almonds and olive oil. The winning combination of carbohydrates and healthy fats facilitates the slow absorption of carbohydrates, which allows more carbs to be stored as fuel and fewer to be stored as fat.

At the end of the day, most running advice contains a frustrating yet necessary asterisk: “every runner is different.” The research component of marathon training is important, but always listen to your own body and privilege your unique tastes.

By the way: it’s officially Marathon Month. Happy April, everybody!

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Look for updates, news, analysis and commentary from the following.
  • Steve Silva, Boston.com senior producer, two-time Boston Marathon sub-four hour runner.
  • Ty Velde is a 16-time Boston qualifier who's completed 12 consecutive Boston Marathons and 25 marathons overall. Ty is now training for his 13th Boston run and will provide training tips for those who train solo and outside, no matter what temperature it is.
  • Rich 'Shifter' Horgan is a 19-time Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge team member who runs in honor of his father, who died of colon cancer. He will provide updates on local running events with a focus on the charitable organizations that provide Boston Marathon entries for their organization's fund raising purposes

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