November 1999


From Club Coach Max Jones

In most organisations, be they animal or human, those at the bottom of the heap are well advised to do what those at the top tell Ďem. In the last VSNews, your Editor "suggested" that I should write about tactical racing in marathons, such as when racing against Argentineans in World Veterans Championships in Gateshead. So thatís my topic today!

  1. Tactics can only work when they are part of Strategy, so you must find out, before the race in question starts, how fit you are and hence, to a minute or so, what your probable finishing time should be. Thereís no point in worrying how youíre going to beat a 7-minute mile marathoner, if 8 a mile is all youíre good for. So you must run in a race, preferably 2 or 3 of them, in the month prior to the marathon and then work out, from this table, what your marathon time should be, other things being equal, such as course ups and downs ; weather : rain or shine, temperature, wind velocity and direction ; etc.
  2. Distance 5k 10k 10miles Ĺmara 20miles

    Factor 9.7 4.6 2.8 2.1 1.33

    i.e. multiply your time in the 10k by 4.6, in the Ĺ marathon by 2.1,
    etc, to get your potential finishing time in the up-coming marathon.

  3. Get your mind in gear to running the marathon within 2 minutes of that, plus or minus, and work out your mile splits (or kilometres on the Continent).
  4. Train as last time, except, of course, for the one or two possible improvements youíre researching this time out.
  5. Get to the Start early. I have a routine which includes :
      1. Walking out, with my ex-soccer refereeís stride, 44 times 10 yards (88 times if I have enough time). Before I learnt that one, I ruined more good marathons in the first mile than at any other time in the race. If youíre aiming for, say, 6 minute miles, DO NOT go through the first quarter in less than 1:35, nor the half mile in less than 3:05.
      2. NOT warming up, in the orthodox sense of the term. Carbohydrate usage is more nearly proportional to distance travelled than it is to speed, so a couple of miles jogging warm up uses up most of the CHO which you ought to be saving for the last 2 miles of the race.
      3. Instead, I warm up by applying (isometric) stretches to all the leg muscles in turn, 5 times 20 seconds for each stretch, with a 5 second pause between.
      4. Then I DO go for some strides, not for warming up, but to ensure that my shoes feel right and, more particularly, that they donít contain any small pieces of the last road I raced on.
  6. At the Start, I stand as near the front as is reasonable, regardless of what the estimate of finish time signs read. That is to say, I start overtaking other runners within a few yards of the start line and very few people overtake me.
  7. Before I learnt how to use my heart rate monitor properly - i.e. as distinct from what Polar tells its customers in the booklet which comes with it - it used to annoy me that the mile markers in a race were most often on lampposts and telephone poles, so that one mile could be almost 30 yards short or long and the following one nearly 30 yards the other way round, the combination amounting to a time difference at my marathon pace of almost 15 seconds. Itís difficult enough to try to run and do mental arithmetic at the same time to work out if youíre on pace to a second or two per mile, itís impossible when the mile markers are 15 seconds off station. Nowadays, I never look at the unit time nor the total until afterwards - and discover where the markers should have been - but only at my heart rate (and that much more frequently than just once a mile). Those of you who have an important Championship race coming up are very welcome to borrow my old monitor if you would like to see how it helps : just give me a call on 240 2987.
  8. Tactics versus another age-group competitors donít start, usually, until the field has sorted itself out, so, for the first 10 miles, just concentrate on your own race. Make sure you get the CHO drink at every station where it is on offer and drink ALL of it (unless itís in Ĺ litre sachets, as it is in London, which most runners spill half of on the road : if youíre asleep, you can always tell youíre passing the Isostar tables in London because the road is so sticky !).
  9. Getting the better of the opposition has been confined, for most of my races, to the bit between 10 and 18 miles. The fun begins when you pass those who MAY be in your age division and they come past you again or, worse, they tuck in behind you. You cannot be sure how old they are because very few races have the age identity displayed, front or back, and, while running rejuvenates appearances, wigs, hair dye, etc, may take 20 years off actual age instead of the usual 10 one comes to expect.
  10. Drinks stations present a great opportunity for applying pressure. You MUST learn, beforehand, how to drink CHO without spilling most of it, but with the minimum reduction in pace. Very, very often Big City marathons are won at the so-called "aid" stations - "disaster" stations would be a better term - and both the Los Angeles and the Seoul Olympics were lost, by runners who ought to have known better, at the 30km and 40km stations, respectively. If youíve been following my recommendation, you wonít be drinking the water as such but pouring it over yourself, of course, as World Champion Kath did in the last few miles of the marathon in Gateshead.
  11. If someone is drafting on you, youíre sure to lose if you havenít got away before the final half mile : the saving in energy consumption, i.e. CHO usage (which is the determining factor in fast marathoning), is so great, around 3 to 5%, for the follower that the leader has no chance in an endurance event (c.f. Paula Radcliffe in the 10000m in Seville). There are several possibilities :
      1. When overtaking slower runners, shoot off to the centre of the road or the outside of the bend and stay there until the heavy breathing behind you fades away. After another 200m or so, take a quick look behind to find out how well youíve done.
      2. Get away at the next aid station. If itís a CHO one, by getting your drink down before they do, which is why youíve been practising that at home. If itís a water stop, empty the bottle over yourself while the followers are drinking.
      3. If neither of those work, when coming up to the next station, wave your opponent through, gesturing the while in a way which suggests that youíre going through a bad patch. If that bait is not swallowed, "lose" 5 to 10 metres at the station by slowing or even stopping to drink your drink, then, over the next Ĺ mile pull back the gap youíve created so that YOU are the follower, which is how I got to be behind the Argie and, eventually, to get rid of him.
      4. Stay there to recover from your own change of pace - maybe for as much as a mile - until you sense the opportunity to go by as in i) or ii) above.
      5. If nothing opens for you, wait until the finish straight - if your nerves can stand the stress ! - and then sail by.
  12. Crisis Management must also be considered in advance. The very act of racing in an endurance event causes what the medical profession calls "vascular shunt", which is the transfer of (oxygen-carrying) blood to the working muscles from places where itís not needed, e.g. the bladder, the bowel and the brain. With regard to the bladder problem, just carry on running as if nothing was happening : no one else will know that it wasnít the drink you spilt. The question was asked of the late Dr George Sheehan at the seminar I attended before the 1989 Boston Marathon and that was the answer he gave. "But", he added, "try to direct it away from your feet, because you may get blisters if you run in wet shoes!". That Dr Sheehan was famous for observations on running and racing long distances and the spiritual aspects of so doing. Be that as it may, after talking with his son, Dr George Sheehan III, at the Napa Valley marathon earlier this year, I have reason to surmise that that wee question, from a lady in the audience, was "planted"!

And the bowel problem, usually referred to by the TV commentators as "stomach cramps"? They did so in the case of Grete Waitz in New York City one year, when Allison Roe beat her, and Uta Pippig in Boston, when she came from a long way back to beat young Tegla Laroupe when she hit the Wall at 24 Ĺ miles. Again, just carry on. Thereís nothing you can do, neither popping in to the Portaloos nor retiring being an option in a Championship race, and, when you KNOW you have the problem, itís too late anyhow. Itís a lot worse in road ultras, when the facilities may be 2 or 3 kilometres away. The solution I adopted, after the first time it happened to me, was to wear black shorts and, after the second occasion, two pairs of black shorts.

High stress levels can exacerbate the vascular shunt condition. When the "fight or flight" hormone, adrenaline, is released, it surges round the body and it closes down the little blood vessels which are controlling oneís guts, which reduces even further the blood supply to parts remote from the action which is driving the legs forward. Stress causes the queues for the loos to be so long in the half hour before race start time and also why Joyce Chepchumba (and others) throw up - American-English for vomiting - when she loses what little control of her insides is left when she takes off on that final 200m sprint for the line, as she did in the recent Chicago marathon, which she won by Ĺ a second, and in London when she beat Liz McColgan by 5 metres. It struck (Dr) Bob Kempainen, too, in the US Olympic Trials in 1996, when he put in a 4:43 mile for the 24th, to get away from his two companions and to win the $100,000 first prize instead of, perhaps, having to settle for "only" $30,000 for third place. He brought back, in a total of 6 occasions, his own favourite CHO drink which he had just taken on at the 35k drinks station! Again, though, thereís nothing you can do about it in the actual race, so press on regardless, except for taking care not to throw up into the wind (or into someone elseís face).

Is that what you had in mind, Mr Editor, Sir ?

P.S. The suggestion for this Coach's Column was made in the context of my (successful) struggle with the Argentinean in the WAVA Games. When the results booklet came, my first call was to find out how far he was behind me at the finish. There was only one ARG in the M70 entry list : he finished 95 MINUTES behind me. Iíd seen him off at around the 18 mile mark, so he must have walked most of the last 8 miles. Perhaps his strategic planning wasnít in line with the tactics he employed in the race or maybe he was yet another victim of the absence of carbohydrate drink stations on the course.