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Going Mental: A C.A.S.E. for Mindful Marathon Planning

13 June

Creative Commons License photo credit: tomaszd

This is one happy runner!!!

With the Fall marathon season in full swing, the roads and bike paths are filled with runners getting ready for the big day. For weeks and months, people just like you have been piling on the miles. They have watched their diets. They have learned the value of stretching and self-care. But there is one thing they aren’t prepared for; one thing that all the miles in the world can’t solve for them. What next?

Hard to believe it’s that simple, but it’s true. Most runners simply…keep running. No downtime. No rest. No reflection. No time for growth…and ultimately no room for it either. Any marathon finisher will tell you the importance of being 100% mentally prepared for the challenges of race day; yet few choose to exercise their mental muscles in the post-race window when it makes the biggest difference.

Put Yourself on the Marathon Map
The vast majority of runners train and race off of guesses, dreams and approximations. “I want to run a sub-4:00 marathon” is a common sentiment, but not everyone has the physical fitness or pedigree to make it happen. Most can get there, but you really have to know where you are right now to be able to make an honest assessment.

Inside Marathon Nation we use 5k performance test to determine our training and racing paces, as well as to measure our progress (or lack thereof). If you don’t test regularly, then you’ll need a really solid indicator of your level of fitness. Enter the marathon.

There is no hiding from 26.2 miles. If you have your splits, you can map out your performance mile by mile to uncover the true story of your running fitness.You can identify where your heart rate started to head for the sky, and where the pace dropped…probably where the wheels came off. All of these factors can lead to a better understanding of your fitness. And once you know where you are, you can begin to create a realistic plan that will get you to where you want to be.

With a recent marathon in the books, you have the chance to really take your run training and racing to the next level. Here is a simple four step process that takes less than an hour. Inside Marathon Nation we do the following C.A.S.E. Study exercise to make sure we leave no stone unturned.

Phase 1: Capture (Approximately 10-15 minutes)
This is perhaps the most critical step, and it’s important to head into it with an open mind. Leave the analysis for the next step. Don’t let your brain get in the way of what actually happened on the big day. Your goal here is to gather/write down everything that happened on the day, including but not limited to the following:

What you ate pre- and mid-race. What you drank and when. The conditions, including winds and temps pre- and during race. The gear you chose and why. The pacing strategy you set upon and how it played out. The “decisive” point in your marathon where you either hit the wall or broke through it. You emotions pre- and mid-race.

Include anything you can think of and be sure to use a big piece of paper and leave room next to each item for future notes!

Pacing Example: You break down your finishing time into pace per mile splits either using your watch or perhaps using the timing mat information from your race as a last resort.

Phase 2: Analyze (Approximately 15-20 minutes)
Using a different color pen, review all the data and make notes on things you would do differently now in hindsight. You should have alternatives or notes for almost every single item on the list; if it was perfect, then circle that item to make it easier to find in the future. Do your best to critique your race from an external viewpoint; if possible share it with others to get their feedback and input on areas you can seek improvement.

Pacing Example: In reviewing your pace per mile splits, you see that the first five miles were your fastest all day, and that by mile 18 you were unable to sustain your goal steady pace.

Phase 3: Strategize (Approximately 15-30 minutes)
With several options available based on your analysis, and perhaps few more emerging over time, the strategy phase is where we put our lessons learned into what to do for next time. Again, this can be directed at any facet of your race from pacing to clothing to nutrition and more

Pacing Example: You plan on paying close attention to your early splits on race day, particularly the first six miles. You have set a target pace of MP+20″ per mile for this segment of the day and are prepared to walk a few steps for each of the first few miles if that’s required to keep your effort down.

Phase 4: Execute (Your Time Will Vary)
All the planning and information won’t help unless you put your plan into practice. Depending on what you have identified as critical areas you need to address, your solution could be as simple as buying better socks or as complex as seeing a sports psychologist.

We regard this step as critical, since putting the new changes into a really running situation is the true test. Remember our goal is to improve over last time!

Inside Marathon Nation we do a race simulation run in our training build up, which is an excellent time to put these new elements to the test. You can also use intermediary “B” or “C” level races to test out your new pacing, fueling or mental strategies.

Pacing Example: Since you can’t run another marathon in training, you pick a half marathon or 30k race to put your new pacing discipline to the test. Your only goal here is to nail the early miles right and then run the rest of your race as you see fit. Once you reach the end you’ll really know just how valuable those early miles were.

Running a marathon isn’t just about a finishing time, even if that is your goal. Look closer and you’ll find your 26.2 miles include highs, lows, challenges, tragedy and (hopefully) vindication. Taking the time to get to know you race can mean the difference between repeating the past or significant improvement. Good luck!

BONUS! A Brief Primer on Marathon Physical Recovery
No post marathon recovery article would be complete without a quick blurb on what to physically do. Done properly, recovering from a marathon should put you back on the road in incredible shape and ready to continue your forward progress. There are a lot of different ways to “bounce back” from a big race, but ultimately you’ll need to find your own path. Here are some key pointers:

  • The First 24-48 Hours Matter: If you can do nothing else, crush your recovery right away to get things headed in the right direction.
  • Eat Right: It’s tempting to throw down some serious treats after such an effort. Keep this to a minimum early on, as your body needs high-quality proteins and carbohydrates to recover…so maybe have one slice of cake and save the rest for a few days later!
  • Stay Loose: Running right away is a no-no, but so too is becoming a wallflower. Plan on being active by walking or doing some light cycling. Follow each of these sessions with some light stretching and/or self-massage to maximize their impact.
  • Stay Busy: Since the temptation to getting back to training quickly is pretty high, I recommend you keep a “to do” list of things you can get done at home and at work in the days following your race. This will help you not train as well as earn critical family/professional credits for your next big racing adventure!
  • Run When Ready: Ideally you won’t run for about two weeks; any form of cross training is okay, but early running could hurt more than help you. Starting in week three you can being incorporating light running. By week four you’ll be back on track and ready to go!

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9 Responses to “Going Mental: A C.A.S.E. for Mindful Marathon Planning”

  1. Patrick October 27, 2010 at 4:49 pm #

    I think Philly could work…that gives you a few weeks to run and see how you _really_ feel!

  2. maevesmom October 26, 2010 at 1:41 am #

    well…i am in Philly but think that might be too soon (about a month from now) But it is convenient and not stressful, which really might be the ticket here. Maybe I’ll look for something at the beginning of the new year.

  3. Patrick October 19, 2010 at 1:45 am #

    Colleen, you are crazy! I can’t believe you finished the race. Yes to running again soon, provided you are healthy now (stomach and post marathon both). When were you thinking?

  4. Patrick October 19, 2010 at 1:44 am #

    Carrie, you make me sound waaaaaay smarter than I really am! 🙂 Congrats on being so mentally tough. That combined with proper pacing will have you crushing your next race for sure!!!

  5. maevesmom October 19, 2010 at 1:08 am #

    I recently ran Chicago, but spent 36 hrs prior to the race in the hotel with a stomach virus. I loaded up on fluids but no food and regrouped enough to start and finish. I felt weak the whole time, but despite the heat, thought it was a great event and had a different day that I planned, but a good enough one. Now I’m recovering well and wondering if I can run another race sooner rather than later to capitalize on my fitness. Because of the virus, I wasn’t able to give it my all, but obviously, I still did a big distance. Do I get recovery points for running easy?

  6. Carrie Larson October 19, 2010 at 12:53 am #

    I completely agree with Coach Patrick. I just ran my 3rd Marathon- Denver Rock N Roll and it was my best PR but it should have been faster. I made the Rookie mistake and ran too fast for me (8:00 min miles for the first 10k) (not wanting to) but everyone around me was at that pace and it felt fine. Huge Mistake! I should have stuck to Marathon Nation plan, because the other runners next to me were only running the 1/2 marathon. I had to really pull myself together to keep running and I began running slower and slower. I still finished 4:22, but not what I should have! It made me Miserable and now I am not wanting to run another Marathon. By the way, I am an Ironman and I can’t wait till my next IM. Next time I’m making sure I listen to Coach Patrick!

  7. Karl October 14, 2010 at 12:00 pm #

    I recently finished my third marathon of the year, and tried the described pacing strategy -because it seemed to make sense. My former pacing strategy was the “steady pace” approach. It was hard to keep a lid on it for the first 5 miles, but it seemed to make the next block of sub-marathon pace miles easier. While I didn’t quite meet my overall time goal, I took 16 minutes out of my last marathon (early May), for a new PB of 3:36. I’m thrilled about it, and determined to get six more minutes off. You bet I’ll be using this pacing plan!

  8. Patrick October 14, 2010 at 1:55 am #

    Nick – Thanks for the note. I totally understand it’s foreign…I get that all the time. I suggest you watch the pacing webinar I did on this very topic. It’s on our resources page, just scroll down and you can watch the segments there. Basically your body can’t sustain the same pace for 26.2 miles; even the elites don’t run that way. Knowing that most folks start too fast and damage their potential to just not slow down at the end, we mitigate that problem with focused early miles. The faster than M pace is actually only by about 5 – 10 seconds…and if you are fit enough to really run 9:00s, then 8:55s should be within reach…but of course, you should test this in training first if at all possible. Remember the marathon is 20 miles of hope and six of reality….my goal is to have you ready to run well when the hurt is on!

  9. Nick October 13, 2010 at 10:48 pm #

    This concept of running slow for the first 5-6 miles is new to me and I’m not comfortable with it because it means running faster than M-pace for the rest of the race. Why is this better than running at M-pace for the whole 26.2-miles?

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