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Adapting to marathon day

As we Prepare for Autumn marathon season, it’s crucial to be adaptable on marathon day.

Back in 2017, we were in Florence for the marathon. Having checked weather reports all weekend, we knew there was a chance of rain on race day. Going outside at 7 am, the skies were clear, the wind wasn’t up, and we thought we had got away with it.

Come 8.30 am, the gun goes, and the heavens opened. Runners were drenched. Singlets and shorts were stuck to the skin. It was miserable!

At the other end of the scale, we had London Marathon 2018. The hottest marathon on record, peaking at 24.1 °C. It was brutal. It was made worse because all the training had been done in that freezing winter we experienced.

What are you to do in those situations?

You have trained for months and months for this one day to test yourself against the greatest of distances, and potentially before the start, you know it’s not your day.

This is part of the marathon charm. The conditions matter. They affect you. And you have no control over them.

You can’t be belligerent on race day. Just sticking to your plan no matter what you face is not the way to ensure you have a successful day.

Embrace the conditions

Realise you can’t control the weather and adjust your race plan accordingly.

Whether it’s incredibly hot or cold and wet, know you aren’t going to run at the same speed as you would in ideal conditions.

The intelligent decision would be to take stock of the situation and get through it as best as possible. Take your gels, drink water at the right time and hope that the weather gets better.

Hot weather adaptations

We often see runners in great shape get to the London Marathon in April, and it’s 18 degrees on the start line, which is 10 degrees warmer than the weather they have trained in. Their bodies just aren’t heat acclimatised yet. Heat is the enemy of performance.

The intelligent runner will realise they have to slow down to look after themselves over the marathon distance. You may even look to add in some run/walk intervals to keep your heart rate down early on.

Wet weather adaptations

Torrential rain brings its own challenges. Here your body will likely not be able to heat up enough. Muscles might start cramping as they stay cooler than ideal.

You might need to keep a lightweight jacket on to keep some of the rain off. You’ll likely not be able to run as fast because of how rough the body will feel.

Cold weather

This might be the easiest one. If you get to marathon day and it’s glacial, just put more layers on! A pair of running tights work wonders. Keeping those muscles as warm as possible is what we want.

You’ll likely have to start out slower on the day to allow the body to warm up and adjust to the conditions.

Making this decision on the start line can be one of the hardest in your running life. It really helps to have a coach or mentor to talk you through it. They will provide objectivity and support.

Stay positive

There are no guarantees in life that the weather is going to be good on marathon day. If you allow yourself to become miserable and take a “why is this happening to me?” attitude, you will have a bad day.

Don’t let the conditions get the better of you. Be willing and flexible to adapt to them.

Adjusting your attitude will ensure you have a great day. If your goal was a new PB, and that isn’t achievable, don’t beat yourself up. Embrace the experience, keep moving forwards and come at it with a fresh perspective.

If the conditions are likely to fluctuate, remember the marathon is 26.2 miles. There will be opportunities to make up time later in the race.

Pull out of the race?

An option you have is to either not start the race or step off the course after part of the run.

Unlike other road races, the marathon is a long way to go if you are feeling rubbish! If you are going for a PB and it isn’t happening, wouldn’t it be better to step off, recover well and go again in a few weeks?

The marathon is that one event you can’t bludgeon your way through.

You have to be careful that you don’t just end up not finishing because you couldn’t be bothered. It can set a dangerous precedent internally and become a monkey you need to remove from your back.

If you have the evidence from training that you are in fantastic shape and it isn’t happening on the day, do you need to go out there and flog yourself?

Some people don’t have the option to step off. If you have raised lots of money for charity, you need to finish that 26.2 miles! Adjust your race plan and mindset, and you’ll get there.

Respect the distance and stay flexible on race day!


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