In order to separate and clarify the elements of breakthrough marathon performance, we need to acknowledge some of the most widespread problems. A marathoner's worst nightmare - hitting the wall - might be easily avoidable for runners who adhere to pace and mileage levels that conserve carbohydrates, the body's main source of quick-burn energy and follow a progressive training plan with a wide sweeping impact on V02 max and lactate threshold, key physiological variables that affect endurance running success.
…that will put you ahead of the pack!
Sit and Kick
If you view an elite road race like the Bolder Boulder 10K on a webcast, you’ll notice the winners are often three places (or further) back on the first lap. Very rarely does anyone lead from start to finish. Front-running is a strategy you can learn — but it takes a great deal of difficult advance work! I prefer that people first learn the tactic called “sit & kick.” The most critical part of the 10K is the first two-thirds of the race, so the best strategy is to stay relaxed, just behind your goal pace, for the first four miles. At that point you can begin moving up gradually, gently accelerating without straining or over-striding, until you are no more than 500 to 600 meters from the stadium. That’s when you light the afterburners and flash your closing speed.
The Invisible Thread
One thing I love about the Bolder Boulder Citizen’s Race is that the frequent bends and turns in the course offer a perfect opportunity to employ a fun racing tactic I learned from the great Frank Shorter: “In any kind of distance race there is an invisible thread that stretches about 10 meters. If a fellow competitor is running 10 meters or less in front of you, you’ll find that you can usually pull even or spurt past them anytime you choose.”(1)
By throwing in some of your own mid-race surges at the turns, without pushing too hard, you might charge ahead of your wave and out of sight — which is a big psychological advantage. Once you hammer out a gap of more than 10 meters, the other racers in your wave tend to get a little worried. They’ll start to calculate the hurt and juice it’s going to take to catch up with you. Their anxiety alone can make it harder for them to close the gap. Once you sever the invisible 10-meter thread you can float along, relaxing rhythmically until you feel ready to change speeds again. Frank actually “stole” a lot of races by timing his surges down to the second, suddenly making a clean getaway!
“Meanwhile behind me, the other runners still appeared to be thinking like traditional, steady state, war-of-attrition marathoners. On the track when a runner threw a midrace surge, the rest of the lead pack went with him or at least kept him in their sights and within striking distance. When I made my mile-9 surge in Munich (1972) however, those guys let me escape. Not only had I snapped the invisible thread, I had disappeared entirely. Now I was running alone. It was just me and the long blue line that traced the 26.2-mile route through Old Munich, the city where I had been born.” (2)
The rest is history. Frank’s date with Olympic destiny in the seventies ignited the first running boom in the United States. Of course, it very rare to find anyone running in isolation, having vanished from sight in the Bolder Boulder 10K. But if you want to have a strong race, once your initial burst of fresh fitness and enthusiasm inevitably fades, try employing the invisible thread tactic. It works wonders!
(1)-(2) My Marathon, Reflections on a Gold Medal Life, Frank Shorter w/ John Brandt (pg. 111)