"Camels gallop by throwing their feet as far away from them as possible and then running to keep up" Terry Pratchett in his book "Pyramids"
Most amateur runners don't fit this stereotype at all. Where the magazines talk about 5 minutes per mile as a reasonable speed for running a 10k, with 7 minutes per mile as a slow jog, below marathon pace, for most of us 7 minutes per mile is very fast and 8.5 minutes per mile is a good pace for a marathon (it's faster than my only one so far, but not a ridiculous target). This page is for people more like me, but will be relevant for faster runners who are put off by the elitist assumptions of the magazines, as well as any slower ones. Another excellent source of advice for beginners and ordinary runners (much more thorough than this page!) can be found at Daniel Watson's web site.
I subscribe to the newsletter "Peak Performance" (see details below), which suffers from the usual elitism when giving advice on training regimes, but carries a lot of reports in very digestible form on the results of recent research relevant to sports participants of all kinds, but with a particular emphasis on long distance road running (by long distance I mean generally in the range 5k to marathon). I intend to include a distillation of the more relevant items on this page; not straight copies but précis giving the main results and, where appropriate, an indication of the reliability and limitations of the research.
I have removed details of specific races from this page because it had all become far too out of date to be any use. I will reinstate the section if/when I have some up to date information to include.
I think that this is too simplistic an approach, which has not been exposed because it happens to work reasonably well for elite runners. I think it is a seriously misconcieved approach for more ordinary runners, and in certain circumstances will fail for the elite runners as well.
One of the problems with the approach usually recommended is that it assumes the course itself is of constant difficulty. Sometimes it is, in which case the elite runners will not have a problem, but in other cases there may be a serious hill to climb or a headwind to fight against, either of which will mean that to maintain constant effort the pace must slow to take account of it. This will clearly distort the constant pace theory for all runners. Constant pace and constant effort are only compatible on a flat course with no significant wind.
For ordinary runners there is a more serious problem even on a flat course in ideal conditions. Research has consistently shown that when running aerobically (i.e. when the muscles are being supplied with oxygen as fast as they can use it), most of the energy will be produced by burning carbohydrates in the form of glycogen/glucose so long as it is available. When these energy supplies run low, the body converts to burning its stores of fat, a process which takes more oxygen. Nearly all reasonably trained runners (i.e. anyone who can reasonably expect to finish a marathon) will run out of glycogen/glucose after about two hours of sustained aerobic effort.
Athletes of international standard will by specialised training and nutrition be able to extend this time significantly, so that they will finish, or very nearly so, before their bodies are forced to switch to fat as the main source of energy. More normal runners will find it happens by the time they reach 20 miles, perhaps long before. It happens to me at about the half way point.
Burning fat requires more oxygen than burning glycogen/glucose, so the maximum speed at which a runner's efforts can remain aerobic is significantly slower. The change over is often described, from what it feels like, as "hitting the wall". You can therefore expect to slow down at this point, and will possibly feel like stopping altogether!
Other research has shown that the energy used per mile in aerobic jogging is virtually independent of speed. If your speed goes up by, say 10%, then the energy used per second will also go up by 10%, but the time required to complete any given distance will come down by 10%, leaving the total energy used unchanged. (Note that this is true only if the exercise remains aerobic.) It follows that in running a marathon, where you will normally aim to keep your efforts aerobic anyway to save energy, you will achieve your best time by keeping your speed at the highest aerobic speed you can manage. This will be considerably faster in the first part of the race, when plenty of glycogen is available, than it will in the later stages when you are relying on fat as the main energy source.
My advice to marathon runners, other than those who expect to beat, say, 2 hours 30 minutes, is to follow the advice given to complete beginners at jogging - go at the fastest pace you can consistent with being able to carry on a conversation - and accept that this will be much faster for the first two hours than for the remainder of the race.
I should perhaps make absolutely clear that I have no connection with Peak Performance other than as a simple subscriber/reader.
The actual reports are now on a separate page.
I'll decide what else (if anything) to put in this page when I have more time and have filled in the text to go with the various sub-headings above, but I am considering including such things as:
Any other research references
Things I have found work for me, etc.
References to magazines, running club(s), etc.
Possibly an account of my own running experience, to put my remarks in context.
Comments on any of the above ideas welcomed.
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