Marathon Training Week 18: Expect the Unexpected

by Karl Gruber

One of the things that I enjoy most, as a coach, is being able to use my extensive experience of running marathons to help prep my runners. When it comes to running 26.2 miles, expect and prepare for the unexpected. While you may be able to apply this to any area in life, “expect the unexpected” seems to rear its head more than just a few times when racing long distances.

Let me share some of my personal “unexpected” moments during my running career. First of all, even if the unexpected happens during your race, it is not always bad. Enjoy the ride! In 1996, I ran the St. George Marathon in St. George, Utah. Around mile 20, I was feeling decent, enjoying the beauty of the rolling hills of the Utah countryside. As it happens, quite often in races, I started to run the same pace as a 19 year old woman running her first marathon. She was running very well, with lots of enthusiasm and energy. This inspired me, the middle-aged guy, to also run with enthusiasm and energy. The two of us chatted our way through the last 10k of the race. We hammered the last mile, racing each other as hard as we could. We sprinted side-by-side the last couple hundred meters and both of us came across the finish line with wide grins. This unexpected event turned out to be one of the most fun racing experiences of my life.

On the opposite end of the spectrum of the “unexpected”, I managed to finagle bib #52 one year at the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington D.C. Having this bib number allowed me to start at the very front of the race ahead of 20,000 other runners. Unfortunately, I am not an elite runner, which meant I could not stay with the frontrunners for more than a couple hundred meters. I thought that I would just run a fast couple first miles and then slow down and blend in with the pack – WRONG! I soon realized that it is virtually impossible to go from a 6:30 per mile pace to a 9:00 per mile pace without getting run over by 20,000 people! Consequently, I ended up running far too fast, for far too long. Somehow, I managed to finish at 4:13:35 but I basically felt like a piece of burnt toast by the end of the race.

These are two, somewhat, extreme examples of the unexpected happening during a marathon. Most unexpected things that pop up during a race are small, like: breaking a shoelace, a heart rate monitor that won’t stay on, messing up your GPS watch, chafing, wearing too little or too many clothes, getting tripped by another runner or getting to a water station only to find out that they are out of liquid!

In truth, all that you can do to prepare for the unexpected during your marathon is to cover all of your bases. Position family or friends at key points along the course to help you out, if necessary. Bottom line is that if the unexpected occurs during your race, try not to get too upset. Roll with the punches and keep running! Follow this advice, and your marathon could turn out to be your best running experience to date.

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