The following is an email I just received from the coach of our running group. It is the final preparation for the marathon. It is a great article, and perhaps someone out there can benefit from it, so I am posting it here....
Below is a reprint of an article I wrote last year about marathon race day strategy. I hope you find it helpful
.All the diligent and consistent training that you have done over the past eighteen weeks has brought you to the starting line of the 31st Tiberias Marathon in fantastic shape. However, without an intelligent, well-thought out strategy for the race itself, you will not perform optimally. Because of its formidable distance, the marathon is a race that has to be run with your head as well as your heart and legs. Therefore, I suggest you read this article carefully to help you formulate your plan.
Warming Up: Although warming up is generally very important for most races, particularly those of shorter distances where you plan to run fast from the outset, it is far less important for the marathon. Warming up prepares your body to run at race pace by increasing your body temperature, your metabolic rate and the circulation of blood to your muscles. The problem with warming up for the marathon is that it also uses up valuable glycogen stores and one of the most critical elements of your race is to preserve your glycogen stores as much as possible so that you are not forced to burn fat earlier than necessary. Therefore, you need to do the minimum warm-up necessary to prepare your body to handle race pace as soon as the starter's gun is fired so that you save as much of your precious carbohydrate reserves as possible for the 42.2 km ahead. A 4-5 minute warm-up should do the trick since your marathon pace should be a pace that feels relatively easy. Begin your warmup by jogging slowly and picking up the pace slightly every 30 seconds until you are at race pace for the final 30 seconds. Then stretch gently including loosening up your shoulders and neck. That's it. Find your way to a good spot on the starting line and make sure that you meet up with whomever you are planning to run with.
Pacing strategy: There are huge debates among running experts about virtually every aspect of the Marathon. But there is one thing that absolutely EVERYBODY agrees with. You cannot bank time in the first half for an inevitable slowdown in the second half. In other words, if you think that you should run faster than your goal pace during the first half while you are still feeling strong because it will give you some breathing room in the second half, think again. You will pay very dearly for making this mistake. If your goal is 3:30, don't run a 1:38 first half on the theory that you can run 1:52 in the second half and still reach your goal. Chances are that if you do this, you will crash in the second half and be reduced to a shuffle or worse. The reason for this is that your optimal marathon race pace is just below your lactate threshold pace. If you run faster than that (as in the above example), lactate accumulates in your muscles and blood which deactivates the enzymes for energy production and forces you to slow down big time. You also use more glycogen which means you will have your joyful encounter with "The Wall" earlier than necessary. Therefore, the best strategy is to run relatively even pacing. The Tiberias course is conducive to this as the course is relatively flat throughout. Start out by running the first kilometer (or first 2 kilometers if you want to play it conservatively) at 10 seconds slower than goal pace. Ignore the many fools who tear off like bats out of hell. Believe me, you will catch them later. Drop your pace by 5 seconds in kilometer 2 or 3 and by kilometer 4, you should be running at goal race pace. Maintain this until the halfway mark. At the halfway mark, do a body check. Ask yourself how you are feeling? If you are feeling good, you can quicken your pace by a few seconds per kilometer but nothing drastic. At kilometer 32, if you are still feeling strong, pick up the pace by a few more seconds per kilometer but still run in control until kilometer 39. At that point, there is no reason to hold back. Give it whatever you have left. That doesn't mean you should start sprinting. It means you can begin running at tempo pace. Your sprint should begin when you see the 42 kilometer sign just ahead. Use that last 300 meters to show yourself that you have mastered the marathon and finish strong with arms upright in victory like the champion that you are. The huge advantage of running a negative or even split is that you will be passing many runners in the late stages of the race who did not run as intelligently as you did and that is a fantastic feeling.
General Race Observations: I cannot overstate the value of running the marathon with a group of runners of similar ability. The marathon is a long grind and it will be immeasurably more difficult if you have to go it alone. If your goal pace is close to that of one of the pacers, stick to that group for as long as you can. Aside from the
significant motivational aspects of running with a group, you will be able to take turns drafting and thereby conserve energy. This is a major factor on a windy day as is usually the case in Tiberias. If you are running near someone who strikes you as unfriendly, don't take it personally. Don't try to race against him when he moves ahead of you. Run with your head, not your ego. Your only race today is against the clock.
The first half is the time to cruise mentally. Try to save your mental and emotional energy for the second half. Just get the first half out of the way at the correct pace without using any more mental energy than necessary.
From the halfway mark to 32 km is the no-man's land of the marathon. You are already a bit tired and there is a long way to go. If you feel strong, follow the pacing strategy outlined above and pick up the pace a bit. Otherwise, try and hang with a group as long as possible. You have to expect moments of crisis (a.k.a. "rough patches") during the marathon. When it happens (and it will), don't panic. Often, these patches last a few kilometers and then mysteriously disappear. The important thing is not to allow yourself to think negatively. Have the confidence to know that you can tough it out and overcome this challenge. It is precisely this kind of challenge which makes the marathon such a rewarding experience. Ask yourself how badly you want it.
From 32 km to the finish is the character part of the marathon. This is what we have prepared for in our long runs. Here's where all that hard work will really pay off. It's the stretch that poorly prepared marathoners fear and well-prepared marathoners such as yourselves relish.
Drinking and Eating: The secret to a successful marathon (aside from proper pacing) is staying properly hydrated and avoiding glycogen depletion. You should aim to consume at least 600 carbohydrate calories during the first 36 kilometers of the race. Gels have 90 calories each and three of them will therefore supply 270 calories. Sports Drink and iced tea each have about 28 calories per 100 ml. Thus if you drink 1.5 liters (and this should be an absolute minimum), that will supply an additional 420 calories. The question is when and how to consume these all-important commodities? The answer is a lot earlier than you think. Personally, I plan to take the gels at 10 kilometer intervals (10, 20 and 30 km marks). I also plan to place (the night before) 1/2 liter bottles of iced tea at these points to help me wash them down. However, this is not all. I will also have an additional 1/2 liter of iced tea at kilometer 36. This is the latest time in the race that you can take in carbohydrate and still have it be absorbed in your system in time to be useful. They do distribute Sports Drink at some of the aid stations in Tiberias but it did not have a Hechsher in previous years and the late stages of the marathon are an especially inopportune time to antagonize the Almighty. Don't wait until 10k to drink though. At every water station, drink something (at least a few gulps) but make sure that you are getting a substantial amount of liquid (300-500 ml) on at least four separate occasions. I strongly recommend walking through those four stations to make sure that you get the liquid down. The few seconds you will lose will pay huge dividends as you stay properly hydrated through the late stages of the race. An additional benefit is that the few seconds of walking will relieve some of the eccentric stress on your running muscles and this can also make a difference near the end when your quads are begging for mercy.
Expectations and Results: Don't ruin your marathon experience by making success dependent on a goal set in stone. It's a long race and anything can happen and it often does, even to the professional runners who do nothing but prepare for two marathons per year. It is important to have a goal but it is ludicrous to judge yourself a failure if, on a particular day, you were not at the top of your game and ran a few minutes slower. You are running a marathon, a supreme physical challenge at an age when the vast majority of your contemporaries are sedentary couch-potatoes. Furthermore, this is the only full marathon in the Land of Israel. If every four cubits (Arbah Amot) traveled by foot in Eretz Yisroel is a Mitzva, by my calculation, you will earn roughly 20,000 of them on that fine Thursday morning. Don't lose sight of the big picture. You have accomplished the incredible regardless of your finishing time.
And finally, as arbitrary as it sounds, your expectations will sometimes have to be modified by the weather. If it pours or is hot or very windy, you are unlikely to reach a goal which assumes optimal conditions. Be flexible enough to adjust if necessary. Above all, savor every moment of this amazing experience. That's it, my friends. Now go and conquer.