Friday, 11 October 2013

Marathon fatigue!

Running a marathon is the ultimate test for most runners. There are multiple months of hard preparation and training to get you body up to the condition that is required to complete the feat. Dedication is a word marathon runners know too well, while most people are laying in bed on Sunday mornings recovering from a hang over or sleeping off a busy weeks work, marathon runners are out running anything between 10-22 miles. During the week they are doing recovery runs, interval sessions (on the track) or hill repeats on some obscure road. 

When it comes to race day 'Pace' is the most important factor. Go out too fast and you'll blow up before the finish, begin too slow and a personal best might slip away! So the key questions should be "what causes us to slow our pace?"

The simple answer is fatigue. When the body becomes fatigued our pace will inevitably slow down at the rate fatigue sets in. The fatigue is caused by muscle breakdown. Research has shown by examining blood markers, that an increase in muscle fibre damage is statistically correlated to slowing down in the later stages of a marathon. 

The study looked at the bloods taken from people running a marathon. The people who slowed down the most or lost pace the most also had a higher bio marker for muscle fiber damage. So it's safe to say that the more muscle breakdown you have the slower you become. It makes sense to think that if the muscle structure breaks down, the muscle function will deteriorate, hence the slowing down. This leads us to ask "what is causing the muscle break down?"

The study also showed that the people who had the most muscle breakdown also had a higher glucose utilisation in the earlier parts of the race. You see where this is going? 
The people who were burning the most glucose in the early part of the race were doing so because of an inability to burn fats. The glucose stores are good for about 1 hour to 1hr30mins, once they are gone you need to access the fats, if you can't access the fats your body will take the only available option, muscle proteins. Our body will always opt to burn fats because it's the most economic way of moving. However if you train your body to burn glucose all the time by munching down fancy gels and overpriced energy bars (all of which contain mostly glucose) then you'll have a real problem accessing those fat stores come race day. This will cause a bonk if you are not fueling the sugar addiction throughout the race and will inevitably cause muscle breakdown towards the end.

It's really difficult to run a negative split (run the second half quicker than the first half) in a marathon. Therefore you are going to experience some muscle breakdown or fatigue, which causes the slower pace in the second half. It is estimated that an average individual needs about 300 calories per hour during a marathon to ensure peak performance. If you don't consume the 300 calories your muscles will suffer the defecit. If those 300cals are coming from highly processed refined sugars your chances of bonking or hitting the wall increase dramatically.

How can you minimise the muscle breakdown?

There are two basic ways you can minimise the muscle breakdown. The first is to ensure that your muscles are strong and not easily broken down. A few simple resistance exercises will ensure good muscle strength. Make sure you include both upper and lower body exercises. You should be able to hit most major muscle groups at home so no gym membership is required. I include push ups, squats, ab curls, lunges, plank and pull ups.
It's also a good idea to perform a few plyometric exercises after your interval session especially if it's on a track. Plyometrics involve leaping, jumping and hopping movements.

The second simple way to combat muscle breakdown is to train your body to burn fat. Quit the sugar, especially on a long run. Try using bananas, sweet potatoes or raisins instead of gels. Stock up on complex carbohydrates or low glycemic carbs before heading off on long runs and try sticking to water as a way of re hydrating. This will release glucose into your muscles at a much slower rate, this will enable your body to burn fats due to low insulin levels. In the presence of insulin fat burning is almost dormant.
During the week be mindful of the sugars you are consuming. Try and opt for whole food sugars such as fruit and vegetables as opposed to refined sugary snacks and drinks. 

Thats a lot of info to consume but be midful of what you out in your mouth, how you train and what you desired goals are, then all these points are easily achieved.
Neil