Fighting fatigue in the final few miles of a race is natural, particularly if you’re running a long-distance event, such as a half or full marathon. But, if that feeling of fatigue is becoming so debilitating it’s hampering your PB chances, race on race, or, even worse, causing you to stop and walk, it’s likely you’re making one of these three fatal errors.
1. Planning your nutrition/hydration strategy poorly
Your nutrition strategy for a half or full marathon starts well before your pre-race breakfast. Carbohydrates will provide the major source of energy throughout your training and on race day. For a half and full marathon, it is worth increasing your carbohydrate intake to 8-10g/kg of body weight in the few days before to top up your muscle glycogen stores. “If your diet has been correct then you should have enough glycogen to get you around a half-marathon course,” says Professor John Brewer, Head of the School of Sport, Health and Applied Science at St Mary’s University.
The same goes for hydration. “You need to be thinking about your hydration and nutrition strategy in the days before… not just the day before or the morning of. It’s a little bit like watering a garden – if you water it just before the flower show, it’s going to be too late,” says Professor Brewer. Make sure you’re properly hydrated in the days before and day of your race: drink about 500ml of fluid two hours beforehand and, after the first hour, sip water every 10 to 15 minutes. For sports nutrition, aim to consume 25 to 60 grams of carbohydrate (in the form of gels or energy drinks) per hour, after the first hour or running.
2. Getting your pacing wrong
If you don’t think your fuelling strategy holds the answer, take a look at how hard you’re running. “In a half-marathon, you’ve been running at a moderately high intensity for quite a long period of time, so you may well have built up lactic acid,” says Brewer. “That would be one of the main causes of fatigue.”
Slowing down your pace may help. “If you’re potentially capable of running a half-marathon in 1hr 45mins and, on the day, you go out at a 1hr 30mins pace for the first six miles, that’s not going to last,” says running coach George Anderson (runningbygeorge.com). “The last seven miles may be hard, so it might be your strategy that’s wrong, rather than the structure of your training.”
If you’re really struggling near the end, alter your stride length. “Reduce your cadence so you’re still going at the same speed, so you’re taking fewer strides but longer strides,” says Brewer. “This seems to help offset fatigue; the theory being you’ve still got some muscle fibres that may not have been used quite as much.”
3. Underestimating your progress
“If you train and get fitter, you will probably still feel the same amount of fatigue at the end but you’ll have got there a little bit sooner,” says Professor Brewer. Be careful to keep an eye on your pacing throughout the race to ensure you don’t get ‘race happy’ and get there too soon. Conserve energy for those last few crucial miles.