How To Avoid Fading at the End of a Marathon

Tuesday, November 4, 2014 | By Hal Higdon
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Have a question about running? You're in the right place. Every Tuesday, world-renowned coach, author and athlete Hal Higdon posts and answers athlete questions here. You can submit your question by joining the discussions on Hal Higdon's Virtual Training Bulletin Boards.


I just finished the Chicago Marathon and can't get over how poorly I did the last 8 miles. I just cannot seem to maintain my pace till the end. Somewhat new to running, I ran my first marathon last November: 3:37, qualifying for Boston 2015 as a 45-year-old woman. (I slowed towards the end of that marathon as well.) In Chicago, I went out with the 3:35 pace group, but lost them at mile 5 when they stopped for water. I was carrying two hand-held 10-ounce bottles so didn’t want to stop. My first half was dead-on, but I just got slower and slower, finishing in 3:44. That’s a BQ for 2016, but pride makes me want that 3:35 or better!

I figure my training is lacking. Having read books about marathon training, I kinda just put a bunch of programs together that seem to fit. I run four days a week and do Pilates once a week. In the off-season, I maintain 20-25 miles a week. I did my long runs consistently and even ran a 22-miler. One problem I have is knowing when to slow down. I tend to run way too fast on almost all my runs. I usually have to take a day off before and after the long runs due to tight hamstrings and sciatica.

I don't want to go to Boston and have a bad experience this spring.


What jumps out at me is your comment that you “kinda put a bunch of programs together that seem to fit.” Maybe you need a proven program that does fit rather than seems to fit. Ordinarily, I would suggest Novice 2, but your next marathon is Boston, so my Boston Bound program might prove best. It is a tough 12-week program that begins in January, the first weekend featuring a 13-mile run. Not easy, but you should be strong enough to handle that.

I’m less worried about the lead-up to Boston than I am in what might happen once that race begins, particularly with all the downhills in the first few miles that trick even the savviest runners into starting too fast. That might be part of your problem. In Chicago, you chose to go with the 3:35 Pace Team, then at 5 miles ran off and left them, preferring to carry your own water bottles rather than slowing to drink. I don’t want to seem rude, but given the frequency of aid stations at all the major marathons, including Chicago, I don’t know why anyone would want to carry their own water, particularly since that’s extra weight.

More a problem would be a lack of discipline, an apparent unwillingness to slow down in training as well as in the race itself. The marathon is an event where discipline is extremely important. You need the discipline to slow down at the start so you can speed up (or at least maintain speed) at the end. Once you master that, I know you will have a successful career as a marathoner.

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