Running a Marathon by Breathing and Feel, Not By Watch

How do you run a marathon by feel?

What should your breathing be like? How will it change as the race progresses?

Many racers who want to run more instinctively have this question and Coach Danny helps you devise a race plan in today’s daily podcast


Audio Transcript

Danny: Welcome to the Runners Connect Extra Kick daily podcast.

Today’s question is from Jill.

She asks, “If I were to run a marathon without a watch and base it off of how I feel, how do I do that? In training, I usually base effort off of my breathing.

I was under the impression I should be able to speak in complete sentences for the first two thirds of the race, but I’m wondering if that’s a little too conservative if I want to race it.

In my last marathon, around mile 15 or 16, I was breathing a little harder. I was able to speak maybe three words at a time and I panicked.

Am I breathing to hard at this point? If I’m breathing this hard now, how will I be by mile 22 or 23? I ended up backing off.

What I want to know is, I know that marathon hurts but based on breathing pattern as a gauge of effort, how am I supposed to feel?

Great question Jill. First and foremost, the easiest way to run a marathon, based on effort is to run your workouts in training, based on effort as well.

This is easier said than done as most of us these days use a G.P.S. watch or some kind of Garmin to dictate and give us feedback on how our workouts are going, totally neglecting what our internal cues are telling us.

We ignore things like our breathing, our foot strike rhythm, and just overall feeling of how the workout is going.

I definitely encourage everyone listening to use a Garmin. It’s great data but also to pay attention to what your body is telling you at the beginning, during, and after a workout.

That’s like a lost instinct, like a world before cell phones. It’s almost unimaginable now going back to that. The same with basing your runs based on effort as opposed to the data that a watch is giving you.

I do this in a number of ways.

You can look at a long run play that’s supposed to be at certain paces, and just go out and try to hit those paces without looking at your watch too often.

Really focus and concentrate on how you’re feeling, the sounds that you’re hearing, what your breathing rate sounds like. What’s the pace of that, the tempo of that? What’s your foot strike tempo sound like?

Those are the kind of cues I listen for when I’m out running a tempo run, running an easy run, doing intervals on the track, and trying to be able to tell the difference between those three types of workouts and other workouts on the quickness of my foot.

How noisy of a foot strike I have, how labored my breathing is. Those are some big cues you can use in practice and add some tools to your toolbox, that when you go to race day and you need to know how to gauge and think about your pace and make adjustments based on those kinds of things, and not just what your watch is telling you.

You can do this through a lot of trial and errors. Go out and run a tempo run as well and gauge your pace based on how you feel.

If you’re a little bit off that’s fine. That’s a good baseline just like a race is and just try to be a little bit quicker. Learn something each time you go out.

Have a couple of takeaways that you can apply to the next time out with your next tempo run; with your next long run.

One of my favorite things to do is try to predict my pace each mile on my easy day. It gives me something to do as opposed to just going out and mindlessly running miles.

I’ll run within my easy pace range or run by easy effort, but I’ll still try to guess what pace I’m running at.

When my Garmin beeps at the mile split, I’ll look at my watch and see how close or how far I am from what I predicted I would run at.

That’s one way of honing in on your effort and being able to gauge and think about what you’re doing out there.

The second part of this question is about your breathing and your effort and how it should feel over the course or through the course of a marathon.

I would start out by breaking down the marathon into four different sections. Basically 4×10 K, or 4×6 miles.

That first six miles is treated just like a warm up; just like you would warm up for an interval workout or tempo run. It should be pretty low key.

It should be progressively feeling better and maybe even a little more effortless as you warm up. But that’s the kind of mindset you need taking those first six miles. It’s very easy to go out over your head in that first 10 K. That first five or six miles really set up your last five or six miles.

You’re making your bed and in that last 10K that’s when you’ve got to lay in it.

If you go out too quick on that first 10K, you can always expect to come back that last 10 K, or worse, that last eight or ten miles, making it a lot more longer of a race mentally and physically.

So the first six miles should almost feel like a warm up. Plus, you’re rested and you’re fresh coming into the target race so you should almost feel like in a panicky mood.

There’s no way I’m on pace or I’m hitting my splits. This feels way too easy. That’s kind of the mindset and mentality that I have always been into the marathon with and came out of feeling those first six miles. Like the race is just getting ready to begin.

That second six miles, miles 7-12 or through the half marathon is basically the same thing. You’re a little bit closer homed in to go race pace but you’re clicking off the miles taking in nutrition.

The effort should still be pretty effortless. Like an easy run, that’s how it should feel and you start getting into maybe the slower end of a steady state run, where each mile and your effort is rhythmic and it’s smooth.

If it’s a hilly marathon, you don’t want to be trying to keep to a certain pace, like 8 minute pace if that’s your goal pace. You want your effort to stay consistent, not your pace.

If you’re on an undulating racecourse with a lot of rolling hills and stuff like that, or headwind or tail wind. You want that effort to stay level because it’s all about conserving energy for that last 10K.

Moving on to the third 10K, basically from the half-way point of the half marathon up to 18 or 20 miles.

That is when the real racing begins, where you’re competing against other people, you’re competing against yourself and the clock. That’s when the focus and concentration really needs to ratchet up and so does the effort.

It should feel more that third 10K, miles 12-18 or 20. You should feel the effort start to increase a little bit to be able to hit your goal pace or to stay on pace.

I always feel by 13, 14, 15 miles, you’re definitely more into your steady state effort. Your breathing shouldn’t pick up too much.

It should pick up, and it should require a little bit more concentration to stay on pace towards the end of that.

Miles 16-18 – hopefully for most of us, it’s more like 18-20, to 21. The effort should start mimicking more of a tempo run.

You start getting into that zone of where your tempo runs are, where your efforts are. It’s always good in training to know what that feels like, what those tempo runs feel like and then be able to gauge how that feels in a marathon, and apply that to the distance you have left.

If you’re hitting 12 or 13 miles and it already feels like a tempo run, then we need to know that and know how to adjust pace based on how we’re feeling.

We talked a little bit earlier about gauging pace on just G.P.S. If you bypass those signals that your body is telling you, you’ll keep digging yourself in a bigger hole just to blow up later in the race.

The last 10K, kind of writes itself. Like I said earlier, the first 10K sets you up for the last 10K. If you stuck to the plan and had patience and did your due diligence the first 10K, the last 10K has a lot better chance of sticking to goal pace and feeling good.

I’m not saying it’s going to be easy. It’s still going to be uncomfortable even if you’re having a great day.

It’s still going to be a hard last 10K but your pace shouldn’t drop off too much, if it does at all, and you should have another gear in the tank.

You should, into that last 10K, still feel like you’re in a tempo run and the effort should just consistently get a little bit higher.

One thing I like to do in the last 10K is to break it down into smaller chunks. If I’m in the tempo effort and I still know I have six miles left to go, that’s a long time to keep yourself on pace and talk yourself into not slowing down.

Six miles is a long way to be uncomfortable at that point in the race when you’ve been out there for several hours.

I like to take it a mile at time, sometimes its five minutes at a time, and sometimes it’s one minute at a time.

It also depends on how you feel. But whatever trick you can play on your mind to not give in to slowing down, is what you need to do and that could be very small chunks.

That’s something else I’d try to employ in the marathon, which means you have to employ those kind of tactics in long runs, fast finish long runs, or longer tempo intervals, workouts like the Michigan, or 3×3 miles, those kinds of things that you do that really simulate and are very specific to the demands that you will feel in a marathon.

Hope that answers your question, Jill. It’s the best I can do. I think that was pretty good information.

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That’s all for today.

Have a great day.

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