Experts and Elites Give Marathon Advice


Hundreds of runners came to the UP Comedy Club on Sunday morning for Fleet Feet’s annual Breaking Through the Wall seminar, a 90-minute session featuring insights on all aspects of marathoning both from local professionals and elite runners.

The panel, which included Chicago Endurance Sports Training Program Manager Ryan Caturan, Accelerated Rehab Manager Pat Vignona, PT, certified MDT, certified dietician Allison Parker, MS, RDN, Bank of America Chicago Marathon Executive Director Carey Pinkowski, world record holder Deena Kastor and 2014 Boston Marathon champion Meb Keflezighi covered topics ranging from mental toughness, proper nutrition during taper and before the race, race day logistics, and, of course, how to overcome “The Wall,” a part of the marathon many runners find around mile 20 when their muscles run out of glycogen.

“We train so our muscles can stores glycogen,” Parker said. “Take in nutrition before you get hungry. The morning of the race you have to eat something.”

Though glycogen depletion may physically cause a runner to feel he or she has hit the wall, the mental aspect of hitting the wall can present equal challenges.

“A lot of people get down on themselves,” Caturan said. “Don’t put your head down. You’re doing a big thing. Look for inspiration. Use everything around you to keep yourself going.”

Both Kastor and Keflezighi spoke of using outside inspiration to help them push through difficult portions of past races. Kastor, who set the masters world half marathon record at Rock •n’ Roll Philadelphia on Nov. 21, mentioned using this tactic in particular during quiet areas of the race.

“In lonely sections, I’d use my mantra, and when that stopped working I looked for outside inspiration,” Kastor said. “Relentlessly working through it is the difference between you and those at home.”

Keflezighi, though currently best known for his PR performance at the 2014 Boston Marathon, struggled mightily during the last seven miles of the 2013 New York City Marathon, resorting to a run/walk method to finish the race.

“I had one goal: to get to the finish line,” Keflezighi said. “I had gone through months of sacrifice. Why did you do this? You want to get to the finish line.”

To set yourself up for physical success, Parker suggested making sure that 60 to 70 percent of a runner’s daily calories come from carbohydrates in the last two weeks before the marathon. Kastor and Keflezighi mentioned grazing on snacks throughout the day during that time frame as a way to increase one’s carb intake without overdoing it.

Panelists also suggested minimizing race day stress by coming up with a plan for the day well in advance.

“Know how you’re going to get to the start line,” Pinkowski said. “Practice on the El if you don’t usually take it, or drive down to the race early. You don’t want to get behind on transportation.”

Finally, as race morning arrives, Kastor emphasized the importance of positivity during the event.

“I like to think of nerves as excitement,” Kastor said. “You can call it nerves, but I think you’re doing yourself a disservice by doing that. Tweak your self-talk. Smile during the race. It’s your job to represent this sport, and it’s your obligation to make it look really good.”