Runners will hit the streets of New York’s southernmost borough Sunday for the NYRR Staten Island Half, where members of the NYRR Pace Team Presented by Biofreeze will be on hand to help them reach their time goals.
But what happens when a runner starts feeling muscle fatigue on the course, despite their best training efforts? How can a tired runner push through and finish strong?
You followed your race plan. You hydrated and fueled. Your clothes do not chafe and you even got your bib pinned on straight. Now it’s race day, and you are ready for this half-marathon. That is, until you get to mile 10. Suddenly your muscles ache, your joints throb, and you cannot imagine how you can run another 5K.
In running, this is what is called the wall. And you have hit it.
“The half-marathon is a long race,” said NYRR Coach Gordon Bakoulis. “For many runners, it’s the longest distance they race and therefore can be physically and psychologically painful even if they’ve done the training to prepare for it.”
A runner who is new to the half, Bakoulis explained, may have only run 10 or 11 miles in training, “so when they reach this point in the race, they are entering uncharted territory.”
NYRR Coach Melanie Kann concurred. “Usually the fatigue sets in at around the 10-mile mark,” she said. “Half-marathons are a unique distance because it is a substantial amount of mileage, and you are still running at efforts harder than conversational pace.”
Ten miles in, Kann said, is the “metaphorical halfway point” of a half-marathon in terms of effort. “If you’ve paced yourself properly, it’s time to hammer in a faster final 5K,” she added. “This is a big part of why we always tell runners to start out their race nice and controlled and don’t go out too fast!”
NYRR Coach Ben Delaney suggests using the first eight to nine miles of the Staten Island Half as “a well-paced long run,” then racing the final three to four miles.
To aid them before that final kick, runners can prep their tired legs for those last miles at the Biofreeze Relief Zone, which is located before mile 10 on the Staten Island course.
Be mindful as you run to stay hydrated and fueled in order to maintain your energy levels as you enter the final stretch. In Staten Island, those final miles have hills!
Bakoulis said that runners should pay attention to keeping their carb stores topped up during the race, particularly when they reach a point beyond their training. “Even if they had breakfast and have been drinking and taking energy gels, they may not have kept up. This depletion can cause them to feel more tired and more aware of their fatigue than they would be if their nutrition and hydration were fully topped up,” she said.
If you find yourself “hangry” 10 miles in, NYRR Coach Jim Purvis said it is key to keep calm and get your carbohydrates on—slowly. “Consuming those carbs too quickly can cause stomach distress,” he warned.
Some tired runners need to focus on their mental game more than their physical state in the final miles of a half.
“Those final three to four miles could get pretty uncomfortable,” Delaney said. “You have to find the comfortable in the uncomfortable.”
He suggests figuring out a part of your body that feels good. “It could be your pinky toe on your left foot, your right ear lobe,” he said. “Find something and focus on that positive feeling. When you get your mind focused on something positive, it becomes easier to move through that rough patch.”
Purvis said that he encourages fatigued runners to express gratitude to others on the course to take their minds off their own legs. “Thank the volunteers, thank the police, tell other runners they look strong,” he said. Counting—to yourself or even out loud—is something else Purvis recommends. Match your counting with your cadence. “Doing this gives your mind an activity to focus on rather than your current state of discomfort,” he said.
Kann advises her runners to adopt a mantra to get them through the tough final miles of a half marathon. Her personal one? “The faster you run, the faster you’re done!”
NYRR Staten Island Half runners, remember that Biofreeze is here to help you feel limitless on race day. Don’t miss the Biofreeze Relief Zone around mile 10 where the Cooling Crew will help you cool the pain so you can #FeelNoLimits all the way to the finish line.