10K with a 20-mile Warm-Up

So, you’ve decided to run a marathon?

Irrespective of whether you’re taking the next step as a seasoned runner, or simply felt inspired watching Kipchoge claim gold at the 2021 Olympics, 42.2km (or 26.2 miles) is a serious distance and not to be underestimated. Even the journey across ancient Greece by the messenger Pheidippides, for which the event is named, ended up killing him.

With that stark warning out of the way, here are the three stages of your upcoming marathon and the surprising science behind them. Here’s a hint – it’s all about energy!

Stage 1: Prepare

In the lead up to race day, one element you’ll want to perfect aside from the training itself is your gear. Although some runners would argue that the beauty of the sport is in its simplicity, these days there are a myriad of products designed to help get you across the line. Of those none are more important than the shoe.

As you run, your leg muscles convert their potential energy to kinetic energy, propelling you upward and forward. To ensure peak performance, the efficiency of this energy transfer is essential, which is where the shoe comes in. When your foot connects with the ground, the midsole of your shoe will compress, absorbing the energy from your stride. A portion of that energy is then returned as you take-off, pushing you to victory. This can be visualized by thinking of a spring being compressed and subsequently released.

With material science continuing to improve, the loss of energy to things like heat and sound is being reduced. This has led to products like the Nike Vaporfly, which boasts a 4% increase in energy efficiency.

Photo by Malik Skydsgaard on Unsplash

Stage 2: Race

If there’s one thing all distance runners fear, it’s the dreaded “wall”. To ensure your race day hopes don’t fall victim to this common enemy, we’re going to have to talk about fuel – the source of your muscle’s potential energy. During a run, your body has three ways of accessing this energy:

  1. Immediate – an explosive form of energy that allows for sudden increases in activity intensity.
  2. Short-term – an anaerobic (without oxygen) form of energy that allows for sustained periods of high intensity activity.
  3. Long-term – an aerobic (with oxygen) form of energy that allows for sustained periods of low intensity activity.

In a marathon it’s all about long-term energy and the name of the game is glycogen, which are chains of sugar formed from the breakdown of carbs in your food. Unfortunately, our bodies can only store around 2000 calories of glycogen, which is often depleted after 20 miles of running. This is why the marathon is often described as a “10K with a 20-mile warm-up”, as runners will use up their energy and hit the aforementioned “wall”.

To give yourself the best chance of survival, you should carb-load by eating foods such as pasta in the days prior to your race, as well as consuming carb dense products during the run itself.

Photo by Quino Al on Unsplash

Stage 3: Recover

Grab a beer (or your beverage of choice), put up your legs and enjoy the sense of accomplishment. The only energy you need now is some good old-fashioned R&R!

2 Responses to “10K with a 20-mile Warm-Up”

  1. nechong says:

    As a non sports enthusiast, sorry hahaha, just had a question. What’s R&R?

    Was a great read and great info on how I could use one thing I like, science, to improve my athleticism. Great if I ever decide to run long distance. Maybe

  2. Peter Stulpner says:

    Fascinating article! (I usually jump straight to stage 3!) As someone who has not considered running a marathon it was really interesting to read about the importance of proper preparation and nutrition strategy. Thank you!