To go from running 5 km every week to running a marathon is no easy feat. Strategies that work for short distances may leave you running on empty in a longer race, so how do you learn how to use your energy efficiently to last the full distance?
Dallis Sun is an engine systems supervisor who has been working with Ford for more than 15 years. He ran his first half marathon six years ago, but it was a rocky start. “My first race was a disaster, and I burned out halfway,” he says. But that didn’t deter him from trying again. He realized that his training as an engineer for Ford’s line of EcoBoost engines and his knowledge of vehicle design could help him to become a better runner and marathon finisher. “In my job, I am constantly problem solving and I immediately wanted to try again.” Dallis has now completed six half marathons, here’s what he did to get better results:
1. Know the terrain
Before the run, make sure you get the lay of the land. “During my first race, I was surprised to find that the second half of the course included a lot of steep hills,” says Dallis. A lack of preparation meant that he didn’t have enough energy left to push through.
“Think about when you’re driving on long road trips: It’s crucial to map your route and be aware of the environment you will pass through – even the most efficient engines will use more fuel when climbing.” To prevent any last-minute surprises on your run, research or speak to someone who has been through it before. “Every bit of information you get will help you plan ahead.”
2. Start slowly and smoothly
When you’re waiting at the starting line it’s incredibly tempting to take off quickly. The pent-up energy of the crowd combined with pre-match jitters sends your adrenaline into overdrive. “If you rush your departure, you can waste precious glycogen stores that you need later in the race.” Dallis points out that this is no different from waiting at traffic lights.
“When you take off quickly you’ll burn way more fuel than if you ease on the accelerator.” Smooth and steady starts will keep your tank fuller for longer. If you need some help at the start of your marathon, Dallis suggests trying some basic deep breathing exercises. This can help calm your nerves and ensure a smooth start.
3. Run light
At Dallis’ first race, he was a packhorse. “I brought my phone, an MP3 player,vheadphones, my fitness tracker, a small snack and a windbreaker – to say it was overkill was an understatement.” Luckily the art of downsizing comes naturally to an EcoBoost engineer. EcoBoost engines have won dozens of awards for their ability to deliver high everyday fuel economy in a compact package, while still giving drivers the power they want.
“To improve fuel economy, we are always looking for ways to make vehicles lighter, and the EcoBoost engine is a great example.” A smaller engine means that drivers don’t waste fuel carrying around extra weight. “I applied this same thinking to my running. Now I only run with my fitness tracker and I’ve also invested in a pair of high quality, lightweight running shoes.” The less you run with, the more energy you’ll have to finish the race.
4. Switch on your inner cruise control
When the pace feels too easy, it’s common to get restless in the early miles. “Stick to your original plan and don’t get carried away by speeding up.” Dallis cautions that the slightest increase in speed will take up more of your energy stores, which can be extremely detrimental to your performance toward the end of the race.
“Think of it like switching on your inner cruise control.” When driving, this in-car tech feature is a great ally in saving fuel over long distances. It helps you maintain a constant speed, which means you don’t waste fuel by unnecessarily braking and accelerating. “If you need some pacing help in the marathon, try running with a group who are at the same skill level.” On the day, this will help maintain a steady pace that you can stick with.
5. Aerodynamics matter
“When I first started running, I ran with an exaggerated arm swing.” According to Dallis, this wasted a lot of energy and also caused unnecessary wind drag. “When cars are designed at Ford, we place great emphasis on the aerodynamics to help them slip smoothly through the air and the human body is no different.” Through the help of a running coach, Dallis later learned to correct his arm swing by running with his arms closer to his body. “It wasn’t easy to change at first, but once I did I noticed an improvement.”
6. Save your power for when you need it
When you commit to running long distances you need to be smart about managing your energy levels. If you pace yourself enough at the beginning of the race, you should have enough left to go harder at the end. During your marathon run, Dallis suggests saving that “oomph” for the last kilometer. “In some events, I’ve even sprinted the last hundred meters to set a personal best.”
By implementing these six practices into your run, Dallis believes that you’ll have the foundation to finish on the day. “The more you run, train and race – the better you’ll become at managing your energy levels,” says Dallis. As with anything he reminds us that efficiency is key. “When it comes to running a marathon, just remember that smooth and steady always wins the race.”