Question: The past two marathons have given me the same problem. Quads/hips become so fatigued that I can barely move. The really confusing thing is that this tiredness comes early on—I’ll start to notice the fatigue as early as mile 10. When I’ve run half marathons at a much faster pace, I haven’t felt this kind of muscle fatigue and have done long marathon pace runs without it getting this bad. Aerobically and nutritionally I am fine and usually finish the race without feeling spent. One thing I’ll add and I suspect may be partially to blame is that I train on the dirt roads in Boulder, and the races have been in Chicago, but that can’t be all of it. What am I missing? What can I do about this, possibly strength wise? Any ideas would be greatly appreciated as always!
Hi Neal—thanks for writing in.
I’ll be honest—this one is baffling and by no means do I claim to have the answer for this annoying problem. The first thing that came to mind is the quote from Arthur Lydiard, the legendary coach from New Zealand. He would tell his athletes to expect quad soreness for the first two years of training. Granted, he was advocating 100+ mile weeks, but I think the phenomenon happens at lesser training volumes as well. So one thing to consider is that maybe you have been training with some leg fatigue throughout your preparation for the marathon and didn’t focus on it; then on race day, you were hyper-aware of your body and you felt your quads/hips.
Another thought is that your training may have been at paces other than marathon pace. Your body might have gotten comfortable at not only your easy running pace but also your faster training pace, such as a half-marathon pace and a 10k pace. Each pace has slightly different knee angles and biomechanics associated with it, and if you trained only at paces slower than and faster than marathon race pace, then the pace of the marathon might cause some weird discomfort…
…but to be honest, that argument is a bit weak.
Final thought, and the one you highlighted, is the change in surface from the dirt roads in and around Boulder to the concrete and asphalt of the marathon course. It makes sense that you feel the pounding your body is taking on the harder surface, yet after 10 miles your body adjusts, and you no longer feel that discomfort in your quads and hips. That’s probably the most likely culprit of your symptoms. When you couple the sensitivity your body has on race day (i.e., you’re more sensitive to light and sound as well as kinesthetic input), I think this is a reasonable hypothesis for your experience. If this is indeed the culprit, then the solution is easy. Do some long runs in Boulder where the first 70 percent is on dirt; then end with some marathon-pace running on the paved roads. The area around the Boulder Reservoir is perfect for this (specifically, running Neva and Niwot roads west to east, getting the slight downhill and prevailing wind at your back—great way to simulate sea-level marathon running).
Good luck, Neal, and thanks for the question.
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