Marathon Training Fatigue
Tip #21

“I am so tired!” is the common theme of conversation as the miles are adding up. Marathon training fatigue is real. You are pushing your body to limits never before experienced with the goal of experiencing 26.2 miles you will never forget. Philosopher William James had this idea:

"Beyond the very extreme of fatigue and distress, we may find amounts of ease and power we never dreamed ourselves to own; sources of strength never taxed at all because we never push through the obstruction."

The question at hand is what is causing the fatigue and how can I push through it? The answer is complex, but I’ve broken it down into categories for you to consider. Your fatigue may be related to one or more of these factors.

Marathon Training Fatigue Factors

  • Carbohydrates
    Your body has the capability of storing about 18 to 20 miles worth of carbohydrate. Are you eating a carb-rich diet all week, training with carbs (sports drinks, gels), and recovering with carbs so that your glycogen stores are fully stocked? Also, are you training at a pace that is just right for you? Training too fast drains your carbohydrate stores as you produce lactic acid, an inefficient fuel source. Also, the presence of lactic acid causes a feeling of fatigue in the muscles.

    Do not listen to low-carb fans that brag about their energy level. They are pysched about their rapid water weight loss (bad for runners), not their splits on the trail. Eat plenty of carbs, including whole grains, fruits, veggies, low fat dairy, and train with carbs ( sports drinks and carb supplements )!

  • Run Recovery
    Are you eating a recovery beverage or snack after your longer runs? Remember that you get the greatest refueling benefit if you consume some form of carbohydrate and protein within 30 minutes after finishing a run. The longer you wait, the less you benefit. Today’s recovery snack will help you reduce tomorrow’s marathon training fatigue.

  • Hydration
    Every 1% loss in body weight (as little as 1.5 pounds loss in a 150 pound person) reduces your running performance. Dehydration is not only dangerous due to the increase in body temperature, but it is also an unnecessary cause of marathon training fatigue (linked to changes in blood volume). Stay hydrated all week since it is easier to keep up with hydration than play catch up with dehydration.

  • Iron
    I’m not talking about starching your shirts for work. Rather, I’m referring to the mineral iron that, if deficient in the body to the point of anemia, leaves you with a fatigue like you’ve never known. The best blood test is the ferritin level (hemoglobin isn’t a good test for runners due to our greater blood volume that throws off the accuracy of the test). You might want to talk to your doctor about getting your ferritin level checked if you think you’re a prime candidate for low iron. Higher risk individuals include women with heavy menstrual cycles, people with gastric bleeding or on many prescription medications, runners with eating disorders, and those who have a lousy diet.

    Do you eat the best sources of iron? Your diet should include lean meats and/or vegetarian sources of iron such as whole grains, dried fruits, deep green vegetables (good carbs, too), and foods fortified with iron. Eat a Vitamin C source (tomatoes, strawberries, citrus ) with any non-meat iron sources to enhance the iron absorption.

    Only take an iron supplement with a doctors’ recommendation as there are risks. The iron in a multivitamin is a more controlled amount and is fine to take without a doctors order (unless you have the iron-storage disease called hemochromatosis).

  • B-Vitamins

    The B’s drive energy production, so the lack of them can contribute to marathon training fatigue. A variety of foods provide B-Vitamins, including the great carb-containing foods like whole grains and low-fat dairy. A multi-vitamin/mineral supplement typically provides enough extra B-Vitamins for a runner, so you don’t need to take separate forms of the Bs to combat fatigue.

  • Calories
    Are you eating enough calories? Bottom line: calories are fuel. If you are eating enough calories from a wide variety of foods it is more likely you will also be getting enough carbs, iron and B-Vitamins. Check out these calculators to determine your running calorie needs. You might also want a running coach or training group leader to evaluate your running form. Inefficient gait, posture, or arm swing may be wasting the calories needed to go the distance.

  • Rest
    Are you getting enough sleep? You may need to TIVO your late night shows during marathon training. Plan ahead so you can get the added rest your body needs. If you need a nap, then nap. Also, when the training schedule says “rest day” it means rest and recovery—a day to kick back from vigorous activity and a day to kick it up a notch with nutrition. Over-training leads to marathon training fatigue.

    How about restful sleep? It is not only the quantity of sleep, but the quality of sleep that matters. Alcohol (beyond a serving or two) will help you pass out, but it actually interferes with sound sleep. Caffeine too late in the day can also hamper sound sleep. You may also want to relax your mind an hour or so before bedtime. Caution: watching the video of the marathon course before bed may keep playing in your mind all night long!

  • Stress

    Is marathon training nutrition stressing you out? It doesn’t need to. Just do your best as often as you can. You don’t have to be perfect, just sensible. What else is stressing you out? Finding it hard to get in all the miles? Not getting as much support from family and friends as you anticipated? Maybe you are tired of the voice in your head that keeps questioning your ability (or sanity)? That voice can be very fatiguing. One way to battle this form of marathon training fatigue is to practice positive self talk, or finding a quote or mantra that inspires you. Remember that stress is real. It can release hormones that waste your fuel and leave your feeling empty. Unless you’re planning on winning your age group in the marathon, relax and enjoy your training!

  • It’s time to reach deep for that inner strength, deeper than you can imagine. It’s there…you can do this! Work through the marathon training fatigue factors listed and make the marathon happen!

    E-mail me your questions about marathon training fatigue.

    Check out more marathon training nutrition tips.

    Everyday is your day to succeed!